The Bee Shelter, Hartpury Churchyard, Gloucester
The Bee Shelter
Fresh from the success of the caterpillar episode, we pulled off the main road and followed the signs to 'Bee Shelter'. Mum, Bear and certainly me had never seen or heard of one, so we went to find out.
The Bee Shelter is a freestanding structure, highly decorative, measuring twenty five feet long, eight feet high by two foot six deep, it has twenty eight individual compartments known as 'boles' to take the 'skeps' and five shelves below. It can be seen as the culmination of many types of structure built since Anglo-Saxon times to house bee skeps. The need for such buildings died out with the development of the wooden bee hive in the mid nineteenth century. The era of the skep was over. The last recorded use of wicker skeps was in Herefordshire in the 1880's, but straw skeps continued to be used into the 1930's - few bee boles were built after 1850. The sole purpose of a bee shelter was to protect the bee skeps. The stone carving is very ornamental, and the building is described by the International Bee Research Association (never heard of it) as exceptional - "an unique historic monument". There are no known similar structures anywhere else in the world.
Hartpury has a long tradition of bee keeping. The Domesday Book states that Gloucester annually paid twelve sesters or twenty four pounds of honey to King Edward, and in 1260 it is recorded that tenants from the manor of Hartpury, owned by Gloucester Abbey, held land in return for payments of honey. By custom tithes were not payable on bees, but only on their produce. An ancient treatise on the law of tithes in 1743 states '...it hath been adjudged that they (tithes) shall not be paid in kind, by the tenth swarm; but that the tenth measure of honey, and the tenth pound of wax, shall be sufficient' an example of ecclesiastical wisdom!
Honey and Beeswax have always had a very close connection with the Church. In the ancient world, indeed until the eighteenth century, it was commonly believed that honey had a heavenly origin. In 1609, the Reverend Charles Butler explained in his beekeeping book 'the greatest plentie of the purest nectar commeth from above which almightie God doth miraculously destill out of the aire.... The very quintessence of all the sweetness of the earth..... drawne up..... and condensed by the nightly cold into this most sweete and soveraigne nectar: and then doth it descend unto the earth in a dew or smale drizling raine.'
Reverend Charles Butler also said 'For your bee-garden first choose some plot nigh your home, that the Bees may be in sight and hearing, because of swarming, fighting, or some other sodaine happe, wherein they may need your present helpe. Your garden of herbes and flowers is fit for the purpose. See that it be safe, and surely fenced, not onlie from cattaile.... but also from the violence of windes, that when the Bees come laden and weary home, they may settle quietlie'.
Originally thought to be of Caen stone, it is now established that the Bee Shelter was built in the mid nineteenth century by bee-keeping stonemason and quarry master Paul Tuffley using local (Cotswold) stone that came from quarries worked by the Tuffley family. Intended to house bee skeps - it was assembled in his ornemental garden in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire. His house subsequently became part of the town police station and in the 1960's this was closed and the site planned for redevelopment, the Bee Shelter was threatened with destruction. It was saved by volunteers from the Gloucester Beekeeping Association, who dismantled it and, with the encouragement of the principal of Hartpury Agricultural College, reassembled it in the college grounds.
It has been suggested that the Bee Shelter may have been built for an order that was for some reason not fulfilled. There is some evidence that it was not originally intended for Paul Tuffley's garden, but might have been reduced in size to fit there. The repossession of Tuffley's home by his mortgagee in 1852 suggests the possibility that an intending purchaser had defaulted on payment. A second theory is that the Tuffley family, being quarry masters and having the stone, the means and the men, might have intended the shelter as an advertisement of their capabilities. In the 1840's they had supplied stone for the building of the new Palace of Westminster and were then striving to retain the contract against fierce opposition (which eventually prevailed) from, ironically, Caen in Normandy. This being the case, a structure such as the Bee Shelter might well have been prepared as an exhibition piece illustrating the uses of different types Cotswold stone available. We may never know.
CHAPEL STREET, NAILSWORTH.
To be sold by auction, by Tabram & Son
At the GEORGE HOTEL, NAILSWORTH, on THURSDAY, APRIL 27th, 1882, at Six in the Evening.
The undermentioned valuable FREEHOLD PROPERTY viz:-
Lot 1. - An exceedingly well-built and pleasantly situated DWELLING-HOUSE, with Greenhouse, and Brewhouse with two Rooms over, an ornamental stone-carved Beehouse to hold 28 hives, Lawn and large Garden well stocked with choice Fruit Trees, situate in Chapel-street, Nailsworth, and now in the occupation of Mr E. Edmonds.
This Lot will be sold with a right of way into "Tanner's Piece"
Lot 2. - A DWELLING-HOUSE and Garden, with detached Shop and Room over, situate adjoining the above, in the occupation of Mr John Roberts.
For further particulars apply to Messers G. B. and A. K. Smith, Solicitors; or to Auctioneers, Nailsworth.
The finials, roof ridge-crests, roof slabs, lower Doric columns and bases, and the left and right gable wall plinths were originally composed of Minchinhampton weatherstone of the Middle Jurssic, Great Oolite Series; later repairs were not of the same material. The thin roof slabs may even be from the Planking beds. The most extensive weatherstone workings were at the Hampton or Crane quarries on Minchinhampton Common, Gloucestershire. These were leased to the Tuffleys before 1856. The remainder of the Shelter, the panels, wall plates, shelves, shelf fronts, divisions, arches and gable walls above the plinth height were originally of Lower Freestone of generic 'Painswick' type of the Middle Jurassic Inferior Oolite, Painswick stone (there will be a test later) is often confused with Caen. Known as 'building freestone' by the Victorians, quarries in the area were listed by Edwin Witchell in 1882 at Painswick Hill, Quar Hill, The Frith, Walls and Balls Green. The Tuffleys leased Balls Green quarries. The 1968 repairs and additions used second hand stone of either 'Painswick' or 'Bath' type. The Bath stone may originally have been quarried at Combe Down. This was used in 1968 for both the weatherstone and freestone repairs. The original slabs were cut with a crosscut (two-man) saw, or, a frigbob (one man) saw from previously squard and scabbled blocks. Axe marks - typically three inch - are found underneath some of the shelves, showing that it was the first piece sawn from the block. Typically this axe and saw work was performed underground. Once sawn the surfaces were finished off with a drag. The visible tooling marks on the original stonework are typically Victorian, using all the then current technology - routing, core-drilling, sawing, fretting and chiselling.
Restoration: Over the last few years the Bee Shelter had begun to deteriorate, with the ornamental stonework breaking and eroding to an extent that English Heritage became concerned and put it on the schedule of listed buildings at risk. The Shelter was given to Hartpury Historic Land and Buildings Trust by Hartpury College, and with lottery funding and help from a number of charities, other organisations and many individuals, has saved it for the second time in its history. It has now been re-erected in Hartpury's churchyard in a restoration by expert stonemasons, giving the public full access at any time.
Lovely to find a churchyard that was not bolted.
ALL IN ALL WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT IT