The other week whilst visiting Trewey Farm in Zennor, farmer Harry Mann kindly shared with me his bee boles! “Do you know what a bee bole is?!” he asked whilst we bumped along in his range rover, “No idea…” I soon found out and here they are… 2 rectangular holes built into an old wall.
Although they have since has small stones placed within them the holes are still clearly visible. It transpires that these were once used to keep honey bee’s. This just shows how much more self-sufficient we used to be. I have since done a bit of research online and so here is some information by the Dry Stone Walling association at http://www.dswa.org.uk/UserFiles/File/Bee-Boles.pdf
Until the late 1800s bees were kept in straw skeps, mostly on benches in the open, or on a shelf in an open-fronted shelter. But in wetter and windier parts of Britain, some beekeepers kept them in bee boles. These are recesses built in a wall specifically for housing skeps, usually around 45cm by 45cm by 35cm deep, although there is considerable variation. A few bee boles are wide enough to hold two or three skeps. The opening is rectangular, or may have a curved or pointed arch at the top.
Bee boles were built mostly in walls of stone, but where stone was not the common building material (e.g. Kent), they were made in brick walls. The wall often bounded a garden or orchard. The bee boles usually faced south to south-east so that the bees would be warmed by the morning sun. The base of the bee boles was often two to three feet from the ground, thus at a convenient height for working, although skeps of bees were rarely handled except when the honeycombs were harvested.
A set of bee boles (those built into one wall) usually contained from three to six recesses although larger sets are known. Bee boles have survived in walls dated to every century from the 1100s to the 1800s.
Bee boles seem to have been a speciality in Britain where more than 1200 sets have been recorded. If you know of any bee boles, or other structures that may have been used for housing bees, please write to the IBRA Bee Boles Register.
So next time you’re walking past old walls, keep an eye out for bee boles! Thank you Harry for introducing me to these!