#WorldBeeDay – bee boles and the Essex Beekeepers’ Association

To celebrate #WorldBeeDay on 20th May, we take a look at the the Essex Beekeepers’ Association archive held at the Essex Record Office.

Before the invention of the modern wooden beehive in the mid-nineteenth century, bees were often housed in bee boles – a row of recesses each large enough to hold a coiled-straw hive called a skep. These bee boles were typically built in to south-facing garden walls.

In 1967, the Epping Forest Division of the Essex Beekeepers’ Association repaired the bee bole at Tilty, near Dunmow in Essex. Their Annual Report for the year includes an account of the work carried out by their volunteer construction team made up of a retired schoolmaster, a draughtsman/artist, a joiner/carpenter, a police officer, and a postman. The bee bole is flint with brick arch supports and the top storey of the structure was almost entirely rebuilt by the team. They left a time capsule inside the bee bole containing some monthly circulars published by the Division and some mead with a note reading: “We believe that the structure was part of a Priory known to have existed here before the dissolution of the monasteries, and we hope that it will be as long again before this honey jar and contents are discovered”. The Priory mentioned is the Cistercian Abbey of St Mary at Tilty. The nearby Church of St Mary, originally the Abbey chapel, has flint and stone chequerwork below the east window. The front cover of the Annual Report (pictured below) is beautifully illustrated by Mr H. C. Moss and depicts the repaired bee bole.

EBKA and The Essex Beekeeper handwritten in capitals with black ink, above a black and white drawing of the Tilty bee bole with six recesses, in two rows of three, all in boxes surrounded by a black and white 3d cube design
Front cover of the Essex Beekeepers’ Association Annual Report for 1967 (ref: LIB/638.142).

The annual report is held at the ERO as part of the Essex Beekeepers’ Association archive. The collection includes their first minute book covering 1880-1910 containing the minutes of their inaugural meeting at 90 High Street, Chelmsford on 14 July 1880 and a label for a jar of honey. The label was selected on 12 April 1897 when it was agreed that 20,000 should be printed by Mr A D Woodley at a cost of £5.

A thin cardboard label designed to wrap around a glass honey jar. Heraldic design with The Essex Beekeepers' Association" and "Pure Honey" written in banners around the Essex county coat of arms
County honey label, 1897 (ref: D/Z 142/1).

You may also be interested in a previous blog on the changing pattern of land usage and the historic value of meadows to the Essex landscape which is available to read here.

Where there’s a will: Margaret Lathum of Upminster, 1668

To continue to mark the upload of digital images of a further 22,500 wills to our Essex Ancestors online subscription service (more on this here), here is a brilliant example of the kind of detail wills can give us about life in the past…

We have mentioned previously in this series that some bequests in wills can seem strange to our  modern eyes.  More examples can be found in the will of Margaret Lathum of Upminster whose will is dated 25 February 1667/8 (D/AEW 24/110).  This must have been left until close to her death as it does not begin with the usual sentence In the name of God Amen but rather by listing her next of kin and the possessions she wished to give them.  A will of this type is known as a nuncupative will or an oral will and would have been written down as soon as possible.

D-AEW 24-110-1 watermark

Will of Margaret Lathum. She begins by leaving her son Peter ‘a heave [hive] of bees’ (D/AEW 24/110)

D-AEW 24-110-2 watermark

Will of Margaret Lathum (D/AEW 24/110)

Margaret appears to have been the widow of Ralph Lathum, who had died the previous year.  In his will (D/AEW 24/95) he left her fower howses.  These may be mentioned in the deed referred to on the last page of her will; she held more property than would be clear from this will alone.

In between more mundane requests she leaves to her daughter Phillips (no first name is given) my herbal my still … my pece of unicorns horne and my mandrake… According to the Oxford English Dictionary, herbal could mean either a book on herbs or plants, or a collection of them.  It seems more likely that it was the latter as her still would be used for extracting the essences of plants.  The ‘unicorn’s horn’ (really a narwhal or rhinoceros horn) and mandrake would have been used for medicinal purposes.

It wasn’t unusual for testators to bequeath items with conditions attached.  Those for Margaret’s grandson Ralph were to be kept by his Unckle Peter until he came of age rather than carry them into Iarland [Ireland].  This of course raises the question of why he was going to Ireland, which the will can’t answer.  

You can access Essex Ancestors from home as a subscriber, or for free in the Searchroom at the ERO in Chelmsford or at our Archive Access Points in Saffron Walden and Harlow.  It will shortly be provided at Waltham Forest Archives.  Opening hours vary, so please check before you visit.

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