Traditional beekeeping at Morden Hall Park

Traditional bee boles at Morden Hall Park

Beekeeping has been an integral part of Morden Hall Park for hundreds of years. Throughout this time there have been many changes to the way we keep bees but you can still see traces of the traditional methods here at the Park.

Rather than hives, bees were originally kept in skeps – traditional woven baskets. These skeps were housed in bee boles. Boles – the word derives from the Scots for recess – are alcoves in walls. You can still see eight old boles in the wall by what is now the vehicle compound near the Stableyard, although the little rooves that protected them have gone.

Beekeeping was different in many ways back in the days when skeps were used. Beekeepers used to have to take their skeps into cellars or greenhouses to keep bees warm in the winter. Modern hives replaced skeps because their removable frames enabled beekeepers to inspect bees more easily to monitor their health, and also made the gathering of honey simpler and less harmful to the bees.

One of the individuals who remembers the more traditional methods of beekeeping is Fred Howard, who was an apiary warden at Morden Hall Park for many years. He remembers being taught by his grandfather to make skeps as a child and has been beekeeping since he was 8 years old.

Fred Howard was an apiary warden at Morden Hall Park for many years
Fred Howard at Morden Hall Park
Fred Howard was an apiary warden at Morden Hall Park for many years

Fred’s family connections with Morden Hall Park go a long way back. Old maps of the estate show ‘Howard’s Field’ and his grandfather knew Gilleat Hatfield, who bequeathed the estate to the National Trust. Fred recalls going round the estate on horse and cart rides with Mr Hatfield on special occasions as a child, when there were still deer roaming the park.

At Morden Hall Park boles were still in use in the early 19th century (1820-1830) and the bees were moved to removable frames in cottage hives after that. When the bees were moved from skeps to hives, the hives were first situated in the kitchen garden and then moved to the current site by the river.

There also used to be an observation hive in the Snuff Mill (the bee tunnel is still there in the wall – you can see it if you look carefully).

At Morden Hall Park we have a licence for up to 30 hives. They are managed by the Wimbledon Beekeepers Association. There continues to be an apiary warden here and training courses are run at Morden Hall Park by Wimbledon Beekeepers Association to introduce people to beekeeping most years.

Talks by WBK are also run every year – check our What’s On page for details and visit the WBK stall at the summer fair. Short talks are also run at the annual Morden Hall Park BioBlitz.