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Joe Murphy Article November 2023


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I continue with Dawn Abbot’s stories she forward to me, this one is on Joe Newcombe of Gordon the SNFC Avranches winner; written by ‘Border Rover’ in 1970; which goes as follows. Here in the beautiful Scottish Border countryside, with all its vast but yet very fine sporting fields, we find champions in their own right, be it horse racing, fishing, breeding cattle or rugby, they all await the challenge. I must confess Border Pigeons under the care of many fine fanciers are holding this great tradition in the many SNFC Classic races from over the channel in competition where only the cream of lofts in good enough.  When we consider the last 100 mile into the south east of Scotland in this very hilly country, only birds with the greatest of stamina will find a place in the great race results where distances from Rennes and Nantes are 520 and near enough 600 miles. 

Newcombe Brothers are a legend in the pages of history as far as Scottish pigeon racing is concerned and this family of birds is now making its presence felt in the many countries to where they have been exported, especially in the 500/600-mile events. I could see in the not too far distant future the signal honour would come when the SNFC national would be won by a Newcombe Loft and I was not particularly surprised when it was that of Joe Newcombe, Ewart Lofts, Gordon, Berwickshire. In this peaceful village Joe and his charming wife, Margaret, together with son Richard, run their butcher business under the name of J Newcome & S. Having procured this after the family all decided to move into the open country from Wester Hailes, their pig farm near Edinburgh. It was during the period of 1961 the three brothers Sid, Edwin and Joe decided to look for pasture new, Joe arriving at Gordon, Sid to Ettrick near Serkirk, and Edwin to White Loch Farm, Mackmerry. Here, however, I would like to furnish the information that it was Sid and Edwin that flew under the name of Newcombe Brothers and flies un that same heading today. Joe always showed great interest in the management and care of the birds and on many occasions timed big winners in from the SNFC races for France for his brothers to the Wester Hailes Loft. Joe always showed great interest in the management and care of the birds and on many occasions timed big winners in from the SNFC races from France for his brothers to Wester Hailes Lofts. Naturally, it was not until he settled down in the border at his new home in Main Street Gordon that Joe decided to let the ‘Pigeon Bug’ get a strong hold, so he enquired which was the nearest club and after much consideration it was Greenlaw HS that he joined in the spring of 1961, started racing in 1962. As one drives slowly through the peaceful village of Gordon, the home of the Newcombe’s cannot be missed. The fine spotter’s premises painted blue and white, and the large wrought iron gate, with the cats amongst the pigeons very clearly seen, denotes the home of a dedicated fancier. Once through the gates, there, in all its splendour, stands the fine structure of the lofts in full view of rear of Joe’s house. 

The Lofts

Racing Loft, is 30 foot in length, 18 feet for old birds, divided by a partition, making this into a 12 foot and a 6 foot with 12 feet for young birds, again with a partition. That can make this into 2 x 6-foot compartments with box perches in a abundance. Nestboxes; are very large and roomy, with fronts that can be removed very easily. Birds enter the loft by way of a landing board, approximately 3 foot wide, running the whole length of the loft and drop holes leading to all compartments, a very natural system, well out of harm’s way for cats and vermin of any kind. Top half is dowelled and weather boarding completes the structure to the base, very neatly painted green and white with a very attractive lawn in front for birds to wander at their leisure, with a fine show of bedding plants in full bloom adding to the beauty of the surroundings. On the right of this loft is the grain store and all other utensils for cleaning, etc., with a staircase to the stock loft, which is situated above the grain store, all very well thought out indeed, and a perfect situation for old birds. There is no strain put on these birds. Everything is low, nest boxes, feeding hoppers, etc. No flying to drinkers, everything is near to hand for their comfort. 

Deep Litter

Once inside the loft the ventilation is recognisable, pure air in abundance. Deep Litter is favoured. Joe uses coarse sawdust (As does Eddie at Macmerry) The fragrance of new cut wood is encountered as in a timber yard was my first impression. The interior air of the loft, is like that outside. When it comes to the lady of the House her full and lasting support is giving to both business and pigeons; son Richard is not so keen. Progress is the key word to success and it was not long after Joe, with the help of one or two others decided to begin the now very successful Scottish Borders Federation of which he is the vice president. With his eye fixed on the supreme task of winning from the SNFC race points of 500/600 miles, it was a case of obtaining the BEST. I feel sure this was the least of his worries. It was a case of White Loch Farm, Macmerry here I come, and this was the case. 

The Strain

Newcombe’s and rightly so, after over 30 years of concentrated breeding from their best, have visited and handled all the White Loch Macmerry. This great establishment of Edwin was founded shortly after he moved down from Wester Hailes. To have a selection from a stud of champions one could not fail to make his presence felt very early in the pigeon world. Then he decided to visit Sid at Ettrick and select what he wished from his great time. Perhaps a few brief points as to how Sid actually started will be of interest. It was in 1950 he bought the loft and birds of Guy Paton at Stoneyburn near Edinburgh, but the birds did not settle to their new surroundings so he decided to make purchases from his long-standing friends, Leishman Brother of Douglas Water, great SNFC racers, and the late John Kirkpatrick of Annan. He obtained birds from Galabank Supreme, and Galabank Duke, and it was soon to be seen by results that he had in Sid Newcombe a fancier who was going to be a great national racer in the future, having taken 3rd open Rennes SNFC in 1961, and 10th open SNFC Rennes in 1956. From these it has gone onto the present time we have in Sid Newcombe of Ettrick one of the best national lofts in Scotland. His record of brilliant performances from over the channel speak for themselves. So, without doubt Joe has the finest stock of 500/600 mile blood, that could be introduced to his Ewart Lofts.  A stud of birds installed from lofts that have won £1000’s in SNFC races. 

The Greatest Thrill

After having heard that the likely winner of the SNFC Avranches race was Joe Newcombe of Gordon, I called on the Saturday and I could see by the joy all around it had been confirmed by Mr Graham jnr that morning.

He had, in fact, won a lifelong ambition to win a Scottish National. He said ‘It is a wonderful thrill to time a good bird from a national race, but certainly a greater one when you have been told you have actually won it’. 

So here goes yet another name to the nominal role of ACE’S that is now SNFC fame and history. Well acquainted with Joe, I assume this will be one of his most cherished memories in pigeon racing, an experience that comes to so few out of the 1000’s that have waited and looked for so long. No doubt this has been achieved by the guidance of brothers who have spent years in the sport, strengthened by the claim to being a good listener on the many occasions when some of the greatest fanciers in the country (and visitors from abroad) called at the Wester Hailes Loft. Lessons obtained then are being put into practice today with the results so clearly shown. Joe confessed that a fancier with his birds in full view, from daylight to dark, flying out and in the loft, has a great advantage over a person who has to be away from home all day, at work or business, and perhaps does not see his birds until the evening. Personally, I have great admiration for those fancies who travel so far to their lofts. Having a nice comfortable view of the birds from your living room window makes matters so much more pleasant than having to sit from daylight in a cold situation that is a mile or so from your fireside at 5am in the morning, waiting for arrivals from channel races. Such is the price some unfortunate members have to pay. This I understand after the comfort of Joe’s lovely home, where one can look with comparative ease at the invariably changing formations that take off and go clapping round from time to time. Their physical fitness shows these birds are ready to encounter all conditions that may come their way.  


Lofts are opened early in the morning and the birds are at liberty until dusk, no forced flying. Joe stressed; accumulating success can only be maintained if your birds are in the ‘pink’ of condition.  This can only be brought about by feeding on the best of grains and grit, of which Joe is a great believer.


A mixture is given until the last inland race point is reached. Then onwards birds for the channel races are fed on tic beans and plate maise with a little tit bit of rice seeds. A little linseed is given sparingly but increased as birds go into the moult. Should you master a method of feeding that reaches success with it, DON’T CHANGE!!  There are many roads home.


Having a good eye for cattle, Joe also has a good eye for pigeons and by the actions of the birds in the air and around the loft, he knows when a bird is ready for the race pannier. No birds are killed by basket work training but twice a week (weather permitting) birds are taken by Joe (or a member of the family) to the caravan site at Ettrick, approximately south west of Gordon, right in the heart of the Ettrick Valley. Young Birds; after plenty of basket training at home, learning to eat drink and sleep in the confinement of the basket, are tossed from North, South, East & West at all distances. MANY TIMES, Then put on a line of flight training to 50 miles, before the race programme starts. All fit youngsters fly the young bird programme. Weaklings are never allowed to grow past the ringing stage. Joe usually has a team of 30/40 young birds, but all must prove their worth by performance. Yearlings and 2-year-olds go to the coast 300 miles, although often 2-year-olds are sent to France, 3-year-old and above go to the 600-mile stage. From early in life Joe is always on the lookout for champion potentialities. Regularity, in everything one does goes into the building of a successful team of racing pigeons, but it is the person who has the time for regulating the needs of attention who has the edge on his fellow fanciers. Methods carried at Ewart Lofts are very simple but certainly most effective. 

Pairing Up

Prior to mating, birds were separated at the end of last racing season to complete a good moult. One important point, Joe did impress was the cleanliness of the birds and lofts during their winder nesting period. To see birds full of fire in the spring of the year always seemed a good sign for a successful mating period. So always take the greatest precautions of clearing parasites from the loft. This is a MUST FOR SUCCESS. 

One of the most important matters, is fresh air at all times of the year. Never put-up shutters on the loft unless rain and snow are blowing in; keep birds hardy all the year round. Plenty of clean water, baths during the day. Go Quietly about the loft and always try to build confidence between you and the birds. 

Yearlings, 2-year-olds & Stock Birds are mated on the 1st March. After these have settled down, channel birds are put together. All young birds are weaned at 24 to 26 days old and must be FAULTLESS in their makeup, clean vents, strong in frame and general, healthy and looking the part, sound in every degree. 

Joe has no colour fads, there are good pigeons in every colour. He has not seen a good champion in a bad colour yet!!! In the original foundation of his family, they are mostly red chequer, blue chequer, mealy and blue bars; with a few pieds. These colours remain the same on this fine colony today. 

Eye sign

Despite the fact that there is much to be learnt on the subject of eye sign Joe is not a professor on the subject. He certainly is an under study on the eye and strongly recommends that this is one of the most important factors in a pigeon’s buildup, and certainly one of the best signs to judge fitness. No matter how old a person may be, he is never too old to learn, no matter what the subject may be, very sound advice.


First to hand was the SNFC Avranches winner ‘Tabby’. This medium built hen was up with 3350 birds at 06-00am into a south west wind, timed at 17-03pm on the day (vel 1290) having flown 486 miles, finishing in conditions that were far from ideal, rain and fog having closed in all over the country. Joe considered this to be a great pigeon long before her national victory and despite she had never put any brilliant performance before winning Avranches. She was always his first selection for visitors and never far from the first bird to the loft in her previous races. Sent with a 2-day young bird, and carrying 2 ½ new flights, proved her right condition on the day. Her make up is medium in size, with lovely velvet feathering, a mealy, with a very strong back and tail tapering to one cover feather. For eye sign expert, the VIOLET very strong and deep rich colour, with a full circle, very strong, which surrounds the pupil and fades into the iris. She is a very roomy bird, and one who would certainly make the stock loft her haven for future years. Bred and presented to Joe by brother Sid at Ettrick, as a young bird. The sire is a son of Leishman Brothers 10th open SNFC Rennes which is stock. Dam, is a blue hen ‘stock’ from a brother of Sid’s good mealy hen (3 times Rennes; her dam was Leichman good hen 5 times Rennes, 3 times on the day, G/dam was Sid’s 3 times Rennes; and the G/G/Dam is Festival Joy Hastings, one of Edwin’s champions. Her performances are 1st Hastings, 20th federation, 2nd Bournemouth 5th federation, 2nd Bournemouth 10th federation, 17th open SNFC Nantes 606 miles, also 1st section 3rd open SNFC Nantes. Total winnings over £530. Certainly, a wonderful line of 5/600 mile winners go into ‘Tabby’s’ 


Next, the loft favourite named very appropriately after Mrs Margaret Newcombe. This is the ‘Tour’s Hen’ one of the gallant few home in race time (only 16 birds in the result of the SNFC Tours 1968) taking 3rd section 5th open birds 1353 birds (winning £208) This is another lovely blue bar, typical of this great Newcombe family and was timed in the result from Nantes 44th east section this year 1969. She has wonderful feather texture, all the qualities one finds in great 500 milers, very strong back, eye is rich golden Yellow Iris, with a faint chase of cherry red, but again the full circle very clearly supper imposed. 


And so, it follows on, winner after winner, from the 4-, 5- & 6-mile points. I handled many that are stamped with future channel potential that will come their way. Joe is certainly going from strength to strength it was a wonderful pleasure to handle such magnificent pigeons, all bred for the distance. 

Biggest Disappointment

Joe considers his biggest disappointment was when he sent 4 birds to Beauvais in 1969 and failed to time in. 

He was certain a ‘good one’ would be there. Like all Scottish members, to win the Blue Riband from Rennes and the famous Gold Cup he will always be trying, hard as the task may be.

The Border Rover concluded ‘Thanking Joe & Margaret for their kind co-operation and the wonderful hospitality. Written in February 1970.


Scottish Homing Union 2023 Trophy winners

The selection committee of Robert Cormack; Phil Lynch and Joe Murphy picked the following winners of the 2023 - SHU trophy winners; these are as follows.

The Dewar Scotch Whiskey Trophy; - For the best channel performances by an old bird was won by A W Robertson of Edinburgh. His pigeon won 1st section 3rd open Alencon 801 birds; & 1st section 6th open Falaise 558 birds. Have attached a photograph of Ally’s winning pigeon to go with this article.

The runner up for The Dewar Scotch Whiskey Trophy; - For the best channel performances by an old bird was won by Dennis Anderson of Annan. His pigeon won 3rd section 9th open Alencon 801 birds; & 6th section 15th open Falaise 558 birds. I have also added a photo of Dennis holding one of his pigeons to go with this column. 

The Ogilvie Trophy; for the Best Individual Old Bird Performance was won by H Gormley of Valleyfield.

The Celtic Trophy; for Performances Old Bird up to 300 miles was won by J Hadfield 

The Unikon Trophy; for Outstanding Performance by a Young Bird won by D Hay of Kirkintilloch 

The British Homing World Trophy; for Lowest winning velocity in Channel Race won by D Hay of Kirkintilloch.

The McCrae Battalion Trust Trophy; for Loft performances Old Birds & Young Birds; won by D Hay of Kirkintilloch.

The SHU Friendship Cup; Yearling Trophy With Outstanding Performance won by E Hodgson & Son Annan

‘Scotland’s Own’ Fancier of the Year; winning the Ina Renwick Memorial Trophy is A W Robertson of Edinburgh.

The Annie Ross Bowes Memorial Trophy; For Services to the Sport; was won by J Lawrie & son.  

The Mr & Mrs Murphy Trophy and the Duke of Edinburgh Trophy were not claimed for. 

Congratulations to ALL THE ABOVE Fanciers.



I was very sorry to hear of the passing of Jock Alston of Ravenstruther which seaming happened a few weeks ago. Jock and his wife Isable were outstanding fanciers and had a fantastic team of pigeons. These contained the bloodlines of Davie Angus which went back to the famous Dr Anderson of Armadale. Jock won the SHU Dewar Trophy back in 2013 and I have added a photograph of Jock holding his Ancenis national winner; RIP. 


  1. Please continue to keep the news flowing; to Joe Murphy Mystical Rose Cottage 2 Flutorum Avenue Thornton by Kirkcaldy KY1 4BD or phone 01592 770331 or Email to joejmurphy1@gmail.com REMEMBER THE J IN THE MIDDLE or log onto www.elimarpigeons.com www.fancierchat.co.uk www.pigeon-chat.co.uk who wish my weekly contribution portfolio on pigeon topics from Scotland

  2. © Compiled by Joe Murphy

Ally W Robertson Montage.jpg

Ally W Robertson Montage.jpg




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