Beekeeping in Thomas Hardy’s Youth

Here’s the gist of a notice that will be close to the skeps on Thomas Hardy senior’s porch roof at Lower Bockhampton



These straw upside-down basketty things are beehives of the type Mrs Hardy would have used here at the time young Tommy was a lad. She used some of the honey money to pay for his education, which didn’t come free in them days!

Straw tends to rot if it gets wet so, to keep the skeps dry they were either placed in recesses in walls, known as bee boles, or else provided with a straw hat, shaped like a witch’s hat and known as a hackle. Sometimes a low shelter was built for them.

Come harvest time in olden days the beekeeper would heft the hives. The lightest and the heaviest would be moved to sit on a pit of smouldering sulphur which soon killed the bees enabling the honeycomb to be cut out. The middling ones were left to overwinter as best they could and make swarms next year to re-stock t’others.

Crafty beekeepers learned to drive the bees out of their own skep and into another by upturning it and drumming on the sides.  The crop could then be taken and the bees put back alive.

That’s what we might do here.


About chrissladesbeeblog

I have been keeping bees since 1978 and currently have about a dozen hives. I am a member of the BBKA where for many years I represented Dorset at the Annual Delegates' Meeting. I am the co-author (with Dave MacFawn of of S. Carolina) of "Getting the Best from Your Bees" and am working on a book of my own poems : "Bee People".
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