I thought I would post my first draft of the Introduction to the Mr Woodley book I am writing. I hope this will provide a better appreciation about my motives for my research and for writing a book on William Woodley.
I was shown a photograph several years ago by Victor Pocock, who was my former history teacher at school; the photograph could be more accurately described as a grainy photocopy of a photograph which shows a beekeeper and his wife who lived in Beedon. At the time, the photograph was interesting yet I thought nothing further of it.
When my life circumstances changed, I decided to take-up beekeeping. The photograph of Beedon’s beekeeper came to mind and I asked Victor about the photograph. I received the basic information that the beekeeper in the photograph was Mr Woodley and he lived at Worlds End. I was also shown a photocopied article about Mr Woodley in a paper called the ‘The Beekeepers Record’ and I was also shown another article in the ‘British Bee Journal’ (BBJ) dated 1897 with the photograph above.
This photograph captured my interest and I started to enter terms into internet search engines relating to William Woodley. At that time, there was nothing directly available about Mr Woodley the beekeeper. However, old copies of the British Bee Journal were available on the internet and I started to search through these. To my astonishment I discovered that Mr Woodley was a regular contributor to the British Bee Journal and had a column called ‘Notes By The Way’ which appeared every fortnight or so. I eventually stumbled upon the article with the photograph of Mr & Mrs Woodley at their home-apiary. To my pleasure it was reproduced on the internet to a very high standard.
It came apparent that Mr Woodley’s articles had left a remarkable time capsule covering many topics including but not limiting to: nineteenth century beekeeping; life in Beedon and the Downlands; the Woodley family; the railways; farming and the flora of the surrounding area. I took it upon myself to catalogue Mr Woodley’s articles and group them by topic and by chance a remarkable body of knowledge began to form. I felt a strange responsibility to restore (at least in a small way) an awareness of William Woodley’s contribution either to the world of beekeeping or to the community at Beedon. So whilst Mr Woodley’s pen was put down in 1923, the story of his life can be retold today through the writings of the great man himself.
Revolution in Beekeeping
In Britain, the traditional way to keep bees was in skep-hives. Skeps could be described as upside down baskets made of straw; these were often placed on wooden stools and these hives were often given further protection from the elements by a hackle. A hackle was a thatched-roof in the shape of a teepee which covered the skep, and they were often made from straw, reeds or twigs and were often bound at the bottom by a metal ring. (See photographs below).
A revolution began in the world of beekeeping during the 1850’s with the advent of the discovery of the ‘bee-space’ by the Reverent Langstroth, the invention of the queen-excluder and the invention of sheets of embossed beeswax with the pattern of cells for the use as foundation in frames.
Langstroth discovered that honeybees would leave 3/8th inch space between combs; a space in the hive smaller than 3/8 inch the bees would fill with propolis yet a space greater than 3/8 inch in the hive the bees would build comb in it. This discovery paved the way for box hives to be designed with removable frames because the frame could be constructed in such a way to provide a ‘bee-space’ both vertically and between frames thus the frame could be removed from the hive. The invention of wax ‘foundation’ sheets embossed with cells were used in the frames encouraged honey-bees to draw out the frames with comb both quickly and in a consistent way. The invention of the queen-excluder allowed for the separation within the hive of the box containing the honeybee brood and the box for containing honeycomb; this made honey production more efficient because honeycomb could be removed without the need to apply the sulphur pit to the bees at the end of the season to obtain the honey.
Thus the discovery of the ‘bee-space’ and the inventions of foundation sheets and the queen-excluder, heralded the era of modern beekeeping during the middle of the nineteenth-century. This new system of beekeeping was a departure in practice and there was a demand for information and instruction to enable those interested in modern beekeeping to adopt it. It was not long before an enterprising bee-master called Charles Nash Abbott began a newspaper called the British Bee Journal in 1873 and the publication gave William Woodley a platform for his writings.
The British Bee Journal (BBJ)
Mr Woodley’s writings and indeed several articles written about him, were published in the ‘The British Bee Journal’ which was a publication whose purpose was to serve beekeepers in Britain. The first edition of the BBJ describes the journal’s ethos:
Our columns will always be open for the exposition and free discussion of all theories and systems in bee culture, and of the relative merits of all hives and appurtenances, so that the truth regarding them may be established. We hope also that they will be freely used for the interchange of thought and the comparison of ideas and experiences among bee keepers, and that our Journal will be fully recognised as theirs, inasmuch as our interests and theirs are, and ever must be identical.
[Charles Nash Abbott – BBJ 1 May 1873]
The BBJ welcomed the contributions and questions from its beekeeping audience. As the journal developed, regular contributors became promoted to regular columnists, particularly those like WW who gained notoriety through their success at the show bench.
William Woodley describes the BBJ:
After thirty years!” What a vast number of incidents have happened in the British bee-world since 1873. Those who formed the vanguard of the craft in the long distant days have either fallen by the way or are unable through increase of years to still carry the flag or plant it higher year after year, and cry “Excelsior”! The past volumes of B.B J. chronicle the onward march of the industry, and contain many tributes to the worth of our veterans who have “passed the bar”. To those amongst readers of our journal who have subscribed from its first issue the intervening years have passed as a swift post; to myself it seems but as yesterday when the letters appeared in the English Mechanic from bee-men advocating the establishment of a bee-journal.
[NBTW 7 May 1903]
Today, the BBJ has been incorporated into the British Bee-Keeper’s Association’s monthly news magazine called ‘BBKA News’.
William Woodley’s Legacy
William Woodley is long gone and so too his home-apiary at Worlds End. The site of the hayricks in the photograph are now dwellings, the home-apiary has two additional houses sited on it and the old barns have long since been demolished. However, there are some references to Mr Woodley in a relatively recently published book about Beedon but alas, there is no ‘William Woodley Road’ in Worlds End, nor is there a blue plaque on the front of Garden Cottage (formerly the home-apiary). There is one small reminder of Mr & Mrs Woodley and that is a carved queen-bee on their headstone, although it is becoming a little difficult to make-out. I believe Mr Woodley’s contribution to beekeeping and to his community warrants a better commemoration. I hope this book in a small way will address this.