Pigeon clubs were becoming popular in major cities and towns and London was no exception to this, several pigeon clubs were in existence across the London area. The names of these clubs changed as clubs amalgamated over the years, making it difficult to trace their history. Clubs, as well as fancy breeds, included a homing or early racing pigeon section, these birds could also be shown in special classes.
We know Charles Darwin attended a meeting of the Columbarian Society, near London Bridge on the 29 November 1855 with the intention of becoming a member but what did they do at these clubs ?
Meetings were usually held in Public Houses or rooms above them. Did they drink, smoke, tell the odd joke ? being predominantly all men probably all the above, but what else ? ........
Most of the better clubs were fairly exclusive and one way of keeping them so was the membership subscription rates being a guinea, this alone would keep the Spitalfields weaver types out (a well known working class which had a tradition of keeping pigeons). Most of the gentlemen who formed these clubs did not look after their pigeons on a day to day basis and Darwin was no exception to this. We owe a lot to his loft manager for it would be him that would have to swap eggs around different nests, clean, feed and care for his pigeons. Darwin would have logged measurements, breeding, colour and pattern results but a good loft manager would have enabled him to carry out these tests with confidence, pairs being paired and unpaired to his direction.
A typical meeting would entail a formal start to the evening with the President in the chair and the Secretary taking the minutes, other officials in attendance being a treasurer and show secretary. Then on to the social part of the evening, being devoted to a table show usually of mixed breeds where members would bring one or two pigeons each which would be easy to carry on a two bird basket. Now and again, for added interest, the show would consist of one of the more popular breeds of the time such as Carriers, Pouters or Dragoons or a hen class of mixed breeds. Some clubs today still have this type of meeting including the London & Essex Show Pigeon Society and the Midland Columbarian Society. The judging would be carried out by a respected member of the club or possibly a visiting expert of a particular breed.
Birds would be bought sold, exchanged, swapped or borrowed as still happens today, with the promise of sharing the youngsters resulting from the pairing.
Darwin would have enjoyed these evenings, giving him the chance to meet the fanciers who owned the breeds he had only read about in books and perhaps giving him ideas to further his research.
A club formed by members of the “City” and “Southwark” Societies, who wanted a West End Society, held it’s first meeting on Tuesday 4th January 1847 at the Crown and Anchor, Strand with Mr Esquilant in the chair as its first Secretary. It was decided by this newly formed club now called the Philoperisteron Society that the colour of birds such as the Almond Tumbler could not be properly judged in artificial light during evening table shows. This was resolved by holding, for the first time, a daytime public pigeon show at the British Hotel, Cockspur Street in January 1848. Gradually these shows progressed with a higher amount of entries of better quality pigeons, they were then held in the larger hall at Freemason's Tavern, Great Queen's Street.
The National Columbarian was an offshoot from the Philoperisteron coming into existence in 1850. After holding its meetings at Anderton's Hotel, Fleet Street and at the Whittington Club, Arundel Street, Strand it moved to the headquarters of the Philoperisteron Society at Freemason's Tavern in 1868, the two clubs amalgamating under the title of The National Peristronic Society and held it's show at Crystal Palace. The National Peristronic Society is still in existence to this day.