In 1874 the British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA) was instituted ‘For the Encouragement, Improvement and Advancement of Bee Culture in the United Kingdom, particularly as a means of bettering the Condition of Cottagers and the Agricultural Labouring Classes, as well as the advocacy of humanity to the industrious labourer – the Honey Bee.’

The BBKA was established as a London-based beekeepers ‘club’. Within a decade it had evolved into an organisation addressing national issues, with Lincolnshire, Surrey, Devon and Exeter, Dorset and Shropshire associations as its early members. In 1879 the BBKA initiated its link with the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE), although it was not to move its headquarters to Stoneleigh until 1982.

In 1882 BBKA examinations commenced with a focus on the then new movable-comb methods. The Technical Education Act of 1889 enabled the BBKA and county associations to obtain grants for their educational work in apiculture.

From 1895 and for many years thereafter, the BBKA was at loggerheads with many of its members and with government regarding the control of American and European foulbrood; beekeepers were divided as to how far central government should be involved in disease control.

In 1906, there was panic in beekeeping circles due to extensive colony losses caused by the acarine mite (the symptoms being termed the Isle of Wight disease). In 1922, the bee research unit at the Rothamsted Experimental Station was established as a consequence of BBKA lobbying. It was not until 1942 that the Foul Brood Order was published by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, making those diseases notifiable and subject to inspection.

The years 1910 to 1930 were turbulent for the BBKA as a result of the personalities of its General Secretary, William Herrod-Hempsall, and his brother, Joseph. Until 1919 the Irish Bee Journal, edited by Rev. JG Digges was the official journal of the BBKA, ceasing when Digges died. After this, the British Bee Journal became the official journal.

By 1943 separate national beekeeping associations had developed in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, leaving the BBKA to represent beekeepers in England and Northern Ireland. The remaining associations were demanding a more effective body to represent their interests and, at a BBKA Council meeting in June 1943, the Chairman (WH Richardson), the Vice Chairman (W Herrod-Hempsall) and the Secretary (J Herrod-Hempsall) resigned on the spot. Furthermore, the Herrod-Hempsalls withdrew the facilities they offered at their office and the use of the British Bee Journal as the BBKA’s official journal. Losing the British Bee Journal created a hiatus which, in 1947, was filled by BeeCraft. This publication was established by a group of associations and the shares in Beecraft Ltd are now vested in the BBKA’s member associations.

The National Honey Show Ltd (NHS) developed independently of the BBKA during the early 1920s, and in 1949 the BBKA agreed with the NHS to organise and fund a three-day lecture programme within the National Honey Show. By 1955 the BBKA had negotiated with the British Standards Institution, nine relevant standards for hives, bees and honey grading glasses.

Reform of the BBKA was essential and in 1960 a new constitution was adopted. Fortunately, the post-war years proved to be boom years for beekeeping and in 1953 there were 80,000 beekeepers in England and Wales with 396,000 colonies. In the 1960s the Education and Examinations Board (as it was then) under the chairmanship of Ted Hooper introduced the first syllabuses for the BBKA Examinations to help standardise the content of the Examinations.

Taken from January 2024 BBKA News