Bee Garths, Goatscliffe

Recent Photograph of Bee Garths (Goatscliffe)

These are just holes in the wall, right? No, they are Bee Garths, or ‘Boles’, and believed to date from the 17th century. They would have been homes for the traditionally shaped ‘bee hive’ - a dome made out of straw, called a “skep”, providing it with protection against the weather.

Bees were an important part of the economy, and honey has been much prized from early times, as a ready source of sweetness before sugar refining, and as the basis of a fermented drink, mead. As a measure of its value, in medieval times honey was one of the resources, like hay and corn, which were accepted as manorial dues, or as tithes to be paid to the Church. And Bee Keepers themselves were taxed, as for example at Hope, for Easter time:-

“it was the custom to pay 2d. upon each cow (vac), and 1d. on each calf (vit), and apparently an acknowledgment of 1d. from every keeper of sheep (ov. 1d.) The beekeeper also paid 2d. (ap. 2d.)[1]

These particular Garths are in the wall opposite the gate to the house where I was born, and I was told by my mother they'd been used for keeping bees, although the farmer who was living in the house the wall belonged to at the time used them as nesting places for his chickens!

Whilst they must have been very common at one time, wooden hives were introduced in the mid 1800s, which were greatly preferred as they could be moved around easily. As a consequence, examples of surviving boles in the Peak District are few, but a row of about ten is know to exist in the base of a wall near to Cuckstone Quarry on Matlock Moor.[2], and a second in the garden of Stud Farm Cottage[3] in Walton near Chesterfield.

See also the IBRA Bee Boles Register for an overview of “Bee Boles” country-wide.

(Information provided by Rosemary Lockie)

[1] Porter, William Smith - Notes from a Peakland Parish - Chapter VIII.

[2] “Telling the Bees”. Article published in The Peak Advertiser 15th July 1991.

[3] Rodgers, Frank - More Curiousities of Derbyshire and the Peak District. Derbyshire Countryside Ltd. 2000 (p.56).  ISBN 085100 132 7

Image contributed by Rosemary Lockie in September 1990.
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