Bee Boles

Before going into the Painted Hall, Greenwich on Thursday, I peered down into part of the old Greenwich Palace which had been rediscovered very recently, a great find. Both Mary I and Elizabeth I were born there, and Henry VIII entered the world in its predecessor prior to Henry VII’s rebuild. It was known as the Palace of Placentia and was eventually demolished by Charles II, becoming in due course the site for Wren’s Greenwich Hospital.

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But what caught and gladdened my eye was the sight of a pair of bee boles. Before modern beekeeping as we know it was developed in the late 19th Century, domestic honey bees were housed in spirals of straw, hence the common logo for honey which survives today as a universally understood symbol, a bit like how the diagram of a dial telephone also survives. Sometimes you see jars actually in this shape. Here is an example: the Beehive pub in Brentford.

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Like the home of the first of the three little pigs, a house of straw was vulnerable to wind, so beekeepers kept their hives in special alcoves within walls, typically those surrounding a flower garden, for obvious reasons. These are known as bee boles. There are also some fine examples at Fulham Palace (below) which had been bricked over but restored and exposed again in 2015.

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For more on bee boles, there is a bee bole register here. And, writing this piece, I have just discovered the eminent bee and apiary scientist Eva Crane (1912 – 2007), a Londoner.

Please let us know in comments if you know of other London bee boles. Thanks.


Images: M Paterson / London Historians.

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