History of the British Nun Club

Part One

When I took over as the BNC secretary in 1988 I found it very interesting reading through the old minute books, that is once I could decipher lots of different styles of writing. Unfortunately, the only existing club minutes that I have start in 1911 and membership and cup winners records from 1922. No doubt those lost records will never be found. The remainder of what I have found out about the clubs early history is from old magazines, show catalogues and books, and is as accurate as what is written in them.
The Nun, a type of tumbler, is a very old breed sharing a common ancestry with the Helmet and is mentioned in books like Treatise, and those by Moore and Aldrovandi dating back to the 1600’s. During the mid-1800’s the Nun became very popular in the UK and shows were well supported. This culminated in the first “ Nun Club “ being established in 1888, with a Mr L.Millar of Eaton, Norwich as secretary, and the first written Nun standard being drawn up, although it is mentioned in the feathered World year book in 1911 that “ Kirton “ laid down the first Nun standard more than 100 years ago. However by the early 1900’s this club had ceased to function, although Nuns were still very popular with birds being shown at most shows. Because of this popularity and his enthusiasm for the breed, several leading Nun breeders were contacted by James Y.Baldwin from Bath, in early 1906, with the intention of forming a new club, The British Nun Club. A meeting was held in late 1906, with the first club show held the following year and although in the paperwork I have there are mentions of it being successful there is no mention of the venue. J.Y.Baldwin though won Best Nun with an adult black cock, nest mate to the 1906 black hen pictured which also won several first prizes and was later sold for £10.00.  As a matter of interest J.Y.Baldwin sold all his Nuns in 1911 to join the army and later became Colonel Baldwin DSO during the First World War and went on to become a world renown breeder of Alsatian dogs, and was responsible for setting up and running the dog training school for RAF guard dogs. He died in 1971 aged 91.
From the very start the BNC increased in both membership and popularity. Committee meetings were held 3 or 4 times a year in bath at the home of BNC secretary  Henry Ryman, solid silver cups were either donated or subscribed for, and enamelled medals and spoons were offered as prizes. Because of the amount of competition club cups were won outright if won by the same exhibitor 3 times. A donation towards a replacement was asked for though. An annual year book was also produced. The initial yearly subscription was 5 shillings plus for new members there was also a signing on fee of half that amount. New club rules were adopted and an updated Nun standard was also drawn up. Although the standard was quite basic and simply worded, it stood intact virtually word for word until the 1990’s, when it was altered slightly to make some of it more understandable to novices and to include aspects of colours and faults. The basis of the present standard though remains the same as set down at the beginning of the club.
In the early 1900’s most Nuns were narrow and long in head with much smaller shells ( crests ) set more on the back of the head. Flighting was allowed lower than today and markings were a problem, especially around the head and shell, birds occasionally disqualified for over trimming. The practice of ironing the shells to make the feathers stand up at the front of the shell took place but was frowned upon. Fortunately though some birds were being bred with wider skulls, more Tumbler like heads and shells on the top of the head. This was the type of Nun the new club adopted to breed for, and is more or less what we breed for today, but with much more improved shell qualities. It has to be understood though that the Tumbler type head mentioned in the standard is that of a Long Faced Tumbler of the early 1900’s, and not that of one as of the present. There is a big difference and some present day breeders, especially abroad fail to understand this important point. As to the different colours available, it seems that even in the early 1900’s blacks and duns were the most numerous and of a higher standard. Reds and yellows were next in popularity, but prone to mismarking and apparently not as numerous as in the late 1800’s. Blues were the least widely kept of the main colours, with also silver, cream ( ash yellow ) and mealy ( ash red ) occasionally entered at the larger shows.
By 1908 club membership had already passed 60 with several dozen breeders regularly exhibiting around the country. On top of this there were many non-members also exhibiting Nuns. The 1908 BNC committee are shown in the accompanying photo with J.Y.Baldwin seated on the front row second left. This photo was very kindly passed on to me along with his original judging stick by his daughter. This was a golden age for pigeon keeping and showing in the UK, with cheap transportation by rail, prize money  at all the shows and shows held in virtually every town in the country. The 1908 annual club show was held in York with the very famous writer and pigeon breeder Rev.W.F.Lumley judging. Best Nun was an adult black hen belonging to J.Y.Baldwin, the head and shell of which is pictured. The largest class had 21 entries, the smallest 10 and there were 79 blacks at the show. 15 different exhibitors won prize cards, either 1st down to Very Highly Commended. Apparently Rev. Lumley commented in his judging report that they were the best show of Nuns he had ever seen. Another very famous writer and breeder, C.A.House also judged Nuns at various leading shows. Also in 1908 J.Y.Baldwin offered for sale some of his surplus birds with prices ranging from 10 shillings right up to £10!! £10.00 was a huge amount for the average pigeon fancier in those days. In the early years the club show was held at a different show every year around the country, including the prestigious Dairy and Crystal Palace shows with 150 to 200 Nuns being entered common. The club AGM was however more often than not held in conjunction with the Crystal Palace show where more exhibitors were actually present rather than sending their birds by rail like they did at most shows. The Crystal Palace show was the largest in the country.
The 1909 club show held in Bristol had a record entry that still stands today, with 298 Nuns entered in the 18 classes. Many classes had more than 20 entries each. The judge was Mr Viner Leader, a club member and breeder going back into the 1800’s. No doubt this large entry was due to the amount of Nun breeders who lived in the West Country, with the Bath area being quite a hotbed. Also in 1909 Frank Neave of Norwich won at the Dairy Show the prestigious Fulton Trophy. Frank Neave later became the leading blue breeder in the country.  At the 1910 Crystal Palace show there were 60 Nuns entered in 6 classes.
Barnstaple was the venue for the 1911 club show with A.C.Brackstone judging the 203 entries in the 16 classes. This was made up of 73 entries in the 4 novice classes, 17 in a single stock class and 123 in the remaining 11 colour classes. Also that year there were 52 Nuns entered in 4 classes at the Crystal Palace show, 70 entries in 4 classes at the Darlington show and 24 in 2 classes at the Manchester show judged by Rev.Lumley. Here I find the first mention of W.J.Smillie exhibiting Nuns. Reynolds brothers won best Nun at both Manchester and the Palace shows with the black cock pictured. In 1911 as mentioned previously J.Y.Baldwin sold all his birds, and at auction they fetched the huge total of £388, so there must have been a lot of interest in them. Amongst the fanciers who bought some was W.J.Smillie from Troon who was to become one of the top Nun breeders over the next 40 years. Other top breeders at that time were the Reynolds brothers, bird, A.C.Brackstone, the Hallet brothers, Knowles and J.Weeks all from the Bath area, Kirkby ( London ), Symes ( Stratford ), J.Neal ( Bedford ), E.A.Jarrold ( Ilford ), T.E.Dosser ( Slingsby, Malton ), Goldsmith ( Great Bookham ) and J.Aird ( Birmingham ) who also had a brother in New York, USA who also kept Nuns.

The 1914 club show was held with the South London Columbarian Society show when E.A.Jarrold judged the 181 Nuns. Club membership at this time was 56 with a healthy bank balance. The club though needed to replace the young red or yellow cup and the cup for best AOC than black which had been won outright.

Other club shows held at this time were 1910 Cambridge where Bert Reynolds judged, 1912 Luton with Joel Weeks and B.C.Kirkby judging, 1913 Crystal Palace, 1915 Kettering and 1916 Manchester. Here was no club show in 1917 due to the difficulties of the First World War.  During the war any member serving in the armed forces, and there were several, were exempt from paying their subscriptions.
By 1912 the BNC started to award Certificates of Merit to various shows and to cup winners. The following year Henry Ryman stood down as secretary with J.Stinchcombe of Luton taking over. At this time several fanciers joined the club who after the war became very successful. F. Topham ( Ripon ), Dr.Heptinstall and E.Culham ( Luton ), P.taviner ( Slough ), H.Ganz ( Swansea ), A.Naismith ( Knottingley ) and W.Allison ( Irvine ). After the death of J.Stinchcombe during the war 1914 saw  J.W.Leech as secretary with E.A.Jarrold taking over for 1915 and 1916 and W.J.Smillie  holding the post in 1917 and 1918.

Part Two

In 1919 J.C.Hill took over as secretary after coming out of the army.
At the 1920 club show and AGM held at the Birmingham show, it was decided to have a trophy commissioned to commemorate those club members who died and served during the war. With £7.12.6 ( old money ) in club funds, BNC member J.Alan Walker stated that if this was made up to £10.00 he would match the same. The members present generously donated a further £14.00, therefore the sum of £31.12.6 was available to fund what was to be a unique trophy. Called “ The British Nun Club Heroes Trophy 1914-1919 “ it is a bronze figure of a WW1 soldier mounted on a solid marble base. The soldier has his arm out stretched and on his fist is mounted a carved ivory painted black Nun. This trophy is still awarded at the club show for best young Nun of its colour taking each colour on a rotation basis. Although there are no existing club records of how much it actually cost, there was enough money left over to produce six solid bronze plaques with a relief of the Heroes Trophy on them. These plaques were given to the first six winners of the Heroes Trophy, with the actual first winner being J.Alan Walker’s black at the 1921 club show held in Sheffield with W.J.Smillie judging. This plaque I am very fortunate to now own along with another, and I also know the whereabouts of one more. 1921 saw subscriptions raised to 10/6 and also the Thornbury Challenge Cup was presented to the club by E.W.Savery for best young dun. This cup is also still awarded. 1922 saw the club show held at York whilst it was held at Olympia, London.
Fortunately from 1924 onwards there are full records of all the club show trophy winners plus those who won club spoons and other specials at major shows. The 1924 club show and AGM were held in Norwich with J.W.neal as judge.  Best Nun was won by W.J.Smillie’s adult black with B.C.Kirkby winning the Heroes Trophy with a yellow. Also that year W.J.Smillie won the prestigious Fulton Trophy at the Dairy show with a young black.
1925 saw the club show move to Scotland at Kilmarnock, where there were 198 entries in 20 classes by 28 exhibitors, including 9 novices. The judges were W.J.Smillie and B.C.Kirkby with a blue from F.Neave winning the Heroes Trophy.  At the AGM J.W.Neal took over as secretary, a position he held until 1943. Also at the AGM it was recommended that all members purchased their rings from the NPA, and a new cup was presented by member Dr.Cairns for best young black called “ The Ackworth Cup “. This cup is still awarded at present. As well as taking over as secretary J.W.Neal also started writing Nun News regularly in “ Pigeons “ magazine. Writing in the Feathered World year book that year Mr Neal states “ that type is the first and great essential point to be aimed for. We must have distinction and make every endeavour to aim for type “. Further on he states “ The Nun is of a distinct tumbler type of pigeon, the nice pleasant faced tumbler has again come to the front and much of that snipey thin face is being lost. Body shape still needs attention as many birds are rather long casted in body. Also give attention to setting of shell, as this is still an item which needs great attention. Many winners are either too low set or overlap which is a great fault. The shell should stand perfectly erect “.
During the 1920’s blacks and duns continued to be the most popular colours and their quality was improving all the time, especially with the Scottish members like W.J.Smillie, W.Allison and R.McGill. Reds and yellows were improving steadily but as today tended to breed a high percentage of mismarked young. Blues were still in few hands and consequently were not making the improvements of the other colours. F.Neave of Norwich had the leading stud of this colour. Silvers and creams were also being shown but were scarce.Other top breeders at that time were B.C. Kirkby of Clapton, J.Weeks and the Reynolds brothers from Bath, J.Alan walker from Cheshire, E.W.Savery of Bristol, Mrs Bubb from herts, A.Naismith of Pontefract, J.Aird of Birmingham and T.Dosser of Slingsby near Malton. Apart from J.Aird’s brother in America who was a member, another American, H.A.Verges from Milwauke was made a Vice President in 1926. The club had correspondence with the American Nun Club, the forerunner of their present United Nun Club.
During 1926 membership stood at 57 fully paid up. The club show that year was held at York with 222 entries in the 20 classes. Best Nun and the Heroes Trophy went to W.J.Smillie’s young black cock. 1927 saw the club show at Birmingham with W.J.Smillie again winning best Nun with a black. At the AGM that year J.Alan Walker took over as President, a position he held until 1943. It was decided to hold the 1928 club chow at the Crystal Palace and the President promised to guarantee any loses that may occur. Also at the AGM a Novice Points Cup was subscribed for by the members present, and E.W.Savery and W.J.Smillie both offered to give away 6 pairs of Nuns each, one pair each to the first 12 new members joining the BNC during the year. The club at this time being in a good financial state paid the secretary Mr Neal a £5 honorarium for his work during the year. Shows around the country were being well supported, with at the Dairy Show 93 Nuns entered in 6 classes.
Manchester was the venue for the 1929 club show and AGM. At that meeting the President continued his generosity by presenting the club with our “ Championship Trophy “, awarded for Best Nun any colour any age either sex. Plus he would present a silver medal to its winner each year while he was President. Club membership had reached 70 by now and a sub committee of the President, W.J.Smillie and W.Allison was appointed to draw up an Ideal Nun in time for the next AGM which was to be held at the Crystal Palace with the club show. Best Nun in 1930 was an adult black cock from W.Allison.
The 1931 club show was held in Manchester with an adult blue winning Best Nun belonging to Dr J.W.Cairns. As far as I can tell this was the first time any other colour than black or dun had won Best Nun at the annual club show. W.J.Smillie and W.Allison were the judges, consequently their birds were not exhibited. On to 1932 and the club show moved to York where there was a new trophy on offer presented by Preston’s Ltd, and awarded the Best Opposite Sex to Best in Show. Also new club spoons with an enamelled Nun on them were bought to be given as specials. Best Nun was a black from W.J.Smillie with the first wnner of the new cup T.E.Dosser. 1933 saw the club show return to the Crystal Palace where Miss M.Allison became the first lady Nun breeder to win Best Nun, with an adult black. Miss Allison also won Best Opp Sex. The same year Sydney Russett who was later to become a long time secretary of the club, joined the BNC. In 1934 the club show was held at Olympia with Miss Allison again winning Best Nun with a black, whilst Dr Cairns won best Opp Sex. Membership had fallen that year to 57, and the club also started a junior section with subs at 5 shillings. Senior membership remained at 10/6.
The 1935 club show was held at York with J.Y.Baldwin being invited to judge, although he had not kept Nuns for over 20 years. He was though very impressed with the progress made in the breed. Best Nun was a red from J.Aird with Best Opp Sex a dun from T.E.Dosser. The AGM was held at the Crystal Palace where it was suggested that the red and yellow classes for 1936 were amalgamated due to lack of entries at shows during the year, and that all classes with under 7 entries be cancelled. Also in 1935 mention was made in Pigeons & Pigeon World magazine of a pairs table show for The Bath Tumbler and Nun Club. I’ve never heard or seen anything else about this club but it could have followed on from the much older Bath Nun Club. Of the exhibitors mentioned with Nuns in the report, only one was actually a BNC member.
In 1936 the club show again went north to York, where T.E.Dosser won Best Nun with a black adult and W.Allison won Best Opp Sex. W.J.Smillie won the Heroes Trophy with a black. The AGM was held at the NPA show in the Horticultural halls in Westminster. Birmingham saw the venue for the 1937 club show and AGM, with President J.Alan Walker winning both Best Nun and Best Opp Sex. T.E.Dosser won the Heroes Trophy with a dun. John Sears who later became famous as a Modena breeder became a new member the same year.
The 1938 club show at Ayr was the last to be held before the Second World War. W.Allison won Best Nun with an adult black, whilst T.Abernethy won Best Opp Sex with a young black. S.Russett won the heroes Trophy with a red. W.J.Smillie judged all the Nuns. The AGM was held at Alexandra Palace, probably with the NPA show and this was to be the venue for the 1939 club show, however there are no details recorded in the minute book for that year apart from a few subscriptions taken. It can only be presumed that with the outbreak of war the major shows were cancelled. It is certainly recorded that from 1940 until 1946 no club cups or specials were awarded. There were though NPA shows staged in 1940 and 1941 at Manchester and Bingley respectively but for young birds only, at which J.Alan Walker won both. In 1943 records show a Bradford championship show held also in Bingley, which could well have been the fore-runner to the present day BPSS shows which officially started just after the war. W.J.Smillie won Best Adult and T.Abernethy Best Young Bird.  The 1939 club membership stood at just 48, the lowest for a long time. During the war the club lost amongst others the President J.Alan Walker, W.Allison, T.E.Dosser, H.Reynolds and J.Weeks, all top Nun breeders of many years standing and A.Linfoot. The club though was in a good financial position with £26.6.5 in the bank.


Part Three

At the end of World War Two S.E.Russet took over as secretary, J.Y.Baldwin, now a Colonel was made Honorary Life President, and the club shows were usually held North and South in alternate years. In the period up to the late 1950’s the club was in good financial health even though subscriptions were 10 shillings, the same as in 1906 and membership was around the 50 mark. During those years the leading studs winning at the club show were from T.Abernethy, W.J.Smillie, G.Jeffrey, W.B.McCoombe, S.E.Russett, N.Pratt, W.J.Empson and W.Postill. Prominent members who joined the club in the 1950’s were L & G.Chapman, Mrs B.Field, N.Dance, D.Ison and D.Darbyshire, whilst W.B.McCoombe and Dr J.W.Cairns both died. Due to many entries being sent to shows by rail, the lack of members present at the club shows meant that for several years the AGM was not held, although the club produced year books and there were regular articles in Pigeon & Pigeon World magazine to keep members informed. 1959 saw L & G.Chapman win their first club show best Nun, and they continued to be one of the top studs in the country for the next 20 years.
Into the 1960’s and notable new members of the club were D.Hoyle, J.G.Rigg, P.Pratt, J.R.Thompson, J.Roper, C.R.Sutcliffe and E.Morton. W.J.Smillie died in 1960 aged 90 and the club also lost T.Abernethy and W.Postill. 1963 saw the first AGM since 1959 being held, and the following year Mrs Field became secretary with S.E.Russett taking over as President. The club also had made enamelled badges and spoons, awarded as specials for the first time since the war. Black Nun continued to lead the way at the club show with the studs of L & G.Chapman, C.S.Magee, J.G.Rigg and J.R.Thompson winning all the best Nun awards during the decade. No show was held in 1967 due to Foot & Mouth and a rail strike.
Throughout the 1970’s it was the studs of L & G.Chapman, J.R.Thompson and B.Denton who won all the top prizes at the club show. J.R.Thompson was particularly dominant in blacks and reds and the Chapmans with duns. Col Baldwin died aged 91 in 1970 as did C.A.Balchin and E.W.Savery, a member for over 60 years joining just after the club was formed. J.E.Surridge, L.Mileham and R.Platt all joined the club in that period. Entries at the club show regularly reached over 160, with in 1975 190 nuns shown, with membership around the 50 mark. In 1973 there was the first increase in subscriptions since the club was formed to £1.00. In 1971 D.Hoyle took over as secretary and in 1975 N.F.Pratt elected President. A new trophy was presented by the Dutch Nun Club called “ The Dutch Trophy”, awarded for best young nun making the most progress in its respective colour. At the 1976 club show there was a class added for any new standard colour, and by now the majority of club shows were being held at the British Pigeon Show Society shows at Harrogate and then Doncaster. Nuns had also been imported from America, whilst many had been sent all over Europe from our top breeders.
1980 saw both the Dixon & Dodgson partnership and R.S.Henderson join the club and both still have two of the leading studs 30 years later. Because of this I can speak of first hand knowledge of those 3 decades. In that year J.R.Thompson became club secretary, holding the post for one year with D.Hoyle then as acting secretary until J.Bradley took over in 1982. The first two years of the 1980’s unfortunately for the club and the breed saw the end of the Thompson, Chapman and Denton studs. One exhibitor bought most the birds from all these studs but could not breed them. Subsequently many of those good bloodlines were lost and several relative novice breeders made mistakes trying to take the club and the breed forward. The decade started with J.R.Thompson winning best at the club show and ended with Dixon and Dodgson doing the same. The other leading studs leading at the club show were from H & J.Morse, C.Driver, R.S.Henderson, R.S.Lane and A.Wilkinson. R.Pratt and J.R.Sharpe both joined the club in the mid 1990’s. In 1988 R.S.Henderson took over as club secretary, a position I still hold in 2010, whilst G.Chapman took over as President in 1981 until succeeded by J.Roper in 1989. The subscriptions had now gradually risen to £3.00, all club shows were now being held at Doncaster and the Nun standard was updated and a new Ideal drawing was adopted.
During in the 1990’s G.Chapman and D.Hoyle were made Honorary members of the club, L.Mileham became President in 1990 until R.Platt took over in 1997 and from them on the Presidents position was elected every two years, with  J.R.Thompson holding the role from 1999. Paul Eacott joined the club in 1996. Subscriptions were raised to £5.00 and regular newsletters started being produced to keep members informed. These newsletters were then jointly produced with the Australian Nun Club to offer news from around the world, and the internet made information more freely available. The leading studs during the 1990’s were R.S.Henderson, Dixon & Dodgson, J.R.Sharpe, L.Mileham, R.Platt and P.Eacott. Several times during the decade at least one Dutch Nun Breeder exhibited at the club show which were all held at Doncaster, however entries had started to decline over the previous few years even though membership held up well at nearly 40. The 1999 club show saw leading American Nun Breeder John Heppner judge, the first time a foreign judge had officiated as far as records show. By now several breeders had visited European shows and birds had been imported and exported throughout Europe and beyond. Blacks, Duns and Browns continued to win the major awards.
The turn of the century saw the club show continue at Doncaster until 2005 when for that and the next 3 years a separate club show was held near Bradford. There was also a special show held near Newmarket where Top Australian Breeder T.Stevenson judged. J.Thompson was made a Life member in 2001 and the club lost L.Mileham and N.Dance in 2002, Mrs J.Dixon in 2004 and G.Chapman and P.Pratt in 2009. New colours like Andalusian and Grizzle were introducedfrom Australia in 2002, and subscritions were raised to £10.00 by 2007. The leading studs were R.S.Henderson, P.Eacott, Dixon & Dodgson, N & M.Wright, Miss D.Vorndran and J.R.Sharpe and R.Platt after both rejoining the club. L.Mileham, Dixon & Dodgson, P.Eacott and J.R.Thompson all held the position of President during the decade. The main highlight though of the decade was the clubs centenary club show held near Bradford with a display of Nun memorabilia, very good prizes and lots of specials. Blacks, duns and browns had won top honours all through the decade but at this show a beautiful brown bar hen finish at the top. 2009 saw the last club show of the decade move back to the BPSS/NPA National show now being held at Pickering , North Yorkshire. Quarterly colour newsletters continued to be produced and entries at the shows were holding up well with the club in a very healthy state and membership in the mid 30’s.


BNC Comittee 1911

BNC Comittee 1911, J.Y.Baldwin is seated second from the left.

Black Nun Cock

The caption beside the picture reads,


 " WINNER Fulton Trophy 1936, Dairy and Six 1sts, Five Specials and a 2nd at the recent shows.

                                           Bred and Exhibited by T.E.Dosser & Sons

                                                    The Nunneries, Slingsby, York. "


Taken from " Pigeons and Pigeon World " January 14th 1938

The magazine itself was established as the " Fanciers Gazette " 1874