Bucks County Beekeepers, a glimpse of our past 135 years
Much of the early history is a little unclear, and the county organisation seems to have had a couple of false starts and relapses, but despite the minor gaps we can be proud of our County Association’s long history.
Its centenary was celebrated in 1983, but another source begins its narrative with a Mr H. Edwards, the County Bee Expert touring the County and drumming up interest in 1901-1904. His function was to educate and illuminate, quite literally, for his equipment included an acetylene lamp and lantern slides, which he exhibited, remarkably, from the back of a van. Presumably this van was loaned by the County Council, given its cost and novelty. Anyway, he was funded by the County Council under the heading Technical Education for ‘visitations and propaganda’. In those days domestic food production enjoyed a higher priority than today. One such Expert, (Mr William Herrod, as he then was) records a typical day in his diary for 7th June 1896 beginning at 5AM, finishing at 9.30PM, cycling 56 miles, inspecting 48 movable frame colonies plus 2 skeps, kept by 20 beekeepers. No doubt he, too, would have appreciated a van! He recruited 8 new members, spent 2/- on B&B, his other needs being provided by the beekeepers he visited. His emolument was 70/- per week inclusive of expenses and commission on recruits. Our Mr Edwards’ duties seem to have been rather less taxing both physically and in relation to his time, as budgetary constraints rationed his activity. What is believed to have been our first honey show prizes were awarded to beekeeping members of the Slough and District Allotments Society at Datchet in 1905; Slough, in those days and until fairly recently being within Bucks.
In our first 25 years the senior people were frequently members of social distinction including as Presidents one Duke, two Earls, one Lord, and one Baron. In 1907 for instance, our President was the Earl of Buckinghamshire; Vice Presidents included the brothers Leopold and Evelyn de Rothschild. The Secretary in 1918 was a Capt Bell White, High Sheriff of the County. An appeal for funds was sent to the “Nobility and Gentry of the County of Bucks”. In those days Bucks was a poor rural county with no large towns or major centres of commerce. Major public transport routes served only its eastern, southern and northern fringes by railway and canal. A branch line put High Wycombe on the transport map. The Metropolitan Railway had not been built and London stopped at Ealing and Harrow. Milton Keynes and Slough were undeveloped.
At this time, a “bona-fide” cottager could be enrolled in the Association at 2/6, but ceased to qualify for this rate if he had more than five frame hives. The frame hive was an expensive item and many true cottagers would have still been using skeps, the homely and cheaper alternative. An ordinary member paid “not less than 5/” per annum, a subscription rate that implies some flexibility, and a figure that remained unchanged for over 25 years until 1932. A County honey label was commissioned (50 for 6d, 1000 for 7/6). Perhaps we should consider this again, with a design competition? In 1933 honey was sold at 1/9 per lb; 2/ for sections (2/ =10p).
Certainly, by 1934 we were a beekeeping county of note. The first Eastern and Home Counties Convention was held at the Bull Hotel in Aylesbury. This was a two-day affair and included a trip to Messrs Lee and Sons, bee-keeping equipment manufacturers at Uxbridge. Subsequent Con-ventions before the war were hosted by the county beekeeping associations of Norfolk, Berkshire, Middlesex and Essex. Bucks was always strongly represented. As time progressed, our most tireless organisers were Mrs Dora Evelyn Tweedie and her husband Race (a.k.a. Tweedie Bee). Race was the County Bees Officer. They lived at Chartridge, near Chesham. Evelyn (or Dora) served as Secretary to the County Association for 21 years and President for three. She was also a Vice President of BBKA, a rare honour. Race also held County BKA Office, so it was quite a team.
One of the curses of the 1930’s was the adulteration of honey by commercially produced syrups. This made it difficult to sell pure honey at anything like an economic price. Many initiatives were put forward to improve the market for and marketing of pure honey. Bucks County was a leading proponent of legislation to cause the product descriptor ‘honey’ to be a term legally reserved for the pure unadulterated output of honeybees. Eventually this was enacted and remains the case today. Mrs Tweedie had a more direct way of promoting the sale of honey. She wrote for a number of publications including the Daily Mirror. We have a number of letters from interested readers asking for her recipes. A particular favourite was hair-darkening pomade. Unfortunately, while we have the appeals for help, we don’t have the recipe.
The National Honey Show was founded in 1922, but it was only in 1947 that Bucks joined as a sponsoring Association. That means we have the privilege of Bucks-only classes to demonstrate our skills and commitment, but can, of course, compete against the world in the Open classes if we wish. Surely this has to be worth supporting! It was for the 30th anniversary (arguably celebrated in error in 1934), that the then President, Lord Bury, gave us the much admired silver filigree skep, now re-named the Tweedie Trophy. This is one of our most prized awards and goes to the local association winning the most points in the Bucks classes at the National Honey Show. Many other past members who have given freely of their time, personal resources and enthusiasm are commemorated with other trophies, including Lord Cadman, Laurie Webb, Marjory Parker, Margaret Issaias, J.M. Raven and a currently unidentified ‘Peggy’, all waiting to be won and admired. The County Association also has a shareholding in the monthly magazine, Beecraft.
To celebrate our Centenary a number of initiatives and projects were undertaken, with great results. Ronny Mitchell (Chalfonts) and Laurie Webb (Mid Bucks and Chalfonts) were key figures in mounting a splendid exhibition and lecture series at the County Museum in Aylesbury, which attracted over 1200 visitors. Bees came and went through clear tubing out of the museum and into the centre of Aylesbury, while the public could watch the work of the hive going on before their eyes. Another 100th project was led by Les Brown and Alex Warden (Chalfonts). They designed a simple and robust observation hive, with the intention of building and awarding perhaps four as prizes to schools. In the event, a working party, plus endless hours of hard labour by Alex, produced over 20, which were distributed to schools and supported on-site by a local beekeeper. Other successful events were a substantial honey/ craft show organised by Mid Bucks and a major dinner celebration organised by High Wycombe.
The number and relationship of District Associations has fluctuated over the years, but in the middle of the 20th century, with more beekeepers and less mobility than today, there were 15 local associations from Iver to Newport Pagnell, and from Grendon Underwood to Chesham. Membership has fluctuated from a peak of 600 before and just after the Second World War to a low of just 74 in 1965. This was perhaps a local example of national trends. Beekeeping, like many food-related and pastoral occupations, boomed in the periods of austerity. With rising wealth, mobility and competition from more glamorous leisure activities such as TV, colour films, and longer holidays, often taken abroad, these outdoor activities declined. Today, beekeeping is once more increasing in popularity and the County membership is growing strongly. Membership is now in the region of 250, plus Mid Bucks BKA.
Let us remember with gratitude the commitment and achievements of past members of the County Association who have carried the Bucks standard with such distinction. No doubt we shall learn more of them as we uncover more of our history. Let us also reflect that in due course our own actions, or inactions, will become history. Our descendants will judge us, and it is to them that we must pass on a strong, active and vibrant Association good for another 125 years.