The ladies’ bee mentor

Have you noticed that employing a bee mentor is all the fashion right now amongst garden commentators like Monty Don and Alys Fowler?  It seems we are continually excited by the idea of keeping bees (especially if we live in urban areas) and each generation produces its new set of bee experts.

Samuel Bagster (1800 – 1835) was a printer and author, with a special interest in bees. His book The Management of Bees, with a description of the Ladies’ Saftey Hive (1834) describes the natural history of bees and discusses the current ideas of managing bees, with details of hive designs.

Bagster explains the disadvantages of the traditional straw hive, still used by cottagers. Although romantic, the thatched roof is impractical, soon rotting and letting in rain and pests; an upturned milk pan is seen as an improvement.  Better still is the bee house, a painted wooden structure a bit like a cupboard with shelves inside to house a number of straw hives. Bagster observes

Amateur holders of bees, who prefer “the way their fathers trod,” have improved on the out-door exposure to wet and insects by putting their hives into a bee-house, which in some gardens, is a very ornamental object. The purse generally regulates the beauty. These houses are built about eighteen inches deep from front to back, four feet wide and six feet high with three shelves; and are capable of containing nine good sized hives, three in a row. The front is a fixture, perforated with nine holes opposite the places where the nine hives stand on the shelves; and before each hole an alighting board.

straw hive with thatched roof

straw hive with improvised milk pan roof



the cottage bee house

Bagster discusses ‘storifying’ systems, where the hives are placed on top of each other to give colonies more space, Stephen White’s collateral bee boxes and Madame Vicat’s hive where four boxes are screwed together.  Chapters on swarming, fumigation and an evaluation of Thomas Nutt’s ventilating hive follow.

Bagster’s own invention, the ladies’ safety hive, was developed for his wife who was nervous of handling bees.  His wooden bee house, looking something like a doll’s house in cross section, incorporates multiple spaces for the bees, which they can expand into, and so prevent the loss of colonies by swarming.

His instructions for managing the bee house are detailed and particularly important points are written in italics or even capital letters: ‘Remember the instructions to capture all the queens; and one only is to be put into the hive before you put the bees into the centre.  I repeat, ONE ONLY.’  Got that, ladies?

The ladies’ safety hive

The ladies’ safety hive – interior

Bagster supplies detailed instructions for making the ladies’ safety hive, but it could also be bought ready made from a florist in Newgate Street, his company’s office in Bartholomew Close or, from his house in Shepherds Bush.  Bagster would also deliver the hive, complete with bees.

Biodiversity Heritage Library

Samuel Bagster the Younger

Alys Fowler discusses her bee mentor

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