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 Rusty Wise, UK



THE WBC - A Classic British Beehive

  A short description of the popular, old fashioned hive of the British Isles - from a lady beekeeper’s point of view.


The WBC is the hive of story books and history lessons, the hive most associated with country cottages and walled kitchen gardens, and nearly always depicted on honey jar labels. This is the hive that most non beekeepers recognize as the home of “Apis Mellifera”

It can be seen glowing white among the lavender plants by the side of a little thatched cottage, or in a hedge row, shining white among the cow parsley, the bees humming past in tune to the whispering leaves of the lime trees above, or there among the neat rows of well grown vegetables, perhaps even in the royal kitchen gardens of the British Queen herself.


The Classic British hive

There were many attempts to improve on the old straw skep, a hive was needed with more manageable, movable frames, so that honey could be harvested without killing the bees, and those same bees over wintered safely ready to start producing early next spring. This popular new hive was designed by William Broughton Carr, (hence the name WBC), a double-walled hive within a hive; far superior to the previously used skep and ideal for the harsh climate in Northern Europe. The inner air space creates a warm buffer zone, protecting the colony from the freezing winds and driving rain, although this can also have the reverse effect of taking longer for the hive to warm up in the early spring sunshine.

The standard hive comes in two parts, inner and outer. The outer structure, nearly always painted white, consists of a floor or base, standing on short legs, a landing board and a porch to cover the entrance.

Floor, covered entrance and inner box



The height is raised or lowered using lifts and in strong colonies, in good hot summers, can reach a height of 2 metres, each lift measuring approx 20 cms in height. The roof is pitched and painted black to catch as much heat as possible from the reluctant northern sun.

The inner structure is not unlike the modern British National type hive, although the material used does not have to be so weather resistant, as it gets plenty of protection from the outer sections. The brood chamber and supers are arranged in exactly the same way, the frames being interchangeable, so both hives sit happily side by side in any apiary.

There is however one major difference between these two hives which is the number of frames in both brood box and honey supers; only ten in the WBC, as opposed to the usual eleven in Nationals etc..

This may seem a minor detail, but in beekeeping circles, one frame can mean a lot. It is a matter of space for the growing colony and the spreading brood in early spring. If there is less space, then it’s more likely there will be a swarm, and also there is obviously a smaller area for storage of winter supplies of honey for the bees.

On the plus side however, one frame less is a big advantage for the lady beekeeper, who is required to lift off supers full of honey every few days in a good honey flow, and who is usually a little more daintily built than her male counterpart.


Dismantled for a move

The WBC  hive as a whole is too heavy and cumbersome to move from one area to another, but it can be done and probably the best way would be to choose a very warm day in which to dismantle the hive, set the brood box and super, covered by a crown board, onto a solid board - leaving a small space for the bees to gain entrance - and then in the cool of the evening once the bees have stopped flying, lower the box onto the board and strap it up tightly for the journey to the next field of flowers.

That way the hive can be moved in separate parts and rebuilt again in its new situation, however, this is an awkward, very time and energy consuming way of working, and it is on the whole, better to leave it in a permanent situation and keep the more convenient Nationals as travelling hives.




A good colony well protected through the winter


Alternatively the hive could be strapped up as a whole and moved, very carefully, to its new site. To do this a lady beekeeper would require the help of two strong men, and plenty of material to stuff between the two walls to prevent the inner hive from shifting and spilling some very angry occupants.

 Another disadvantage for the time-challenged beekeeper, with perhaps more than just a few hives, is the extra time involved in removing both the roof and lifts of the outer structure before actually coming into contact with the bees in the inner hive, and reassembling the hive also takes time once the bee work is done.

 Although often criticised as having to small a bee area in too large a hive, the WBC was - and still is - an excellent design, despite the disadvantages mentioned above; both attractive and efficient for the small hobbyist beekeeper, and a lovely hive to set in amongst the garden flowers, creating an age-old scene of romantic country prettiness, however, for the “time means money” business-minded bee farmer it does not really have a place. The bigger, more movable and easier to access National and Langsthroth types, that can be easily lifted and stacked on a trailer, being much more in favour, and rightly so.