BBKA Experts: Dealing with Disease

The Technical Education Act of 1889 enabled the BBKA and county associations to gain recognition and obtain grants from the newly formed education authorities for its educational work. This included the funding of visiting experts. A survey conducted in 1894 by the BBKA revealed that 34 out of 51 English, 2 out of 12 Welsh and 4 out of 33 Scottish counties were making grants to beekeeping associations.

Expert exam results, including foul brood, as published in the British Bee Journal.

Note: The British Bee Journal is available here  This is from the January 1893 edition. 

The reader may presume that those days of beekeeping were free from disease, but this was not so. The following are extracts from the minutes and reports of the Bristol, Somersetshire and South Gloucestershire Association:


2 March 1893: ‘it was proposed that naphthaline should be supplied to each expert free of cost for the purpose of suppressing foul brood.’ ‘The Association deplores the fact that in spite of preventative measures such as the free use of naphthaline, etc., foul brood is devastating many of our members’ apiaries’. One member wrote: ‘unless we get legislation shortly it will stop beekeeping in this parish as every hive is more or less affected.’ Can we get legislative aid for the purpose of dealing with foul brood? (report, 1896). Expenditure on naphthaline and carbolic was 11/6d (57½p) for the year.


Fortunately, the BBKA was ahead of the game. In 1891 the syllabus for expert (third class) was amended to include a section on foul brood diseases, together with a minimum number of marks to be obtained in that section for a pass. In addition, previous successful candidates were required to be examined in the new part of the syllabus in order to retain their Expert certificates. It is doubtful that this was fully implemented. In visiting up to a dozen beekeepers’ apiaries in one day they themselves may have been vectors in the spread of disease.  

William Herrod

William Herrod

Practical examination conducted by William Broughton-Carr circa 1906 from the British Bee-keepers Guide Book

W Herrod-Hempsall at an agricultural show circa 1918

Many beekeepers who had gained the first or second class certificates were able to accept seasonal employment working as visiting experts. From Bridgwater in Somerset, William Withycombe was obliged to travel by train to the Royal Show at Reading to take his third class expert examination. His surname, commencing with W, meant that because candidates were examined in alphabetical order, he was the last. He was successful, but missed the last train home. The indomitable spirit of this young man was such that he set off lightheartedly on foot arriving back in Bridgwater two days later. He was successful in the second class examination later the same season, but said that he was not prepared to attempt the first class expert examination, as he was not sufficiently confident to stand before an audience to deliver a lecture. Early in the next year the examiner came to see him at Bridgwater and asked him if he would go as expert for Kent and persuaded his father to let him go. While in Kent he was appointed as instructor at Swanley College and at Wye College, taking the place of the renowned Frank R Cheshire who had recently died. After his period in Kent, Withycombe served as visiting expert in Sussex, Essex, south Lancashire, Cheshire, Gloucestershire and finally back in his native county of Somerset. He became a Vice-President of the BBKA and his portrait, painted in oils in the late 1940s, hangs at the BBKA Headquarters at Stoneleigh.


In the same year, another expert, young William Herrod was allocated to Lancashire for a seasonal appointment of eight weeks duration. His salary was £3 per week together with certain emoluments for enrolling new members and collecting subscriptions. His diary for 1896 gives details of his working days. For example, he wrote: April 10th, Started at 7 am and finished at 9.30 pm. Cycled 40 miles and visited ten bee-keepers. Examined 29 colonies in movable comb hives and one skep. Found foul brood present in four apiaries. Got two new members. Tea, bed and breakfast, 2s. 6d.


William Herrod was beginning to make a name for himself in the world of beekeeping and came to the notice of William Broughton-Carr, deputy editor of the BBJ. In 1903, an exception was made for him in that he was allowed to sit the first class certificate examination in his home village instead of travelling to London. The questions were set and the papers marked by TW Cowan. With this exception no alterations were made regarding examination centres for the first class certificate until 1908. At this time Council resolved: ‘that future examinations for the first-class certificates be conducted in two distinct sections upon different dates, viz the first section to consist of the paper-work, in various centres to suit the convenience of intending candidates, as in the second-class examination, and secondly and finally, the lecturing test before the Council by those candidates only who succeed in passing the first section.’


William Herrod, garden boy made good, was by now an acknowledged expert and very well known. In 1909 he became secretary of the BBKA, a post he held until it passed to his brother, Joseph, in 1930. In 1915 the brothers adopted by deed poll the name of Herrod-Hempsall. William Herrod-Hempsall (W H-H) travelled the country promoting the craft and was frequently an examiner.  


Exam structure revisions

In 1913 there were major revisions to the examinations structure. The third class expert examination became known as the Preliminary (Junior Craftsman). The second class expert examination was designated as the Intermediate (Craftsman) and the certificate was awarded for Proficiency in Modern Bee-keeping. The final examination, carried a certificate of Proficiency as Expert in Modern Bee-keeping. A new examination was made available: the much-coveted Honours Certificate in Lecturing. William Herrod-Hempsall was the first holder and remained the only holder for a period of six years. Only those passing this additional examination could now describe themselves as Expert.



Since their inception until 1913, only one form of certificate was issued to successful candidates. It was plainly printed on parchment. With the recent changes in examination structure new certificates were required. Two of these were designed by a member of the BBKA Council, Mr FW Harper, who, in the words of W H-H, showed artistic genius; one is shown below.


This certificate design by FW Harper, awarded to HR Cousins

For the Honours certificate design the BBKA held a competition, offering a prize of £5. The winning entry was by Mr E Welch. His design was adopted and, with slight modifications to make it compatible with today’s paper sizes and dimensions, it is in use today, 100 years after its introduction.

The photo below, left illustrates Harper’s design of certificate, this one being awarded to HR Cousins, in 1915. Welch’s winning design of certificate (below, right) awarded to FR Cyphus, was originally intended only for holders of the Honours certificate in Lecturing, but later it was awarded to successful candidates in all of the examinations and for recognition of honorary membership. The latter is supplied for publication by courtesy of Neil Painter, a grandson of FR Cyphus.

Welch's winning Honours certificate award to Mr FR Cyphus

Not much documentation has surfaced regarding the conduct of examinations in the inter-war years. It is fortunate, however, that W Herrod-Hempsall was not only a prolific writer, but also a photographer, and what is more, he liked to appear in photographs. In his two-volume ‘Magnum opus’ volume II of Bee-keeping, New and Old: Described with Pen and Camera, there is reliable information along with some photographs. The photographs do not reproduce very well, but I was fortunate recently to have had access to archives of the North Devon Beekeepers’ who have an album with not only original prints but more precise captions. For instance, in the picture below we see Sir Arthur Watson, one-time president of the North Devon branch being examined by William Herrod-Hempsall for his Junior Craftsman certificate. “It shows” says William Herrod-Hempsall, “that our certificates are prized equally by titled people as by the ordinary bee-keeper”.

William Herrod-Hemstall examines Sir Arthur Watson (right) for his Junior Craftsman certificate

The structure and administration of the examinations remained largely unaltered for a very long period of time. A document published in 1933 which I have to hand shows only amendments to certain procedures, fees, etc. A few interesting observations are worth relating:

n          The candidate no longer had to supply a satisfactory testimonial of character.

n          The examinations were still usually held at shows and candidates may be asked to provide their own bees but for those living at a distance bees could usually be provided.

n          For candidates taking written examinations, held in March and November, the question papers, in a sealed envelope, and the instructions, are sent to the supervisor so as to arrive on the morning of the examination. This speaks volumes for the reliability of the postal service at this time.    

n          Fees: Preliminary (Junior Craftsman), 5 shillings; Intermediate examination (Craftsman), 21 shillings (a guinea); Final examination (Expert), 42 shillings (2 guineas); Examination for Honours Certificate in lecturing, £3, 3 shillings (3 guineas). Non-members will be charged double the above fees.

n          From 1933 candidates taking the Intermediate and Expert examinations and pass in only one paper, but obtain a total of 100 marks for both papers shall be exempt from taking that paper if they sit for the next examination.  80 marks is the minimum to obtain a pass.

n          Candidates in the practical examinations are no longer required to drive bees.

An 'ordinary' beekeeper

School beekeeping and the junior certificate

The inter-war years saw a growth of interest in beekeeping in elementary schools in particular; this was largely, but not entirely, in boys. This accelerated during WW2 in tandem with the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. It was not unnatural that participants wished to put their knowledge to the test. Certificates have always been a goal with schoolchildren and the BBKA came up with an examination to test the knowledge of children. Successful candidates were awarded the BBKA Junior certificate. The Somerset record book shows that many schools participated and a great number of pupils sat the written test. Nearly all were successful. In my early days of beekeeping I met a great number of older beekeepers whose interest in the craft was ignited by joining a school bee club and then becoming beekeepers themselves.  Some pupils had the confidence to take the preliminary examination as well. At Bedminster Down School, Bristol, in 1960, R Sayer of class 4F wrote in the school magazine as follows:  

‘This has been a good year for beekeeping and we extracted about one hundred pounds of honey from our hives. We also divided one colony to form two nuclei so increasing our colonies to four. This year the following boys gained the Junior Certificate of the British Beekeepers’ Association: P Jackson, R Sayer, W Willcox and A Williams. This year, for the first time, we staged a beekeeping display at the Bristol Horticultural Show which attracted a good deal of attention and one of our members came away hoarse from answering questions which came at him thick and fast for three hours ...’


BBKA show judges’ exam

There is no mention of an examination for becoming a show judge in my syllabuses of examinations for 1933, but I am fairly certain that one was introduced at about or soon after this date. I found a reference saying that in 1931 Somerset Beekeepers’ Association wrote to the BBKA suggesting an examination certificate for judging and this would be taken up. The requirements for becoming a show judge appear to have been similar for a great many years, but in the 1990s it was split into two levels: those who had passed the Associate Judges’ certificate and those who had passed the Judges’ certificate. The former was intended for beekeepers wishing to judge at small and regional shows. The latter aims to identify and reward beekeepers who have comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of showing honey and honey products. It was designed for those who wish to judge at large, national and international honey shows. In 1997 these were renamed Intermediate Honey Judges Examination and the Senior Honey Judges Examination.

BBKA Honey judges are required to be competent not only in judging honey but also beeswax, candles, mead, honey cookery and anything related to beekeeping and honey that might be a class in a honey show.


William Herrod-Hemstall judging at Bristol.

The photo above shows senior BBKA Honey Judges, Bernard Draper (Second left) and Hazel Blackburn (seated) judging in Somerset, 2017.