Coaxing a swarm into a 'skep'

Engaving from White's handbook on bees

One of the attractive features of books on bees is that more often than not they are illustrated.

In this engraving in a general handbook on managing bees by William White, from Shutford in Oxfordshire, the man in the centre appears to be trying to coax the swarm into the overturned 'skep' in the foreground, although he seems to be standing far too close to them; an approaching companion with a concerned expression upon his face raises his hand in a cautionary gesture. The picture is interesting in that the clothes worn by the two men are not those of the working farmer, and emphasise that beekeeping was very much an occupation suitable for gentlemen.

The skep was a popular design throughout Western Europe and derived its name from the Anglo-Saxon word 'skeppa' which simply means basket; the typical skep was a conical basket made of long wheat straw coiled and stitched with blackberry briar. Skeps have small loops at the top to allow them to be easily lifted. This lifting or 'hefting' was an acquired skill for judging the weight of honey inside.

Image: William White. 'A complete guide to the mystery and management of bees'. London, [1771?]. [NLS shelfmark: MRB.172]

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