Honour for famous Derby pigeon that may have inspired Lionel Messi

today10 September 2022 1

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A plaque designed by a renowned sculptor is soon to be unveiled at a Derby pub to honour the legacy of a racing pigeon from the city whose story may have inspired Lionel Messi, one of the greatest sportsmen to have ever lived.

The King of Rome, who is due to be featured in a film, famously flew in a race from the Italian capital back to his home town of Derby in 1913 and has since proved an inspiration to people across the globe.

A former teacher and now historian, Kal Singh Dhinsa, 42, from Normanton, says he wants people to appreciate the birds often seen as pests in the city and keep the memory of this particular chapter of its history alive by installing a plaque describing the King of Rome’s achievement. It would be installed in the Maypole Inn in Brook Street, Derby, near where the King of Rome was trained for greatness.

He said: “It was one of most prestigious races and a thousand took part from Rome. A storm blew in and thousands were swept away, but 31 days later he came back to Derby. He was then called Blue Cork, but after it won its prize it became known as the King of Rome.

“He had starred in a documentary for the BBC called ‘the Pigeon Men’, which is going to be turned into a feature film. The pigeon came from Derby, and that’s something to be very proud of. He was trained by a man called Charles Hudson and they lived at 56 Brook Street, which has sadly since been knocked down. So I decided to install a plaque inside the Maypole.

Read more about Derby bygones

“Hopefully people will come in and engage with it, wondering what on Earth it is and then read up on it. Derby Museums already have it stuffed, but people just passed it as nobody likes pigeons, they think of them as dirty and diseased.

“But once they find out about the King of Rome’s story about defiance, how he did not give up and returned home to a safe space, they might be more comfortable with people. Dave Sudbury wrote a song in the 1980s which Messi, as is described in his biography, may have been familiar with whilst growing up in Argentina.

“It’s about big dreams, and someone in a poor neighbourhood playing for a football club with no money and a lack of growth hormones could have been inspired by the song about the King of Rome. Sometimes you just have to try and spread your wings.

“He was a plucky pigeon from a poor area of Derby. It’s quite incredible to think, and it inspires me as well. I left teaching in 2007 to do other things that make me happy. I’ve built statues, I’ve written books. Stories like these that inspire people are really important.”

Julie Lowe, 54, a nurse from Chaddesden, is Charles Hudson’s great, great granddaughter.

She said: “We were all very aware of the story. We all saw the pigeon at the museum and stories have been passed down by my dad. I’m really proud and really excited, it’s come at a great time.”

Julie Lowe, 54, a nurse from Chaddesden, Charles Hudson's great, great granddaughter.
Julie Lowe, 54, Charles Hudson’s great, great granddaughter.

Dave Sudbury, 80, from Normanton, who wrote the song about the King of Rome’s exploits, said: “I was a songwriter, but I didn’t start until I was in my 30s. I was living in Belper in the early 1980s, singing around folk clubs and I needed something to sing.

“I heard about the King of Rome and nobody really knew anything about it, despite him being in the corner in a display case in the museum. There was something about the name. I was brought up in a working class family in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s in Normanton and his story meant I could express something about what that experience was like in a really rough end of town.

“People wanted to get out of the place, they were working in factories and coal mines. You’d get your freedom through other things, so why not breed pigeons and let them fly off? Part of you went with them, it was a taste of freedom.”

David Sudbury
David Sudbury wrote a song about the King of Rome in the 1980s

Donna Briscoe-Greene, 52, landlady at the Maypole for three years, said: “I’ve taken on the Maypole as a cultural venue rather than the average everyday pub. I want history installed here as well. It’s now completely different to the theatre it used to be but I still want to showcase the local people who came before.

Donna Briscoe-Greene, 52, landlady at the Maypole
Donna Briscoe-Greene, 52, is landlady at the Maypole

“It’s a simple thing, everyone takes pigeons for granted but they are on our streets in every city. It’s already in the museum, and I’m trying to work towards a city of culture, to delve more into what we have to offer. It’s about people coming together.”


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