This is a pleasing little story from the north Midlands of England. Not earth-shattering, and it probably would have remained in obscurity only for a folk singer/songwriter.

Pigeon fancying, pigeon racing got popular in England during the years of the Industrial Revolution. In the north in particular it became a hobby for some men, a release from their grim working lives down the mines or in the factories.

This story concerns such a man, Charlie Hudson, who lived in Brook Street, Derby. He bred pigeons and one day in 1913 he entered his prize bird for a 1,000 mile race from Rome back to the birds’ home lofts. Charlie knew that it was unlikely he’d see his bird again but he wanted to experience what freedom was like, vicariously, through his pigeon.

‘Yeah, I know, but I had to try
A man can crawl around or he can learn to fly
And if you live ’round here
The ground seems awful near
Sometimes I need a lift from victory’

As predicted, few pigeons made it back home. Charlie’s bird did. And today the King of Rome stands proudly in a glass case in Derby Museum.

Folk singer Dave Sudbury wrote some words about the King and composed a song. June Tabor and others covered it, most recently a powerful brass band-backed version by the Unthanks.

Long live the King of Rome.