Fringe Box



Beekeeper’s Notes August 2018: Bees To The Workhouse

Published on: 1 Aug, 2018
Updated on: 2 Aug, 2018

A bleak view of the prison-like conditions at The Spike. Click on the images to enlarge in a new window.

Hugh Coakley keeps bees in Worplesdon. It’s always nice to see how other beekeepers manage their bees, especially in odd locations.

We often hear about bees in the country or the success of urban bees in town centres and gardens. But bees in a Victorian workhouse, that’s unusual.

John Redpath, general manager of the Jubilee Trust, that runs The Spike Heritage Centre in Charlotteville, says that he “was suckered” into keeping bees at the preserved casuals’ ward of the former Guildford Union Workhouse in Warren Road.

It had been suggested that bees would add to the heritage attraction of what Trip Advisor lists as one of the top things to do in Surrey.

Then John took up the idea.

It has turned out a great success, with John tending the bees and beekeeper Mark Seabrook helping and advising him.

A perfect place for a beehive, sheltered but with enough sun.

There are two hives at The Spike, both producing honey for sale. One is a traditional wooden hive, tucked away in a lovely secluded corner of the tiny garden. The other, a modern polystyrene hive, is on a flat roof with a beautiful view overlooking the downs.

The wooden hive has an observation board on the top so, under supervision, visitors can see the bees in action.

John Redpath wryly observed that in the day, what were called tramps and those ‘on the road’, and what are now regarded as homeless people, were given individual cells for their night’s stay to stop them from rioting – apparently something that frequently happened.

They weren’t the only ones at the former workhouse today who were trying to upset the established order. The hive on the roof is in good shape, but visiting on Saturday (July 21) we saw that the worker bees were busily plotting to replace their queen.

They had produced a couple of queen cells which would produce a new queen to supercede her, right under her nose so to speak. Not quite a riot but the incumbent queen is now on borrowed time and a new queen is likely to be in place in the next few weeks.

Maybe The Spike building, a remnant of the former workhouse, isn’t such a bad option for these bees after all.

The Spike is well worth a visit, not for the bees but as a gem right in our midst.

They are also looking for volunteers. If you would like to help at The Spike, contact John on 01843 598420 or email on He would love to hear from you.

You could do a couple of sessions a month showing visitors around or just help with the tasks needed to keep this fantastic heritage site running and in good shape for the future.

Polystyrene beehive on the roof at The Spike. It can get a bit windy from the North Downs. The polystyrene helps to insulate the bees from the worst of the weather.

John Redpath on the ladder with beekeeper Mark Seabrook about to scale the heights at The Spike to inspect the bees.

The hive inspection found plenty of capped honey on this frame.

It’s always nice to see the queen when you open up the hive and here she is. Can you spot her? Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Honey from The Spike.


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