History – the first 100 years

The First One Hundred Years of the HBA – Written by Frank Vernon for the Centenary Souvenir

The British Bee Journal, founded in 1873, soon became a weekly journal devoted to disseminating revolutionary new beekeeping techniques which grew out of the introduction of the new bar-frame hives and were superseding traditional skep methods. Beekeepers began to meet and exchange knowledge and experiences. Up till then the only contact the county’s beekeepers had was at sporadic horticultural shows where a Honey Section or Honey Table afforded some measure of comparison between one honey producer and another. Soon however, with the advent of the weekly BBJ, beekeepers began to meet in such towns as Christchurch, Andover, Basingstoke, Swanmore and Portsmouth. The meetings had, more often than not, been organised by clergymen, retired service officers and doctors. Their aim was to help the less literate ‘cottagers’ to adopt more profitable ways of keeping bees and so help relieve some of the appalling features of rural poverty.

The founding of the Association
The British Beekeepers’ Association had already been set up in London in 1874, with the avowed aim of assisting the ‘cottagers’ and improving and refining the new techniques. By 1879, the Shire counties, starting with Cheshire, were setting up county associations on similar lines. Eventually, late in 1882, Hampshire formed its own Association: The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Beekeepers’ Association, more familiarly referred to by its initials, H & IWBKA. The secretaries of the existing local groups acted as canvassers to distribute pamphlets, recruit members, organise improved shows and to collect funds from patrons who became Vice-presidents. The Royal Southampton Horticultural Society contributed a sum of £5 to help put the County Association on its feet.

The pioneers were well spread over the county: Ernest Hamon Bellairs of Christchurch, the prime mover; Rev. E. Medlicott, vicar of Swanmore; F.J.B. Beckford of Winchester; Dr. Ticehurst at Petersfield; Dr. Andrews in Basingstoke; W.T. Joyce of Farnborough; Cdr. Suckling at Romsey; Dr. Blake from Bournemouth and Mrs. Phillimore of Botley.

At the first meeting, arrangements were made for the purchase of a tent, nets and show stands. Much enlarged Honey Shows were planned and a close tie with the Southern Counties Agricultural Shows was agreed and later achieved. The shows became centres where beekeepers could establish new standards for the presentation of honey, places where practical demonstrations proved that it was possible actually to look inside a beehive, and where examinations of candidates for BBKA certificates took place in the public view.

Steady progress was made during the last years of the century. H & IWBKA employed an ‘Expert’ during the bee season. His job included giving advice to members on management, handling bees, transferring skep bees to wooden hives, examining for disease and giving demonstrations to recruit new members. In 1893, after some pressure from H & IWBKA, Hampshire County Council Education Committee made a grant of £100 to further the interests of beekeeping. The Association made strenuous efforts to set up a co-operative marketing scheme for cottage honey, but with little success, but it did arrange for loans to be made to those cottagers who wished to transfer to modern hives. The honey shows had sections for the cheapest and best bar-frame hives, for the cleverest inventions and for the best skep of live bees; the first prize for which would be a new wooden hive complete, and the bees transferred to it by an expert on the spot.

The £100 p.a. grant failed to materialise after 1906, but instead the Old Basing Farm Institute, precursor of the Sparsholt College of Agriculture, took over the responsibility of beekeeping education in the county. The lectures and demonstra­tions continued, but this time under the aegis of the Institute’s Horticulture Dept.

Isle of Wight Disease
In that same year,1906, H & I W KBA ceased to affiliate with BBKA for a number of reasons, partly because it disagreed with the standardisation of the American 4¼” square section,partly because of the BBKA’s inactivity in face of the newdisease which had arisen in the Isle of Wight the previous year. As a result of the secession the Association had to conduct a protracted struggle for the disease to be taken seriously and was forced to set up its own independent scheme for training, examinations and certificates for its own experts. The new plague had reached the mainland, and in spite of being recognised by our own trained experts, continued unabated. Very few beekeepers were left by 1914 to enjoy the exceptionally high yields of that fateful year. Membership had fallen to a mere 50. It is of some anecdotal interest that no cases of IoW disease were ever reported from West Cowes. In that year too, there were eight members listed who held the Hampshire First Class Expert Certificate.

Decentralisation and the Local Associations
The end of the 1914-18 war had brought about vast changes in social attitudes. The old paternalistic structure of the BBKA and the H & IWBKA had been badly dented. The cottagers wanted more say in the running of their Association. Decentralisation became the watchword. The ensuing constitutional upheaval resulted in the changing of the old local groups into local Associations duly affiliated to the county which rejoined the BBKA. Associations sprang up in Alton, Andover, Bournemouth, Broughton, Burley, Fareham, Fleet, Hartley Wintney, Lymington, New Forest, Portsmouth, Romsey, Steep, Swanmore, Winchester and the Isle of Wight. In addition, beekeepers not served by a local association could become direct members, either of the H & IWBKA or of the BBKA. The new federated local associations enjoyed a very great degree of autonomy.

Council of the revised H & IWBKA. composed of delegates from the Associations, started life with great vigour. The cause of the IoW disease had been discovered in 1924 and the Frow cure in everybody’s hands by 1928. New ideas came in, fast and furious. Shows were once again organised and a series of impressive Field Days inaugurated. The emphasis appeared to be more on technical perfection rather than just honey presentation. ‘Scientific’ appears more and more in the county’s publications and pronouncements. Council made arrangements with the Forestry Commission to allow hives into the Forest for gathering a crop from the heather, but charged its members a fee for the work it put in. The fee was later transferred to the Forestry Commission. Hampshire played a prominent part in the campaign to ensure that honey labels meant what they said and that the country of origin should be indicated. It took part in the campaign to persuade the Ministry of Agriculture to adopt a `National Mark’ for honey as a guarantee of British origin and of quality, similar to the National Marks for butter, eggs, meat etc.

Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset county Associations came to an agreement to form a regional body to further beekeeping education in the Three Counties in 1924. The County Councils had appointed beekeeping lecturers soon after the war. In 1920 Harold Percy Young of Alton, a fine beekeeper and lecturer, was appointed to set up a beekeeping department at the Sparsholt Farm Institute. Due to economy cuts of a kind that we are only too familiar with today, H.P. Young’s appointment was reduced to part-time from 1930. As his connection with the Farm Institute became more tenuous, so his commitment to H & IWBKA grew stronger, and his influence over the Association benefited members in many ways.

The Foulbrood Campaign
The County Association viewed with alarm the increasing depredations of AFB and EFB. Andover was an area particularly affected. The working of the democratic process can well be illustrated by what happened. The Andover epidemic of AFB peaked in 1924. The local Association asked the H & IWBKA in 1925 to press for notification of all cases of the disease, and some system of inspection. The County took the matter to the BBKA and enlisted the help of the ‘Three Counties’. Eventually, Rothamsted Experimental Station was coaxed into conducting an experimental survey of the foulbrood situation in the three counties using volunteer members of H & IWBKA to carry out the inspections, in 1939, ’40 and ’41. This eventually led to the introduction of the present disease inspectorate. It took some time, and many other Associations were enlisted, but it must be emphasised that the existence of Associations and the activity of the organised beekeepers brought about the present legislation.

Hampshire’s desire to move ahead more quickly than the BBKA was leading to a considerable amount of friction and annoyance. The tail found it hard to wag the dog. Several members of the H & IWBKA council joined a reforming movement led by the well-known writer Herbert Mace. These included George Beach, then Hampshire’s county secretary, Lt. Col. Sammans from Ventnor and Dr. Killick of the Three Counties, as well as many other famous names from the beekeeping world. The opposition was formidable, including Wm. Herrod Hempsall, Chairman of the BBKA and his brother Joseph, editor of BBJ, and a band of faithful friends. Dr. Killick’s frequent protests at the BBKA meetings against the aura of secrecy with which that body surrounded itself led eventually to the unprecedented step of his expulsion from the BBKA. In protest, the H & IWBKA withdrew from the BBKA in 1928 and stayed out until tempers had simmered down. There were naturally a number of local repercussions as members took sides and enmities and distrusts replaced a truly co-operative attitude. For a short time, in 1928, even the faithful H.P. Young resigned from the Association.

The Unity Movement
This general disarray in the country was reflected in Hampshire and raged for a period of some 15 years without solution. Meanwhile, with so much that could have been achieved threatened by quarrelling, the war broke out and the call-up suddenly reduced the Association and took away the newly appointed full-time successor to H.P. Young, namely Capt. E.J. Tredwell. The county busied itself with ensuring that an allocation of sugar should be made to beekeepers, and giving a good send-off to the now compulsory inspections under the Foulbrood order 1942. Nationally, a ‘Unity Movement’ was being set up with the aim of ending the dissensions within the beekeeping world. Eventually the officers of the BBKA resigned, including the two Herrod-Hempsalls and their supporters. A Unity Conference met in Birmingham on August 25th 1943, supported by Hampshire, and set about reconstituting the BBKA, once again on a more open, less autocratic, more democratic basis. Sub-committees were formed to deal with urgent matters of constitution finance and even research. A new examinations board was set up, as a result of which our own Hampshire examinations and certificates came to an end in 1944.

The energy generated by this change, the election of delegates to the new BBKA council and the ending of the secrecy which had so disturbed Dr. Killick led to a number of activities in Hampshire which had been initiated by the National body. There was a great need for a series of standards for beekeeping equipment, honey etc. An enlightened BBKA brought the counties into discuss their approach to these matters which culminated in BS 1300 for equipment and later to a standard for crystallised honey, later still to a standard for run honey. This in turn meant issuing a Standard label and the County registering as an authorised packer of honey for its members, with a number of nominal inspectors to check the correct working of the system. At the same time many members worked in conjunction with the newly set-up research sub-committee in two projects under the watchful eye of a local representative.

Scarcity of sugar during the war had led to an upsurge in the number of beekeepers and this in turn gave rise to new growth in the number of local associations. Many, previously moribund, were resuscitated and new ones sprang up in Avon Valley, Hinton Ampner, Meon Valley. Ringwood. Southampton and Whitchurch in addition to those which existed pre-war.

Captain Tredwell, back in harness, working with the full backing and support of H & IWBKA led the band of’ Appointed Officers’ who were steadily reducing the incidence of AFB. A new, bold scheme of eradication was evolved for EFB. Where infection was found, Bee Disease Insurance agreed to compensate even non-members so that all colonies in a given radius could be destroyed in Hampshire and over the county boundaries with Wiltshire and Dorset. A short-lived scheme for a Health Certificate for bee-breeders also emanated from the same stable.

A new County Constitution to reflect the changed conditions was now overdue and during the fifties this came about and resulted in the elimination of individual direct membership of the County Association. Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight left Hampshire during the same decade and the name of the association was changed to ‘Hampshire Beekeepers’ Association. The now fully federative structure of the HBA and its restrictions on the power of some officers, remains, with few modifications substantially the same.

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