During my childhood I lived in a small village on the Berkshire downs called Beedon. As a child I used to envisage that Beedon would have been inhabited with bees and hence its name. As a child, I saw no evidence of beekeepers or beehives in my village and the village largely consisted of open fields which were occasionally traversed by tractors and combine harvesters. Then during the 1980’s, most of the hedgerows had been rooted up and many of the trees felled especially after Dutch elm disease. None of the patchwork of fields that once created the patterns and textures of the countryside remained.
Next to Beedon was a hamlet called Worlds End. This hamlet was largely a ribbon of houses which adjoined the Newbury Road. Worlds End was bookended at one end by the Coach and Horses pub to the north and the Langley Hall pub to the south. Beyond the houses were open fields. Again, as I child I couldn’t quite reason why this place was the end of the world but then again I didn’t live there.
Later in life I moved away from Beedon and I still kept in touch with my former history teacher Victor Pocock. Victor had previously shown me a photograph of a beekeeper which was taken from the British Bee Journal. Victor got this photograph through his research of the Goodman family. At the time this did not spike my interest.
Through a sharp change in my personal circumstances in 2010, I decided I would pursue the vocation of a beekeeper. My interest was pricked about Victor’s photograph of that mysterious beekeeper. Victor kindly lend me the file of the Goodman family tree and I came to know Mr Woodley.
So let The Beekeeper’s Record of December 1909 tell Mr Woodley’s life storey.
Mr. Woodley was born at Oxford on March 9, 1846, and six years later he was, on the death of his mother, placed in the care of a great-aunt living at Stanmore, a small hamlet of Beedon, near Newbury, Berks, who was one of several beekeepers of the old school who kept bees in skeps. When the boy William was considered capable of walking two miles to the village school, he was duly installed as a scholar therein; and upon reaching the age of seven his services were requisitioned during the six or seven weeks of each succeeding swarming season for the purpose of what the old lady called “mindin’ the bees.” He may thus be truly said to have begun beekeeping early in life, and no doubt his early experiences among bees have stood him in good stead since, for none make better beekeepers than those who have gained their first knowledge of the pursuit in boyhood. Many are the exploits Mr Woodley can detail of bee-doings at this period of his life; how he assisted the chief bee-man of the place—who, like the great Huber, was blind—in recovering swarms from tall trees, the boy mounting the trees and being “shown” how to manage by the directions called out from below by the blind old bee-keeper.
In 1859 Mr. Woodley was apprenticed to a firm of grocers at Chieveley, Berks, his evenings being devoted to educational self-improvement, and seven years later he left the firm and removed to another employment at Slough, Bucks. While here he began to take an interest in photography; finally, being naturally of a mechanical turn of mind, he displayed a special fondness for handling watches and clocks. This proving a more congenial occupation than the grocery business, and having gained a fair insight into the subject, he returned to Beedon, and started business for himself in the watch and clock trade. The venture brought about a renewal of old acquaintanceships, and the old pursuit of beekeeping was resumed in a small way, this time on his own account, and with straw skeps, of course. It was, however, not till 1878 that he adopted the frame-hive, and three years later he took first prize at the exhibition at South Kensington, his fine glass super becoming the talk of the neighbourhood at the time. Since that date the growth of Mr Woodley’s apiaries has been steady and constant, the number of stocks now kept varying from 140 to 200. His fame as an exhibitor was recorded in our pages for many years, but he has now given up showing to any great extent. On one occasion, in 1889, a sample of his success in the art of beekeeping was presented by the B.B.K.A. to her late Majesty Queen Victoria at Windsor, in the shape of a large and handsome design in honeycomb.
Mr. Woodley married in 1872, and his wife was, up to the time of her death in April, 1904, his most able and trusted assistant in the apiary. After Mrs Woodley’s death their daughter took up the home duties and helped with the bees, performing such duties as folding and fitting up sections, glazing them when filled for market or the show-bench, hiving swarms, making candy, and undertaking other business connected with the working of a large bee-farm. On her marriage Mr. Woodley himself married again, a lady whom he had known from childhood. She took to the beework with enthusiasm, and has since rendered most valuable help in his bee and honey trade, which has largely increased of late years, the customers being located in all parts of Great Britain.
Like many other successful honey-producers, he relies entirely on the old native black bee, and believes in no other; and, while endeavouring to improve his strain, no foreign blood is allowed to mix with it. He has also so far been successful in keeping foul brood at a distance.
Mr. Woodley is highly esteemed among his poorer neighbours, and for nearly forty years has been their adviser, will- maker, and trusted counsellor. His opinion is also generally sought on matters of importance occurring in his neighbourhood, and he has the management of a flourishing benefit society.
In addition to managing his private business, he has many calls upon his time in the public interest, having been Guardian and District Councillor and Acting Overseer for Hampstead Norris, the largest parish in the Wantage Union, is chairman of the Parish Council and trustee of the Parish Charities, also C.C. school manager of Beedon CE. School, chairman of the Parish Meeting of Beedon, a member of the local Small Holdings Committee, of the Old-Age Pensions Committee, and holds several other public offices. His zeal and conscientiousness in performing the above duties are shown by the fact that he has not missed a Parish Council meeting for fifteen years, though he has to walk three miles to attend them.
We are sure readers will join us in wishing that Mr Woodley may long be spared to continue the good work he is doing for beekeeping and in many other ways which the limits of this short sketch preclude us from detailing.
The British Bee Journal of January 1909 goes into the detail about the photograph of Mr Woodley’s apiary.
On page 24 we give a view of the “Home of the Honey Bees” at “ World’s End,” near Newbury, Berks, the owner thereof being Mr Wm. Woodley, well known to readers of this journal as the contributor of “Notes by the Way “ to its pages. The photo from which our illustration is reproduced was taken some six years ago, but the hives occupy the same positions now as, then, except that the straw skeps shown in the picture have gone the way of all things of a like nature. Close observation will show a small hive with a round hole in its centre for an entrance, standing on the top of the twin-hive in the foreground. This was the home of a nest of humble bees, the property of Mr. Woodley’s son, who, when a lad, used to keep several such hives tenanted during the summer months with colonies of the Bombus genus. The figures shown are those of Mr and Mrs W., engaged in what will, no doubt, be a daily item of their bee work during the busy season, viz., that of removing full racks of sections and replacing them with empty ones.
The house in the farther corner, on the left, was erected as a combination summer and manipulating house, at a time when the old shake-off or brush-away process of removing finished sections was in vogue. We learn that many a retreat from troublesome or angry and vicious bees has taken place behind the then thickly-curtained doorway when removing honey; causing the work in the neighbouring farmyard to be carefully studied in order to prevent “war” between the workers of the hives and those in the rickyard adjoining. This trouble is now happily ended, and, thanks to the super-clearer, we are told that “peace” now reigns between both sets of workers, and honey is removed at any time “even when the neighbours are garthering their corn the other side of the windbreak.” The portion of a building on the right is a Wesleyan chapel, but Mr. W. and family regularly attend Beedon Church, in the parish of Hampstead Norris, three miles from his own village.
In addition to the home-apiary, with its over a hundred hives, shown in the illustration, Mr. Woodley has an out-apiary of fifty to sixty hives at Stanmore, a little over two miles from his house at Beedon. This entails considerable labour during the Summer months, and the only help he gets in all the actual work at both apiaries is that of Mrs. Woodley, who may be taken an ideal bee-man’s wife. To use her husband’s own worth, “she has proved a true helpmeet in everything pertaining to the work in the apiary,
either in hiving and packing swarms, folding and preparing sections for putting on the hives, cleaning and glazing sections after removal from the hives, for show or market, and thus handling in some way nearly all the output for the past fifteen years from both apiaries. The only help we have being that of an old man to watch for and hive swarms into straw skeps of the out-apiary during the swarming season.”
Mr. Woodley further tells us :—
‘ The. work of preparing the produce of our apiaries for market is by no means a small job, the bulk being in sections, while nearly every parcel is double glassed with lace-paper
edging in our well known style, and each year brings a wider demand for this form of ‘putting up,’ without advertising of any kind. In fact, the goods advertise themselves, and inquiries reach us from distant towns for a sample dozen, which invariably leads to repeat orders.’
That our friend makes bee-keeping pay seem clear from the above, and although his prices may not be so good as in past years, he still holds his own, and for finest selected glazed sections still gets the good old price of 10s. per dozen wholesale,
and corresponding values for second and third grade.
The “home” which contains the leading spirits of this “Home of the Honey Bees” must also be a busy one, winter or summer, for while the bees outside are enjoying their winter’s rest, the master and mistress of the “home” are busy the year through, bee-work forming an important item at all seasons. The mistress, we are told, varies her household duties with glazing sections as the orders for these come in during the autumn and winter, and in spring and summer with the multi-farious jobs incident to a busy life. The master also adds on to the labours of his trade the continual care of the bees; breeding queens, overhauling, cleaning, repairing, and painting hives, and all the hundred items incidental to the well doing of a couple of apiaries two miles apart. A large correspondence also occupies a good deal of time in certain seasons, and when one thinks of the many journeys (to and fro) to the out-apiary (all on foot), not forgetting the packing of—we might say—tons of honey, so that it shall escape damage from the tender mercies of the railway porter, who will say that the bee-man—like his bees—is not “busy”? But this is not all, for we learn of Mr. Woodley that the public calls on his time are by no means few. Out friend is secretary and agent to a large branch of a benefit club, and vice-chairman of the Parish Council He is also district councillor and guardian, and acting overseer for the parish of Hampstead Norris, besides, being a member of the Council of the Berks Beekeepers’ Association, and of the Committee of the Newbury District Beekeepers’ Association. Mr Woodley was born in 1846 and Mrs. Woodley in 1852, so that our busy friends are in the prime of life. Before closing, we may mention the interesting fact that on Old Christmas’day, the 6th inst., they celebrated their Silver Wedding.
I shall publish more about Mr Woodley in the near future.