Green’s Dictionary of Slang

blue pigeon n.

(UK Und.)

1. a thief who specializes in stealing the lead from roofs [like an avian pigeon, the thief ‘perches’ on a church roof].

[UK]Proceedings Old Bailey 13 Dec. 142/1: I caught hold of his collar, and we took him and the lead under his arm to the watch-house [...] Prisoner. Did not you say you had me as tight as a blue pigeon? – He had the property under his left arm when I took him.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (3rd edn).
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.

2. (also blue, pigeon) small off-cuts of lead or similar materials, taken from the job in hand and sold off as perks by plumbers.

[UK]G. Parker View of Society II 64: Opportunities of flying the Blue pigeon such as cutting off pipes, stealing cocks,&c.
[UK]Ordinary of Newgate Account 7 Dec. [Internet] I asked him what he had got there; he said, a bit of blue; that is slang for lead.
[UK]Proc. Old Bailey 26 June 385/2: A. He said [...] I had better go up on the top of the house, there was something in the blue pigeon way. - Q. What did you understand by the blue pigeon - A. Something of lead.
[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang.
[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc. 135: ‘Pigeon,’ and ‘blue pigeon,’ is another name for lead.
[UK]H. Smith Gale Middleton 1 148: My fib [...] is loaded at the end with blue pigeon, so that it’s as heavy as a rook!
[UK]Proc. Old Bailey 5 Apr. 890: I had heard the phrase blue pigeon before—it means lead.

3. (also bit of blue) a lead bullet.

[UK]Metropolitan Mag. XIV Sept. 334: May I [...] be smothered if I had not sent a bit of blue pigeon through his nabs.
[UK]Metropolitan Mag. XIV Sept. 334: Oh, oh! thinks I, bolt-in-tun must be concerned here, and off I went, and bang came a bit of blue after me.

In compounds

blue pigeon flyer (n.) (also blue pigeon flier)

a stealer of lead from the roofs of buildings; such a thief poses as a journeyman glazier, plumber or other workman who gets to the roof, strips off the lead and hides it (often by wrapping it round the body) before leaving the house.

[UK]G. Parker View of Society II 63: Blue Pigeon-Flyer. These are journeymen plumbers and glaziers who repair houses, and Running dustmen.
[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict. 6: Blue pigeon fliers, or flyers, thieves who steal lead from the tops of houses and churches.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open [as cit. 1835].
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. Blue-Pigeon-Flyers journeymen plumbers, glaziers, and others, who, under the plea of repairing houses, strip off the lead, and make way [sic] with it. Sometimes they get off with it by wrapping it round their bodies.
[UK]Caledonian Mercury 1 Sept. n.p.: ‘Blue Pigeon flyers’ — stealers of lead pipes.
[UK]Pall Mall Gaz. 2 Dec. 9/2: Our author makes no mention [of] any French ‘blue-pigeon flyewr’ — the man whose trade it is to strip and steal lead from the roofs.
[UK]Gloucester Citizen 18 Oct. 3/4: The prestige of being a blue pigeon flyer ‘in excelsis’ can scarcely be witheld from [...] Cowper, who was charged at Wandsworth with stealing no less than 212 lb of lead.
[UK]Barrère & Leland Dict. of Sl., Jargon and Cant.
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues.
[UK] (ref. to 19C) R.T. Hopkins Life and Death at the Old Bailey 63: The following crook’s words and phrases date from the days of the old Old Bailey: [...] stealers of lead pipes – blue pigeon flyers.

In phrases

fly the blue pigeon (v.) (also fly the pigeon)

to steal the lead from a church roof; thus (blue) pigeon-flying, conducting such thefts.

[UK]G. Parker View of Society II 63: To fly the Blue Pigeon is cutting off lead from what they call a Prayer Book up to a Bible.
[UK]Proc. Old Bailey 21 Feb. 428/2: JOHN COX was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 6th day of February , two hundred pounds weight of lead [...] ‘one of the other evidences that was with us said, you have been flying the blue pigeon finely’.
[UK]G. Parker Life’s Painter 141: I must go on the lark-rig, blue pigeon-flying, or come the running glazier. [Ibid.] 165: Blue pigeon flying. Fellows who steal lead off houses, or cut pipes away.
[UK]G. Hangar Life, Adventures and Opinions II 60: Various impositions, practised daily on the unwary [...] such as the running rumbler, skylarking, blue pigeon flying.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London I 132: Blue pigeon flying—The practice of stealing lead from houses, churches, or other buildings.
[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc. 135: ‘To fly the pigeon,’ to steal lead.
[UK] ‘All England Are Slanging It’ Universal Songster I 39/2: Ulloa my covey, you seem to be out on the morning sneak there [...] You are not going to fly the blue pigeon, are you?
[UK]W.T. Moncrieff Heart of London II i: You hadn’t a bone in your leg when the traps were after you for blue-pigeon flying.
[UK] ‘All England Now are Slanging It’ Museum of Mirth 39/2: What are you doing with that pump-handle under you arm? You are not going to fly the blue pigeon are you?
[UK]J. Greenwood Seven Curses of London 88: Stealing lead from the roof of houses – flying the blue pigeon.
[UK]J. Doran N&Q Ser. 4 X 308: Even at the present day, no rascal would stoop to strip lead from the roof of a house. At least, what honest men would call by that name, he would prettily designate as ‘flying the blue pigeon.’ [F&H].
[UK]Judy 27 Apr. 200: A burglar whose particular lay was flying the blue pigeon, i.e., stealing lead [F&H].
[UK]Star (Guernsey) 23 Feb. 4/2: A pickpocket wouold soon lose the delicacy of manipulation [...] if he were to take to blue pigeon flying (stripping empty houses of lead) or lumping (‘lifting’ packages in transit).
[Aus]D.V. Lucas Aus. and Homeward 334: Some of their slang may be interesting [...] stealing lead from a roof, flying the blue pigeon.
[UK]Daily Tel. 21 Mar. 115: Persons addicted to what is known among the criminal classes as ‘flying the blue pigeon’, usually mount on to the roofs of buildings that are covered with the metal, and this they do at times when they are least likely to be disturbed or interrupted [F&H].