Fancy pigeons returned to Down House for the first time in over 100 years. Many of the breeds that Darwin kept at his home in his private collection were back in the laboratory on a very chilly 3 days in November 2010. How pleased he would have been to see the six breeds he wrote about in the opening chapter of 'Origin of Species', still exactly as he would have remembered them after 150 years. This shows what an excellent choice he made for what I term the 'Darwin six', they include the Almond Tumbler (colour variety of the English Short faced Tumbler), Barb, English Carrier, Exhibition Fantail, English Pouter and Scandaroon. Bear in mind that some fancy pigeon breeds, such as the English Modena, have changed dramatically in just over 100 years. Darwin picked these six breeds as he felt they where very different from each other and the rock dove Columba Livia their common ancestor and that any naturalist would find it difficult to class them as the same species.
The event was organised with the full co-operation of the Charles Darwin Trust, English Heritage and the Natural History Museum who took the oppurtunity to record the event on film.
Randal Keynes was in attendance over the three days and is always very enthusiastic to promote the great importance of the fancy pigeons to Darwin and his evloution theories.
I was very pleased to have Brian Coulson, President of the National Peristronic Society of which Darwin himself was a member, accompanying me. Brian brought along his almost original Peristronic show pen and a very smart team of Beard Tumblers, this colour variety of English-Short Faced tumbler has been recreated by Brian over the last 15 years.
Also in attendance was Hein van Grouw, Curator of Birds at the Natural History Museum, Tring, Hertforshire. Hein has the advantage of being a fancy pigeon breeder as well as an avian genetics expert.
Over the three days visitors and invited school parties studied the 22 different breeds on display in the Laboratory whilst in the house Emma Newall from English Heritage organised a display of old pigeon images along with pictures of some breeds as they are today, the highlight being two paintings owned by Charles Darwin of an English Pouter and an Almond Short-faced Tumbler, both breeds represented as live specimens in the Laboratory where the large English Pouter proudly paraded up and down the show pens as if inspecting his fellow fancies.
The event was deemed a success particularly for its value to the students to have the chance to view live specimens as Charles Darwin would have seen them.
It has recently been decided that a similar day for further school parties will be organised for July 2011 at Down House.