Sending Goods from A to Bee Via the Railway

Mr Woodley, Beedon’s Beekeeper, would send various bee-products to customers around Britain using the railway.  He would use a carrier to take goods to Newbury station.  I like to think that the goods going north would use the Didcot, Newbury & Southampton line and pass Mr Dyers apiary at Crossing Cottage in Compton.  Below are Mr Woodley’s words and advice on using the railways; this is from his column ‘Notes By The Way’ (NBTW) from the British Bee Journal.


Sending Bees By Rail

Sending Bees By Railway
Sending Bees By Railway

I fear there is no perfect system of packing bees to send by rail when the thermometer registers 115 deg. to 120 deg.  I have lost a few swarms from heat, but the loss is only a small percentage of all I send out.  I feel my system cannot be much improved upon.  Last year I had my boxes cut somewhat deeper, and again this season, but we have not had that intense heat and honey glut to combat.  I believe that the interior of railway vans must be over 120 deg. when the weather is very warm, and if packages of soft material are thrown on the top of boxes containing living bees, that is the cause of losses, and the railways ought to be responsible. [NBTW 16 JUNE 1904]

Always dispatch swarms as early as possible after they are hived, if they have to travel a long distance (say 300 to 400 miles); but if only twenty to a hundred miles, by first train the next morning will do.  See that they start well provided for the journey in a roomy box, with plenty of ventilation, and when receiving swarms always feed on arrival.  If strainer-cloth is used for the swarm-box, syrup can be carefully sprinkled on the cloth or honey spread on it with a knife.  Be sure that the hive stands quite level, and use your judgment as to the number of frames.  A 3-lb. swarm should have six or seven, a 4-lb. swarm eight, and a 5-lb. swarm may have the full ten; or if super honey is wanted, put the bees on nine frames and super in a week or ten days, if weather continues good and honey is coming in freely. [NBTW 13 MAY 1909]

In view of the long time that must often elapse (sometimes three or four days) before a swarm sent, say, 250 or 300 miles by rail is delivered, the first thing to do on arrival should be to give the bees some food in the swarm-box; then, when hived, a bottle of syrup should be given, and unless honey is plentiful outside, the feeding should continue each night for a week.  Allowance should always be made for a certain loss of weight in a swarm delayed several days before hiving, as the bees will have consumed the food in their sacs when weighed before despatching. In other words, if the purchaser who buys a swarm on the spot is perfectly content to pay for it by weight as delivered, the buyer at a distance should weigh his purchase after the bees have been fed up into the condition they were in when the swarm came off.  But grumblers won’t see it in this light, somehow, but want the honey carried off from the parent-hive thrown in for nothing. [NBTW 23 April 1908]


Sending Honey by Rail

1906 bbj - home made bee wagon


I am glad to say my record of the season’s despatches [sic] are all satisfactory, customer after customer writing to say that the parcel arrived in ” good”, “first-rate”, or “excellent” condition.  This is encouraging, in view of the fact that I have sent honey in all directions to nearly all parts of England, from the Isle of Wight in the south to the Tweed in the north, also to many parts of Scotland, and in no single instance have I had complaint of any damage.  The past volumes of the Bee Journal will bear witness that I have not kept my system of packing honey for transit hidden away “under a bushel”.  On the contrary, whenever there has been any reference to breakages or damage I have trotted out my same old style of packing, i.e., boxes or cases large enough to allow packing material on all sides with a good bold “don’t jar” label (mine are 12 in. by 8 in. with letters in “red” 1 ¾ in. long), so that any railway porter can see at a glance the contents.  Then I make it a rule never to pack more than half a gross of glazed sections in one case.  This weighs about 1 cwt. (railway porters are not “Sandows”) and the box has strong cord handles at each end.  Smaller lots of, say, one or two dozen have the box strongly cross-corded; this gives a good and safe handle to carry by, while larger cases holding from three to six dozen have either wood or cord handles according to construction of cases, so that they can be handled easily, and I flatter myself that it is by careful packing in this way that my continual consignments travel satisfactorily.  Small lots sent per Pass. train travel at half usual parcel rate, while large boxes go by ordinary “goods” rate. [NBTW 15 NOVEMBER 1900]


Owner’s Risk Rate

Newbury Station Goods Shed
Newbury Station Goods Shed

For several years past I have been supplied by the Great Western Railway with books of consignment notes (numbered “2,853”, as sample sent) for honey and other goods at company’s risk, and about a month back our carrier brought me a supply of consignment notes for honey headed “For goods to be carried at reduced rates at owner’s risk”.  I would not use these notes at first, preferring the consignment note I had been using previously.  But our carrier then informed me that the Great Western Railway would not accept the goods unless the last form of consignment notes supplied was used.  I at once wrote, calling the stationmaster’s attention to the fact that, although I had sent honey at “reduced rates at owner’s risk”, I found the same charges made as when sent at company’s risk last year.  His reply was, “I beg to inform you that railway companies generally, owing to the liability to damage, have adopted a regulation by which honey in the comb in sections in cases is conveyed at the owner’s risk only, the rate remaining the same as heretofore”. [NBTW 19 FEBRUARY 1903]

At owner’s risk and ordinary rate” is what I myself principally object to pay.  Yet I must yield to this unjust imposition every week.  The G.W. Railway will only accept “honey” on these terms, i.e., I have to pay full rate and take all the risk of breakage or damage.  As regards the latter I do not complain, and should have no occasion to grumble if the railway company would accept a reduced rate, but to charge the highest rate and not accept any responsibility is, I consider, a hard, if not an unjust, act on their part.  During the past quarter of a century I do not remember having made more than three claims, and in each case small ones, so that I am evidently paying now for the numerous claims that numbers of our craft have made on the various railway companies.  I say this because our stationmaster at Newbury informs me that his company, conjointly with other railway companies, have decided not to undertake the carriage of honey except on the condition “that it is booked at ordinary rate, and at owner’s risk”.  I ask: What can we bee-keepers do?  We have the honey to sell, and our only means of transit to the customer is the railway; so we are tied hand and foot. [NBTW 25 February 1904]

Our industry is small and the consignments tally with our output.  What we bee-keepers (and only the larger bee-keepers) grumble at about railway rates is being charged in Class 4, and in this way having to bear the loss of damage to our goods, with no redress…No one can localise the wilful misconduct of the porter, so it is waste of room to discuss this point; but as regards “packing”, I flatter myself I can manage that work as well as most folks.  I have had forty-five years’ experience in that line of business, and have sent honey as far as India and South Africa without a breakage.  My reason for saying that porters break nearly everything they handle was a personal one.  I recently bought a piano in London as a wedding present for my daughter.  It came to hand damaged (all the music knocked out of it). That had to go back.  Then a marble chimney-piece from Birmingham came to station broken.  This I refused.  Then a crate of honey jars — three dozen at one corner broken.  Claimed for.  Next week followed a fire-grate to station broken.  Refused.  Week before last new iron bedstead and suite of furniture broken.  Claimed damage.  And a case of honey sent to Guildford, and, after going in various wrong directions, it reached Guildford, where it landed with one-third of the sections damaged.  For this I get no redress.  I contend that it should go at rate 1 or 2 at most, instead of rate 4, if we are to bear all risks.  I have seen my own exhibits of honey from a West of England show (on one occasion at an important function) thrown on to the gravelled platform with a force which sent the gravel flying, and the porter sung very small when I remonstrated with him for his careless handling of my property, and that I should claim compensation if I found the contents damaged. [21 DECEMBER 1905]


2 thoughts on “Sending Goods from A to Bee Via the Railway

  1. A fascinating insight into the practicalities of sending honey and bees. I can sympathise with the breakages, having had two broken mugs delivered by Royal Mail this Christmas!

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 31 December 2014 — 3:46 pm

      LOL 🙂

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