Thirty birds entered, 22 benched. It doesn’t sound much, but 20 years ago I’d never have believed that any London Fancies would have been exhibited at all, yet here they were, and so was I to judge them.
Better still, many of the over-year birds looked like the real thing: almost clear bodies with dark wings and tail. It is at this point that we must acknowledge that the modern London Fancy, even though it moults from dark to light, is not exactly the same as its Georgian predecessor.
The original London Fancy was known as a one-year show bird because it lost so much melanin from its wings and tail at the second moult that it was no longer fit for exhibition. The modern version also loses melanin at the second moult, but confined mainly to the head and body. The darkness of the wings and tail is often retained. Birds that were spangle-backs in their first year can become classic London Fancies after their second and even their third moult. This gives the show career of a London Fancy longevity, but places unlighted birds at a disadvantage.
So it proved at the 2019 National; all the best birds were over-years. They were led by Andy Early’s mealy cock, a classic type with only a few ticks on its head and body combined with dark wings and tail.
Other over-years of note were Andy’s fawn London Fancy (cinnamon wings and tail with a white head and body), Richard Knowles’ white (a striking combination of white and black) and Bernard Howlett’s jonque.
The award for best unflighted London Fancy went to a spangle-back bred by Joe Coakley. With only one moult under its belt it retained much of the dark spangling on its back, but otherwise its head and body showed a preponderance of clear feathering. It also stood out for the darkness of its legs and beak. I would not be at all surprised to see this bird (and its competitors) in contention when they moult out lighter next year.
In many ways the most interesting London Fancies on show were those bred by Martin Walker. Martin has been developing his own strain for many years. They contain no Dutch blood, yet they display similar characteristics. They also moult out clearer at the first moult, if not as dramatically as birds from the Dutch strain, and there is more grizzle in evidence. Nevertheless Martin has made significant progress to the point that his best birds not only retain their dark wings and tail, but also display a distinct cap – an important feature of the original breed. One to watch.
I was impressed by the progress made by British London fanciers over the last five years; no wonder enquiries for stock exceed supply. Their birds may be a work in progress, but they are definitely going in the right direction.