DOWN MEMORY LANE: Whatever happened to bee keeping services?

Mr Hill making bee skeps/hives at Camelsdale
Mr Hill making bee skeps/hives at Camelsdale
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The recent revival in traditional crafts and local produce, coupled with some high-profile news reports on the decline in numbers of bees, has seen a surge of interest in beekeeping across the country, with beekeeping courses proving so popular that local associations have had to run many extra courses to cope with demand.

Back in May 1949, West Sussex was experiencing something of a similar surge in interest, so much so that the county council’s education committee was prompted to establish the county-wide, monthly Beekeeping Bulletin, ‘due to the considerable growth of beekeeping and the increasing demand for educational facilities and advisory work for the craft of beekeeping’.

Harry S Thompson

Harry S Thompson

The first edition included a list of upcoming county council demonstrations to be held at Kingsham Farm in Chichester, at its apiary ‘in the orchard on the left-hand (north) side of the bypass immediately beyond the canal’.

The first demonstration, to be led by Mrs EE Bisset – one of two part-time county beekeeping instructors – on May 7, concerned the establishment of a ‘queen rearing apiary’; other demonstrations were held throughout the summer, including a demonstration by Hampshire’s county beekeeping instructor on swarm control, on June 4.

Beekeeping Bulletin

The inaugural Beekeeping Bulletin also included information on the symptoms of the Foul Brood disease, a debate on the apparently contentious Demaree Swarm Control Plan, a report on the food required for wintering bees and no less than 25 ‘Notes for Beginners’.

‘For the Bee-Keeper’s Wife’, a regular feature of subsequent Bulletins, consisted of a selection of recipes involving honey, such as cakes, biscuits, tarts and salad dressings.

In March 1950, in line with many other local authorities, West Sussex County Council decided to appoint a full-time organiser of beekeeping.

The successful candidate – a Mr Harry Spalding Thompson, who relocated from his home in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to take up the appointment – joined the council in May 1950, on a starting salary of £400 and with the possibility of a motor car being provided, so that he could travel the county more easily.

As part of his role, Mr Thompson was expected to ‘give practical demonstrations, day and evening lectures or courses of lectures on beekeeping, and to give advice and pay advisory visits to domestic beekeepers...run the County Demonstration Apiary in Chichester...give advice and instruction to schools with apiaries and give lectures and demonstrations to teachers’.

Lodge Hill

By January 1951, the Beekeeping Bulletin reported Mr Thompson had made ‘great improvements at Kingsham Farm Apiary and, by the beginning of the new season, will have there a well-equipped laboratory and a small lecture room’, which suggests just how serious a business beekeeping was in the 1950s.

The council’s education committee had been hosting resident summer schools for beekeepers at Lodge Hill, near Pulborough, since 1948, and the Beekeeping Bulletins show the busy, three-day programmes were filled with lectures, film shows, discussions and practical demonstrations.

In 1951, places were limited to 37 residents at a cost of 26 shillings, with additional day places available at a cost of 1/6d.

However, despite initial enthusiasm for the course, by 1961 interest appeared to have waned somewhat, with the Bulletin reporting demand for that year’s school ‘was disappointing’; by 1966, the summer school had been replaced by two one-day conventions, due to lack of demand.

Retirement

With the retirement of Mr Thompson on December 31, 1965 and enthusiasm for beekeeping apparently in decline, the county council decided not to replace Mr Thompson, but to instead appoint an adviser for beekeeping, ‘to deal with bee disease diagnosis and treatment, general advisory work with domestic beekeepers, and with the maintenance of a demonstration apiary at Chichester’, between the months of April and September 1966.

Although a part-time county beekeeping organiser was again appointed in September 1967, in conjunction with a teaching post, it would appear the service gradually disappeared, and no further information about it can be found at the Record Office.

Perhaps you can shed some light on what happened to the county council’s Beekeeping Bulletin, and its beekeeping service? Perhaps you remember the Demonstration Apiary at Kingsham Farm in Chichester, or have memories of keeping bees at 
your school?

If so, the Record Office would love to hear from you, either by email records.office@westsussex.gov.uk or letter to West Sussex Record Office, County Hall, Chichester, PO19 1RN.

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