Shropshire Star

Lionel's sleek speedbirds were stars of the skies

Fast and sleek, Paint was a great favourite.

At his pigeon loft in his garden.

Paint was a pigeon, and not just any old pigeon, but a star racing pigeon in Lionel Swadling's team.

Lionel Swadling from Bridgnorth was one of Shropshire's once large army of pigeon racers, the abilities of his birds complemented by his own skills which made him a valued figure in the local pigeon racing world. A good mathematician, he could work out velocities by hand, long before the advent of calculators.

At his pigeon loft in his garden.

A picture we carried a while ago of the Wrekin Homing Pigeon Society promoted his daughter Phyl Taylor to get in touch, as Lionel was once its secretary.

During the war he served in the Commandos, before being switched to the Intelligence Corps and working at the top secret codebreaking centre at Bletchley Park, although Phyl and her sister Elaine Swadling know virtually nothing of his wartime service as he never spoke about those days.

Lionel, left, with two unidentified Commando colleagues.

"After the war our father returned to his previous job as a Wilton carpet weaver making beautiful expensive carpets which ultimately went to big hotels and cruise ships," said Phyl, from Bridgnorth.

And it seems it was in this post-war period that he took up pigeon racing, joining the Bridgnorth Homing Pigeon Society. His pigeon loft was on his allotment a few hundred yards away from his Severn Street home, and when he later moved to St Nicholas Crescent the loft went with him and was put in the garden.

She remembers that he had a special clock which would record the time a special ring carried on the leg of a returning pigeon was slotted in.

She can't remember how many pigeons he kept.

Flying stars – some of Lionel's racing pigeons.

"It was probably 15 I should say, or thereabouts. I was never very much involved – I was a child – and don't remember too much.

"We were never allowed near the birds. I only once went into the loft. My father had abscesses on two teeth and was in bed and he had to give me instructions on what to do and how to get in and feed them.

"They were always fed very well. My mother used to say they were fed better than we were."

The Bridgnorth group was quite a thriving society at the time and was based at the Bull Hotel in Low Town.

Her late father additionally became secretary of the Wellington-based Wrekin federation, which was much larger, serving from about 1950 until roughly 1960.

"He was responsible for arranging for the birds to be sent off wherever they were going. He was also instrumental in them buying a transporter, which was a huge truck to go abroad with the birds. They used to go over to France and somebody over there would release them. He did not go himself.

"It was exciting stuff waiting for them to come back. They're very clever birds."

Lionel, second from right, with fellow pigeon racers from the Bridgnorth area. Phyl and her sister Elaine can partly identify some of the others. Third from right is Mr Holloway – Elaine thinks his full name might be Stan Holloway – who had a hairdressing business called Retonax in High Town and Low Town. The man far right had only one eye and drove a bus. Third from left is Ken Knowles from Alveley, and the surname of the person second from left is thought to be Delo. The picture is undated.

Bridgnorth was in those days a town known for its carpet making. His job as a carpet weaver was at Southwell's, which became the Kidderminster Carpet Company, where he worked until the Bridgnorth plant closed.

Lionel, who had some pigeon racing successes, winning cups and prizes, gave up the pastime on his retirement at the age of 65 and died at the age of 83 in 1991.

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