This piece was published in the British Bee Journal 17 March 1892.
Among our prominent bee-keepers probably no one will be better known to readers of this journal as a successful honey-producer than the gentleman whose portrait accompanies this sketch. Few important honey shows have been held — in England, at least — for some years past where the name of Wm. Woodley does not appear as an exhibitor, and also as a prominent prize-winner. The reason for this is not far to seek. Located in a district the flora of which yields honey of very excellent quality, this natural advantage, along with his admirable style of preparing his produce for staging, makes him a formidable antagonist on the show-table, and the uniform excellence of his exhibits usually places him in the front rank of winners. Speaking entirely in the interest of bee-keepers, we trust that he will continue ‘showing’, for his exhibits have an educational value, as proving how much of success depends on care and neatness in preparing honey for exhibition.
Mr. Woodley was born at Oxford on March 9th, 1846, and six years later he was, on the death of his mother, placed in the care of a great-aunt on the maternal side. This good lady lived at Stanmore, a small hamlet of Beedon, near Newbury, Berks, and was one of several bee-keepers of the old school who kept bees in skeps in the few surrounding gardens. 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 bee-keeping early in life. Not under the most favourable auspices, it must be confessed, for the tasks imposed upon the boy were not of a nature to attract him towards the pursuit. His careful and well-meaning old guardian insisted on the importance of ‘William’ keeping himself continually employed, either physically or mentally; and so weeding the garden in the sun was only varied by reading over and over again the Old Testament and the Gospels in the shade. The tedious monotony of the task was only relieved when a swarm or several swarms issued; then, to the boy’s delight, came the banging of tin pots, pans, and all the various means of creating a noise familiar to old-fashioned village bee-life; and when several bee-owners were ‘tanging’ at the same moment we may imagine the pleasurable excitement aroused by the din! No doubt his experiences among bees at this time have stood him in good stead since, for we believe that none make better bee-keepers than those who have gained their first knowledge of the pursuit in their 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 bee-keeping 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, bee-keepers from adjoining villages coming to see and admire it. Since that date the growth of Mr. Woodley’s apiaries has been steady and constant, till the number of stocks in them now usually reach from 140 to 150. His successes as an exhibitor are recorded in our pages for the last ten years, during which time he has probably never exhibited at a show without taking prizes, nearly always firsts. We should think that the height of his ambition ought to have been attained when a sample of his success in the art of bee-keeping was presented by the B.B.K.A. to Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor, in 1889, in the shape of a large and handsome design in honey-comb. He is a well-known and valued contributor to this journal, ‘Notes by the Way’ from his pen appearing at frequent and regular intervals.
Mr. Woodley married in 1872, and was fortunate in obtaining a partner whose tastes accord with his own in so far as bee-matters go. Mrs. Woodley, as we learn, is justly entitled to a fair share of the credit attached to whatever success has been attained in the apiaries at Newbury and Stanmore, and none more readily acknowledge this fact than her husband, who writes concerning her: —
‘She is my only help with both apiaries, except a woman who watches for swarms at our Stanmore apiary during the season. My wife folds and waxes all the sections, and places them in the crates ready for me to put them on the hives; when I have taken them off she cleans, glazes, and prepares them ready for market, also helps to pack swarms sold during the swarming season. She also makes the bee-candy, and can hive the swarms as well as I can myself if they settle in anything like a reasonable place.
Between them they have made bee-keeping a commercial success, and have found a solution for two, at least, of the difficulties complained of by not a few of the craft, and it is this — no matter how large is the honey harvest he has a ready market for it, and usually knows where to place the whole stock of surplus honey before the season begins. The second point is, he can pack honey, either comb or extracted, to travel any distance by road or rail without a single breakage. This we have had repeated opportunities of personally attesting at various shows. 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 been so far successful in keeping foul brood at a distance.
Mr. Woodley is highly esteemed among his poorer neighbours, and for now nearly twenty-five 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. We trust that Mr. and Mrs. Woodley may long be spared to continue the good work they are doing in many ways which the limits of this short sketch preclude us from detailing.