Exhibit of the Week: Skeps, Beck Isle Museum, Pickering

Harry Skaife, beekeeper of Pickering is pictured with his straw skeps.

Did you know that there is a small display about beekeeping at the Beck Isle Museum? On display are a range of items including skeps, smokers and a beekeepers protective equipment such as hood, veil and gloves.

Early hives were known as skeps. These were made of straw, conical in shape and were commonly used until the mid 19th century. Beekeepers often made their own skeps using materials readily available – straw, rush or grasses. These were bound with cane (usually bramble stripped of its thorns and softened) and an entrance hole was made for the bees to enter and exit. Skeps had flat bases which served as a landing platform for the bees so that they would be free to build their comb inside.

Beekeeping display in Beck Isle Museum.

A number of straw skeps can be seen in the display at the museum.

Skeps had to be protected against the weather. Placing a ceramic bowl over the top often did this, helping to keep the interior dry and anchor the skep against the wind. Sometimes skeps were covered with earth mixed with cow dung to keep the interior dry. Further protection was given to skeps by placing them in ‘bee boles’, recesses in southerly facing walls. Example of these 
can be seen at Cropton Lane, Pickering and in Wester-dale.

This photograph top shows Harry Skaife, beekeeper of Pickering, with his straw bee skeps. Harry Skaife lived at Bumble Bee Hall between Pickering and Thornton Dale.

The wooden hive superseded the traditional coiled straw skep from the 1850s onwards.

Invented by Rev Langstroth in 1851, wooden hives have the benefit of removable frames, which allow for the easy harvesting of honey and checking for pests.

l The award winning Beck Isle Museum, Pickering, where the Victorian period is brought to life is located in a beautiful setting by Pickering Beck, just around the corner from the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and is open 10am-4pm daily.

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