A brief history of HBKA
In the summer of 1887, a crowd squeezed into the bee tent at Newcastle’s annual Agricultural Show and unanimously agreed to set up a beekeepers association in Northumberland. The British Bee Journal reported that members would “teach the most profitable and humane system of beeculture and spread knowledge of uses and disposal of bee produce”. That was the start of a formal beekeeping organisation with members from the Hexham and Tyne Valley area joining others from all over the county. Beekeeping then was a common domestic pursuit which supplemented household income and the association was well supported.
But in 1917, after a terrible winter and acarine disease took its toll on colonies, the organisation folded.
On March 5th 1936, at the Queen’s Hall café in Hexham, beekeepers relaunched the Northumberland Association, including Alnwick and Wooler. It cost 2s 6d to join, or 2 guineas for life membership and by 1939 there were 193 members. The organisation aimed to “promote the interests of beekeepers, encourage beekeeping and the disposal of bee produce. If funds permit to hold apiarian exhibitions, honey shows, lectures, and assist in the purchase of beekeeping requirements.”
During World War II there were so many members that a breakaway group formed in Hexham. Winston Churchill made sure beekeepers could claim extra sugar rations of 10lbs per colony and members helped to look after colonies owned by those going into active service.
By 1946 every county had beekeeping instructors and Hexham Beekeepers had their own team of inspectors checking colonies for European and American Foul Brood. Many villages like Corbridge held an annual honey show. Honeycombs were sold in Pumphrey’s in Newcastle and displayed in Lishman’s shop window in Hexham, and there were three suppliers of beekeeping equipment in the town. The following year, Colin Weightman, who for a long time was Hexham Beekeeper’s Association President, held an apiary meeting at his farm and more than 200 people wearing their Sunday best attended.
The 1950s saw the beginning of a slow decline in beekeeping for various reasons – wider food choice reduced demand for honey and changing lifestyles partly contributed – and as numbers fell the cost of equipment increased.
Harold Marten 1959, Best Hive – 13 Shallow and 1 Deep all full of honey!
By the 1960s, despite a Beekeeping Centre being set up at Kirkley Farm Institute and the appointment of county beekeeping instructors, most beekeepers kept them purely for a hobby.
Hexham Beekeepers Association ticked over quietly for the best part of 40 years, until 2000. Since then, concerns about the impact of varroa and colony collapse have prompted a huge surge in interest.
Today, Kirkley Hall still hosts an Introduction to Beekeeping course each spring for between 20-30 new/novice beekeepers. Membership of Hexham Beekeepers Association has increased steadily over recent years and now stands at about 160.
Read about HBKA Present.