Stewarton Hive

Stewarton Hive

The introduction of this Stewarton hive (a bee hive) is credited to Robert Kerr, of Stewarton, Ayrshire, in 1819. Little is known about the detail of the earliest Stewartons, but during the second half of the 19th century several enthusiasts recorded the detail of the design and their experience of using the hive. Most notable of these was John Mc Culloch McPhedran, who wrote regularly in the British Bee Journal as 'The Renfrewshire Beekeeper'cite journal | author=A Renfrewshire Bee Keeper| title=The Stewarton Hive and System| journal=The British Bee Journal| year=1873-74| volume=1| pages=11–13] . More recently, Dr. Eva Crane has summarised informationcite book | title=The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting | last=Crane | first=Dr. Eva |date=1999| publisher=Duckworth ] , although, as with many aspects of bee keeping history, detail appears to have been overlooked, and a few 'modern myths' have been allowed to develop. Dr. Crane correctly asserts that the Stewarton "kept the queen out of the honey boxes" thus allowing the beekeeper to secure a crop of honey free from contamination from brood. However, the Stewarton hive was apparently the first to allow unlimited expansion simply by adding extra boxes. Extra boxes below allowed expansion of the brood, and thus strongly inhibited swarming and any tendency for the queen to enter the honey boxes, while expansion with extra honey boxes above the brood area gave ample space for the bees to create surplus honey stores that were easily harvested by the beekeeper.

The Stewarton hive was not the first octagonal bee hive. The Reverend William Mew, of Eastington, Gloucestershire (not Eastlington, as so many writers even into the C20th have it, thus demonstrating their copying of earlier errors), can be identified as the originator of a 'transparent' hive which is almost certainly the inspiration for the octagonal hives recorded by Christopher Wren and John Evelyn. Close reading of the available evidence challenges the myth that Wren was himself a 'bee master'; it is much more likely that he simply cooperated with his mentor, Dr. Wilkins, and drew the hive that several were interested in. John Evelyn records in his diaries his experience with these hives, but has left a tantalizing illustration of a hive that has features that clearly link with the Stewarton. David Smith worked on Evelyn's unpublished manuscript material for his "Elysium Britannicum" and published this in 1965cite journal | author=Smith, D.A. (ed)| title=John Evelyn's manuscript on bees from Elysium Britannicum| journal=Bee World| year=1965| pages=48–64] . Dr. Eva Crane says this was written "about 1655"cite journal | author=A Renfrewshire Bee Keeper| title=The Stewarton Hive and System| journal=The British Bee Journal| year=1873-74| volume=1| pages=11–13] but Evelyn's illustration of an octagonal hive appears to be much later.

Hattie Ellis describes John Evelyn's hive as "stripped down", as it was in one of Christopher Wren's first architectural drawings, (it was) a stack of wooden boxes with small holes between them so the bees could leave their honey in one box and crawl down to the next"Citation | last =Ellis | first =Hattie | publication-date =2004 | title =Sweetness & Light, the mysterious history of the honey bee | publisher=Sceptre | edition = | volume = | accessdate =2007-10-24] . Even though Ellis uses Evelyn's illustration of this hive she overlooks that, whereas Wren's drawing does show "small holes", there is no corresponding hole in Evelyn's drawing, but the central area is occupied by a fixed board with moveable boards on either side. These function in exactly the same way as the top bars and sliders in the Stewarton Hive. Thus, Evelyn appears to have invented a queen excluder system about 150 years before anyone else. Furthermore, close examination of Evelyn's drawing seesm to show quite clearly that Evelyn began to draw a hexagonal hive, but changed his mind and completed it as an octagonFact|date=October 2007. Thus Ellis is probably wrong when she claims that the octagonal hive "was the cabinet-maker's approximation of the honey bee's round nest"Citation | last =Ellis | first =Hattie | publication-date =2004 | title =Sweetness & Light, the mysterious history of the honey bee | publisher= Sceptre | edition = | volume = | accessdate =2007-10-24] . If this was so in Evelyn's hive, then he would have drawn an octagon at the outset. The octagon was necessary to allow the insertion of the queen excluding board. This was no cabinet-maker's fancy, but a deliberate technological device.

Eva Crane cite journal | author=Smith, D.A. (ed)| title=John Evelyn's manuscript on bees from Elysium Britannicum| journal=Bee World| year=1965| pages=48–64] relegates John Evelyn's hive to her chapter on the history of observation hives. Obviously, any 'transparent' hive with glass windows or sides allows observation of the bees without opening the hive, but the Stewarton hive uses windows at the front and back as part of the system for managing the hives. Put simply, with the sliders inserted in the central portion of the box at the top of the brood nest, thus inhibiting the queen from laying above,the withdrawal of the sliders to the sides allows workers to begin drawing comb and storing honey at the sides of the honey box above. As the nectar flow proceeds, and more honey is stored this comb is built from both sides towards the centre. The beekeeper can establish whether the bees require more space by opening the windows. If light can be seen, comb building in that box is not finished and no super is required. If the view through the windows is obscured by comb and bees, then that box is nearly full and a new box can be added above.

This article is intended as a start towards recording the full significance of the Stewarton Hive and its C17th predecessors in the history of beekeeping. During the last quarter of the C20th workers at Rothamstead Experimental Station built and operated a Stewarton, thus demonstrating some of the old claims for the design. This tradition has been taken up by others who continue to operate the hive todayCitation | last = Messenger | first =Will | publication-date = | date = | year =2002 | title = "The Stewarton Hive" | periodical= "Beekeeping in a Nutshell" | volume = | series = 77] .

References


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