THE North East’s greatest racing pigeon has been found, stuffed in a museum in the Midlands, but – just like all good pigeons – he may be coming back home.

Before the First World War, a pigeon from Spennymoor became a celebrity for his endurance exploits which earned him the name “the Prince of Rome”, although he usually went by his number, J5093. The number is still around the leg of the stuffed superstar in the storeroom of Derby museum.

The Northern Echo: William Scurr at the top with Henry Vester and Richard Scurr who were the extremely well dressed breeders and fliers of the Prince of Rome

J5093, a blue checker, was bred by three fanciers from Tudhoe Colliery – Henry Vester, Richard Scurr and his son William – and he first caused a flap in 1909 when, in his third competitive year, he won a race over 202 miles from Oxford.

The following year, he entered the international arena, and won his first 456-mile cross-Channel race from Rennes in Brittany, France.

In 1911, he was first home over 475 miles from Arlon, in south Belgium and, the next year, he repeated his Rennes triumph.

Now he was ready for something greater – the International Rome Race.

The Northern Echo: Kal Singh Dhindsa and the Prince of Rome in Derby Museum

The Prince of Rome in Derby museum

At 4.15am, on June 29, 1913, 1,653 of the Continent's best and bravest birds were liberated in the Eternal City. Tragically, the avian daredevils flew straight into a terrible snowstorm over the Alps. Some were blown fatally off course; others were forced down into deep snowdrifts from which they couldn’t escape.

But a hardy few just kept on flying...

Belgium was then the capital of pigeon racing. The first recorded race had been held there in 1818, and in the 1880s, the sport really took off, spreading across the Channel to the working class communities of Britain.

But of 1,200 Belgian pigeons released that day in Rome, only 62 made it home.

And of 106 English birds released, only one appeared to have returned to his loft. He was NU1907DY168 whose arrival back in Derby on July 29 – a full month after his release – was greeted with astonishment. He was a blue cock belonging to Charlie Hudson, a council lamplighter, and he had taken 31 days to cover 1,001 miles.

The Northern Echo: The King of Rome from the 1914 Homing Pigeon Annual

As all the other British birds were feared lost, he was crowned the King of Rome (above).

But then, on August 18, J5093 dropped in at Messrs Vester and Scurr’s loft at Tudhoe. He had covered 1,093 miles and 1,186 yards in 51 days. Although he had flown further than the King of Rome, his average speed was slower and so he was crowned the Prince of Rome.

"No other English pigeons have ever flown such long distances, and their achievements are only excelled by those of American birds,” crowed the Homing Pigeon Annual of 1914.

In October 1913, the two birds were honoured at the Manchester Flying Club’s annual dinner. Both the King of Rome and the Prince of Rome were present as Mr Hudson was presented with a silver trophy, the Rome Cup, a diploma of honour from the Brussels Society and a prize of £12. Messrs Vester and Scurr received a diploma from Belgium and £8.

The Tudhoe trio also received many offers for their Prince, including from America, but they turned them down. However, pigeon racing was a dangerous game – the King of Rome, for instance, had returned from two of its previous international races badly shot up – and so the Prince of Rome was retired from the skies and set to stud in Tudhoe.

"Vester and Scurr will have a limited number of youngsters for disposal in 1914 from £1 each," said the 1914 Homing Pigeon Annual (below).

The Northern Echo: The Prince of Rome from the 1914 Homing Pigeon Annual

When Memories last told this story in 2010, with the help of many readers and the Tudhoe & Spennymoor Local History Society, that is where it ended with the Prince of Rome contently cooing in his Tudhoe coop.

But now, amazing work by Derby historian, writer and all-round enthusiast Kal Singh Dhindsa has unearthed the taxidermied body of the Prince in the storeroom of Derby museum.

The Northern Echo: The King of Rome in Derby Museum

The King of Rome on display in Derby museum

In Derby, the King of Rome is, rightly, well renowned. When he died, Mr Hudson had his body stuffed and, in 1946, he presented it to his local museum where it has been on display ever since. Folk musician Dave Sudbury wrote a song about the King’s exploits which has been recorded by June Tabor and The Unthanks.

Apparently, in Lionel Messi’s biography, the Argentinian who some regard as the greatest footballer of all time says he was inspired by the song and the story to spread his wings.

Kal has recently placed a plaque in a pub in Derby near the home of Mr Hudson to commemorate the King of Rome.

"He was a plucky pigeon from a poor area of Derby,” he says. “It's quite incredible to think. Stories like these that inspire people are really important.”

In the museum storeroom, Kal discovered a second pigeon, the Prince of Rome, that was donated at the same time as the King with information which proves that it is the Spennymoor bird – it even has the J5039 tag still on its leg (below).

The Northern Echo: Kal Singh Dhindsa and the Prince of Rome in Derby Museum

“While researching, I came across your (Memories) story of the Prince of Rome,” says Kal. “The King of Rome is always on show but the Prince of Rome isn’t. The King is highly regarded; the Prince should be too.

“In my book, the King came back first in the quickest time but the Prince came back 31 days longer and travelled those extra miles to the North East so it should be recognised as one of the greatest pigeons ever.

The Northern Echo: Kal Singh Dhindsa and the Prince of Rome in Derby Museum

Kal Singh Dhindsa and the Prince of Rome in Derby Museum

“It would be great if we could return the Prince of Rome back to the North East. I would love to think that kids would be inspired by the story of the greatest of them all.”

Kal’s census research shows that Mr Vester and Mr Scurr lived in Attwood Terrace, and he is coming up later this month to see where a plaque commemorating the Prince might be placed.

The Northern Echo: The rear of Front Street, Tudhoe Colliery, in September 1961, taken from the spoilheap of the pit. We think Attwood Terrace, where the Prince of Rome's owners lived, is in the distance

The rear of Front Street, Tudhoe Colliery, in September 1961, taken from the spoilheap of the pit. We think Attwood Terrace, where the Prince of Rome's owners lived, is in the distance 

The Prince’s story is also going to be included in a feature length film that is being made by Nova Mundi Studios. Local film-makers Daniel-John Williams, Marc de Launay and Ian Paine have been following Redcar fanciers for three years for their film “about love, passion and pigeons”. The working title of the film is the Pigeon Men, and a beautiful trailer can be seen at, although by the time it is released later this year it will simply be Home.

But where should a plaque to the pigeon that held the British distance record be placed? And do you have a connection to Henry Vester or Richard and William Scurr, or can you tell us anything more about the Prince of Rome? Please email

The Northern Echo: Kal Singh Dhindsa and the Prince of Rome in Derby Museum

THE longest ever flight by a homing pigeon seems to have taken place in Xinjiang region of China in 2005 when a bird called Creation Invincible covered 4,308km (2,677 miles) in 83 days.

WHEN the Prince of Rome landed on August 18, 1913, it was the most famous thing to fly into Tudhoe, but that changed on December 24, 1944, when a German doodlebug hit the cricket club. Doodlebugs were V1 flying bombs with engines that were sent over from the Continent. When the engine ran out of fuel, the missile would drop to the ground and explode. Tudhoe was hit by the doodlebug that travelled the furthest north.