William (Bill) Broader Bielby

//William (Bill) Broader Bielby

William (Bill) Broader Bielby

So another chapter in Yorkshire Beekeeping closes with the passing of this former sage of inventive beekeeping – William
“Bill” Bielby whose innovations included the disc entrance for
beehives, the polypropylene brood and super frames and the Catenary Hive
“affectionately known as the Cat & Canary hive”.  Bill Bielby, who
originally hailed from the Bishop Monkton area of North Yorkshire, was
one of the last great names of beekeeping in these parts.  Although we
still have three amongst us whose beekeeping goes back to the 1930’s,
they would readily admit that Bill was special… indeed, very special! 
Bill took up beekeeping through his farming family connections prior to
the Second World War; these relatives extended to Birstwith, Bishop
Monkton and Harrogate.  Bill was a charming man whose love of the
countryside and beekeeping made him very popular.  He was a man of
enormous energy, whose enthusiasm for the craft was infectious, both
around a beehive and at the lectures he gave to packed audiences.

William “Bill” Broader Bielby died on 25th January 2012 in Whangarei Hospital, New Zealand after a short illness, bravely borne.  He was 91.

It is not generally known that Bill saw
service in the World War 2; training under the Empire Training Scheme,
becoming a Pilot, commissioned to RAF Squadron 504, City of Nottingham
(Auxiliary).  Throughout the Second World War, 504 Sqn operated from
over some thirty airfields in both the UK and abroad.  Roles were as
diverse as Heavy Bomber escort; interdiction raids across occupied
France; escort duties over Arnhem during Operation Market Garden and a major involvement in the Battle of Britain.

Bill started his working life with the
General Post Office as a telecommunications engineer. Through his
wartime experiences, he became interested in electrical engineering that
enabled him to take up a career as a civilian instructor in
telecommunications at the Army Apprentices School, Pennypot, Harrogate,
no doubt prompted by the late Albert Parkinson (Crompton Parkinson’s),
the great beekeeping benefactor of the John Reaveley Trust.  An
enthusiastic beekeeper and one who was keen on beekeeping research
brought Bill into contact with Alfred Hebden, Dr Eva Crane and May
Prosser in the early 1950’s.  This saw him actively involved with the
Bee Research Association during its infancy in those early days at 55
Newlands Park, Hull.  At this time the Yorkshire Beekeeping Association
had close links with the two County Beekeeping Instructors (CBI’s) –
Alfred Hebden at Woolley College for the West Riding and William
Hamilton at Askham Bryan for the North Riding.  The retirement of
Hamilton in 1961 saw the amalgamation of the two colleges with Alf
Hebden running both departments.  Very quickly the burden of an extended
work area (Sedburgh to south Sheffield) took its toll on Alf Hebden who
was forced to retire in 1962 through ill health.  Bill applied for the
position (amongst a dozen others from throughout the UK) and was
successful in becoming the new CBI in January 1963, where he remained
until his retirement in the mid 1980’s.  The close friendship he
developed with the beekeeper, Sir Alec Clegg (the nationally,
innovatively known Chief Education Officer for the West Riding) did not
come amiss because Bill was a natural, having infinite patience and a
yen for explaining complicated details to young people.

In a very short time, Bill was
travelling the whole of the British Isles giving beekeeping lectures to
eager ears.  I first met Bill in 1961 at the National Honey Show but it
was in 1964 that our friendship began in earnest with the origins of the
Village Bee-Breeders Association (now known as BIBBA) and with Beowulf
Cooper who at the time was working for NAAAS (now FERA).  Beowulf was
attached to the Northallerton office where he came into contact with
Will Slinger who was the Bees’ Inspector.  It was there that Will took
us to the rising land below Sutton Bank where there were known to be
“Bee Assembly Areas”…indeed there were.

In 1968 at the Central Association of
Beekeepers’ annual meeting at Leamington Spa, I met up with Bill and the
late Harry Allan, CBI for Warwickshire, who like me was interested in
Bill’s bee breeding techniques, which centred on the black bee.  Bill
was in fine form, so much so that I recall Harry remarking, “The one
thing Bill can do is to cause more controversy at a meeting than most of
us do in a lifetime.”  Nonetheless, these were the early days before
the pioneering work that he was to undertake at Spurn Point on the
Humber Estuary in the early 1970’s.

The Radcliffe-Maude report on the
reorganisation of central government saw the introduction of
metropolitan county councils in 1974, dividing up Yorkshire so that one
person, serving two different unitary authorities, could no longer
provide beekeeping education to both areas.  Under the new arrangements,
Bill chose Askham Bryan as it had its roots in both agriculture and
horticulture; It was greatly assisted by the Yorkshire Beekeepers’
Association’s long association with the college, through its mammoth
residential beekeeping weekend that had been running continuously since

For a number of years Bill kept bees at
Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire.  Quite by chance, in 1966, he came
across a wild colony of bees and through morphology wing venation
techniques, established a true to type “Black Bee – apis melliferra
melliferra.” This revelation spurned on the interest to breed better
bees nationally.  The early experiments that were to take place at Spurn
Point made some headway; Bill worked closely with many local
beekeepers, some of whom were real enthusiasts, including Reg Spruce who
painstaking undertook record keeping and managing techniques that saved
people like Bill undertaking the two hundred mile round trip.

These were truly the heady days of
beekeeping.  By now Bill was internationally known, undertaking lectures
worldwide through his close connection with IBRA.  He spoke at the 1974
Helsinki Symposium on the subject of “Wintering of Bees in Cold
Climates.”  At the time, he was regarded as a leading authority on
insulation and condensation problems in beehives.

Bill was well known for his
inventiveness.  He was intrigued by the bees’ natural propensity to draw
comb in the shape of a Catenary.  So much so, that he developed a
top-bar type hive that was conceived of a brood area consisting of a
semi-circular hive that was sized to take modified national supers.  The
bees gained access through the one sized hole shaped on the side that
could be easily closed through a device he designed and patented, called
the “Disc Entrance”.  At more or less the same time, he developed his
polypropylene brood and super frames.  This material seemed to lose its
integrity and very quickly became out of shape.  The idea of
polypropylene was that it was impervious to brood disease spores
permeating the polypropylene material

Bill was keen to involve everyone in the
craft of beekeeping and was a keen advocate of introducing bees via
observation hives into schools: a means of ensuring that the younger
generation would take up the craft in later years.  In 1976 he summoned
me to the Half Moon Inn, Sherburn in Elmet to meet Eric Durham, Phil
Jenkins, Mr Cutter, Mr Foxton and Mrs Claire Hooton with a view to
re-starting Barkston Ash Beekeepers’ Association with bi-monthly
meetings at Tadcaster and Cawood.  Bill was able to use a small amount
of his educational budget to provide sufficient funds to get the
Association off the ground, and assisting with lectures for the first
year.  Now 36 years on, it is a thriving association with an up and
coming membership of young enthusiasts with an apiary site at Church
Fenton that is a credit to them.

The Askham Bryan College where Bill was
quartered had the good luck to have a sympathetic principal (Lance
Gilling) who with good grace, championed beekeeping in more ways than
one.  The annual residential college held in July was a triumph for
beekeeping education.  Every year, people from all over the country
repaired to this weekend of beekeeping excellence, resulting in Bill
making it a showpiece for both practical and technical beekeeping.  The
large auditorium was filled to capacity with 186 people in 1979; there
was not an expert in the UK that did not speak at the Askham Bryan
Week-End School during Bill’s tenure.  The finale in the afternoon was
for Bill to give a beekeeping practical demo of his beekeeping trailer,
with its 10 Catenary Hives.

The 1980’s saw the introduction of
government cuts and changes in educational methods that would soon take
its toll on beekeeping at Askham Bryan.  By 1984 the attendance at the
weekend school was down to less than 60 people, and the last in 1986, a
mere 20 people.  By this time, Bill had retired and there would be no
replacement, due to the new methods of education funding that had been

Bill who retired in the spring of 1985
had been making plans to retire to be with his son in Whangarei, New
Zealand and soon he and his wife Peggy made a new life on the other side
of the world, albeit out of sight but not of our minds.

In writing this homily, it has brought
back many happy memories and experiences that I was fortunate to have
had with Bill Bielby during the heady days of 1970’s beekeeping.  In
closing, I offer our deepest sympathy and condolences to his widow of 70
years and to his son John.  Those of you who would like to write to the
family should write to J Bielby, C/O Morris and Morris; 199 Kamo Road,
Mairtown, Whangarei, 0112, New Zealand.

Michael Badger

5th February 2012.

Post Note: From John Bielby –


Both Mother and Dad stayed in their
own home until they were over ninety years old. When it was plain that
outside help could not lend enough to make them safe, they were cajoled –
Mother first – into the nearby Kamo Rest Home. Dad was most reluctant
to follow, six weeks later. Sadly, events were to prove that the move
was more than justified, for he rapidly became weaker, finally
succumbing to a massive stroke on 25th January.


Dad never lost his faculties and his
wit never left him, but it became apparent over the last year a two that
his body was winding down. He didn’t ‘lose his marbles’ but they
certainly began to roll more slowly as time went on.

He was proud to have retained his
driving licence and insisted having his beloved Saab parked right
outside the Rest Home –  In case we need it. Needless to say, the car
just sat there gathering leaves and dust.


He was a valiantly trouper to the very end and we haven’t even begun to start to miss him. I think it will hit us in due course.

By | 2017-01-21T15:06:27+00:00 December 15th, 2013|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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