The Stanmore Apiary, Droughts and Peasemore AL/499

With this blog I am potentially speaking to two audiences which I will discuss further below. Stories have been put on the internet about a ‘military’ facility underneath Peasemore, known as Peasemore AL/499. As I grew up in the neighbouring village and had connections to Harwell through friends and family, I will give my tuppence worth.

To my regular audience, this is another installment about Mr Woodley the beekeeper with particular references to the droughts on the Downlands that occurred periodically.

To my potential new audience (those researching Peasemore AL/499) I would say treat this blog as the ‘golden hare’ hunt (google Kit Williams). You might want to print-out this blog because I might be asked to take it down.

Mr Woodley’s Stanmore Apiary

Mr Woodley had an apiary at Stanmore and on a previous blog I believed that his apiary was at the cottage he owned; the cottage is now called Hilltop Cottage (I do have a copy of the sale deeds of 1923 which proves he owned this cottage). But this idea was demolished when Mr Woodley wrote that he paid rent for the land (Stanmore apiary) at 10 shillings a year and that he had to erect a tent on the land.

Mr Woodley describes his apiary:

I am on one of the highest points in Berkshire, but being conversant with the neighbourhood and the “takes” of honey, I have found that bees located in valleys as a rule gather more honey than those on high, exposed situations…The rent for my out-apiary is 10s. per year with room for a hundred hives. The carriage does not run to much: I get our local carrier to bring home thirty to forty racks of sections at a time just as they come off the hives. I may add in most seasons my sections are all filled and sealed to the outside, so that every rack counts twenty-one sections, of course towards the end of the season.

[NBTW 14 February 1901]

Then comes the trifolium, one of our earliest sources of bee-forage, from which a surplus is gathered in quantity in this district, as it flowers a full week before the sainfoin. I am fortunate in having fourteen acres within a furlong of my Stanmore apiary, and am endeavouring to get stocks forward speedily, so as to take advantage of this early source of one of our finest honies.

[NBTW 10 May 1900]

My own out-apiary consists of some seventy hives — an increase of about twenty during the past few years. “Does it pay?” Well, I keep it going year after year, so my readers may rely on it that it does pay. I do not “bike” (I am almost ashamed to say), neither do I keep a horse and cart to work it. I fear the latter would absorb a goodly portion of the profits. I manage to get all my racks of sections taken to the apiary, and the same conveyed home, when full, by our carrier’s van. By this means I get a load of honey home for 1s. 6d. or 2s. when the carrier is going my way. Sections intended for use at the out-apiary are got ready by my good wife at home, and tied in parcels ready for the carrier. These are taken up in the morning, and I go myself to see they are handed carefully, and, perhaps, put the lot on the hives. In the swarming season I employ a man to watch for and hive swarms in straw skeps. These swarms are carried to my place some two miles, ready for dispatching to customers. I myself attend to all hives that have swarmed, as required, shortly afterwards.

[NBTW 27 March 1902]

The month of roses, leafy, sunny June, is with us again. We have rapidly passed from wintry weather to the humid warmth of summer. A fortnight ago ice might be shovelled up into heaps, today I am — like the patriarch of old — at “the door of my tent” (my manipulating-house at the out-apiary) under a natural veranda of May-blossom.

[NBTW 5 June 1902]

But what pinned pointed his apiary was the location of pond at North Stanmore, which is next to the T-crossing. Mr Woodley Writes:

Always keep a constant supply of water near the bees; if I did not do this my bees would have to go half a mile to a farm-pond for water. It will thus be seen the thousands of miles I save my bees in having a watering place near the hives. They use up six or seven gallons daily (with evaporation) at my home apiary alone. At my out-apiary there is, fortunately, a large pond within a stone’s throw of the hives, so water-troughs are not needed.

[NBTW 1 June 1905]

Mr Woodley - Hilltop Cottage, Stanmore, Beedon greyscale

Looking at the old photograph of Mr Woodley and 2 bee-men at the Stanmore Apiary, please take note of the position of the sun which can only be located east, south or west (not north). My thoughts are that it is a ‘stones throw’ away from the pond, the pond has a road to the north and so looking at the photograph the location is to the east of the pond. Therefore, my theory is Mr Woodleys apiary here (see map):

The red circle identifies the location of Mr Woodley's apiary.
The red circle identifies the location of Mr Woodley’s apiary.
The site of the Stanmore apiary today.  Pond on the Right.
The site of the Stanmore apiary today. Pond on the right.


Let’s discus topiary. Stanmore shares part of its name with Peasemore (not very far away) that is to say the ‘more’ or moor part of the name. But what is a moor? The Oxford English Dictionary defines a ‘moor’ as:-

Originally: a marsh; marshland, fen (obs.). Now: any of the flat, low-lying areas of Somerset, England, which were formerly marshland.

The place names, on Nottingham University’s place names dictionary, under Berkshire it didn’t have Stanmore  but they did have Peasemore which is defined as:

‘Pea pond’.

  • pise (Old English) Pease.
  • mere (Old English) A pond, a pool, a lake.

Compare with Great/Little Stanmore in Middlesex:

‘Stone pond’.

  • stān (Old English) A stone, stone, rock.
  • mere (Old English) A pond, a pool, a lake.

These give the impression of being wet places. Both Stanmore and Peasemore are on the Berkshire Downs which is chalkland.

What was the reality? Here is Mr Woodley’s notes on the drought:

The month of September is fast drawing to a close, but up to time of writing (26th) we have had no September gales with accompanying storms of rain such as we generally get “on or about” (as the almanacks say) “the autumnal equinox”. I doubt, however, if at any time within the memory of living man the rain could ever have been more desired and required than at present. Indeed, so badly is the drought felt that we had prayers for rain in church on Sunday last. The fact that poor cottagers in the adjoining parish of Aldworth have to pay 4d. for a pail of water is also plain evidence of the scarcity, their deep well having run dry, as have also all the ponds and tanks about; so that they have to fetch a supply from the mill stream some distance away. In the village of Beedon the same state of things exists with regard to ponds and quite half of the wells; farmers have to fetch the water for their cattle some six or seven miles from the mill stream at Donnington. These are proofs of our necessities.

[NBTW 29 September 1898]

The past month of November has been an abnormally dry one, and as a consequence of the past generally dry season many of those who have to depend upon the rainfall are short of water. The ponds are low or entirely empty, while the contents of deep wells are much reduced and in some cases quite empty, all of which indications will retard the rising of the springs after the turn of the days. Many farmers located on the hills around are at present obliged to send from a considerable distance to the streams in the valleys in order to get water for the cattle, with no prospects of immediate relief from this heavy expense. This particular shortage does not affect bee-keepers, but the drought of the spring and early summer of 1901 has, as it were, cast its shadow far into the summer of 1902 in a manner which must affect the interests of the craft considerably. The drought of 1901 set in early, just after the sowing of the spring corn and grass seeds, which in a good season cover the ground, and by harvest time the most forward of the young grass ought to be ready for the scythe when mowing the concurrent crops of barley or oats. This makes the grass-plant tiller out after the “cutting”, and become sturdy and strong to withstand the frosts of winter. But this season I have known several fields which had been sown with grass-seed ploughed up; and in other places, where the crop is allowed to stand, there is but a half to two-thirds crop. All this tends to show that the prospects of a good white clover season in 1902 are heavily handicapped. On the other hand, the young sainfoin looks well, as does some late-sown trifolium, which has come up strong and full of promise; these two will, weather permitting, help to fill the supers next year; only we like a mixture of white clover in with these two, and then we get “honey fit for a king”.

[NBTW 12 December 1901]

The Downland villagers had to either rely on deep wells or find water sources in the valleys further a field. Around Beedon, Stanmore and Worlds End there was great reliance on wells, and if you go to Beedon you will see a cast iron well head at along the Stanmore Road turn. The water source for the downlands is from aquifers; this is what the deep wells tapped into. After millions of years of erosion from rain water, the soft rock (mainly chalk) below the Downlands is probably akin to a Swiss cheese, with lots of holes and maybe even large caverns. When it rains the aquifers fill-up and slowly leak-out from springs along the downlands. Perhaps Stanmore and Peasmore benefited from springs hence the inference of wetness in their place names; although I am not aware of any springs in these villages. Our forefathers dug deep wells to go gain access to water and I am aware of a number of building projects around Beedon where the owners have the headache of dealing with a forgotten well.

Peasemore AL/499

The story is that underneath Peasemore there is ‘military’ base where exotic technology or experimentation is taking place. ‘Evidence’ is coming from the testimony of ‘victims’ who were prisoners/residents of this underground facility. Please have a look at the video to get the thrust of the narrative about Peasemore.


The story goes that the Peasemore facility is linked to various other military bases or research facilities through a network of tunnels; these bases include Harwell, Aldermaston and Welford. Allegedly, these tunnels were constructed by tunnelling machines which melted the rock and in doing so left a vitreous lined tunnels that are waterproof.

Knowing what we do about the topography I have these thoughts:

  • If the tunnelling machine melted the porous chalk rock which is probably submerged in water, firstly where did the steam go and secondly, why didn’t it seriously destabilise the porous rock above?
  • Why Peasemore? If hypothetically, there is a base deep in the bowels of Peasemore, the only reason I see it being there is because a large cavern was discovered in the rock underneath the village. Otherwise, it seems an extreme expense in money, materials and time to build an underground facility in the middle of nowhere, where the entrances to the facility is tens of miles away.

Stanmore Pumping Station

I have no interest in researching Peasemore AL/499, however I would encourage those doing research into Peasemore AL/499 consider the role of the Thames Water facility at North Stanmore.

After the second World War agriculture became a strategic industry and government money was granted to farmers to improve the land and to irrigate it. The only means to irrigate the surrounding Downland was to sink a bore hole and extract the water from the ground. Speaking to the older folk in Beedon as a child, there were stories of a stream which ran from North Stanmore and down the hill towards Beedon before meandering off to join the river Pang. Once water was extracted from North Stanmore, the stream was never seen again. One thought was that too much was extracted; I did hear another story about the Water Board having make a deeper bore, although cannot confirm this. I pose a theory that a large caverns was discovered under Peasemore as water extraction took place, probably during the Cold War era.

There was and still is a pumping station at North Stanmore; there is a bore hole where Thames Water pump water from the aquifer beneath and no doubt treat it. In the early 1980s the field around the pumping station was open and you could see a tumulus from the road side. Around the late 1980s, the perimeter of field around the pumping station was planted with a thick band of trees, so within a ten year period the pumping station and the tumulus was not easily visible from the road. What was still visible was a slender radio mast with a single antenna on it. Later this slender mast was replaced with a more robust structure and an array of different telecommunication operators placed antennas on the new mast.

Stanmore reservoir

Further Research

If I was doing research on North Stanmore pumping station in relation to Peasemore AL/499 I would look at:-

  • Old planning applications for the pumping station (carefully look at the plans);
  • Use a quodcopter with a camera to do an aerial survey of the pumping station;

3 thoughts on “The Stanmore Apiary, Droughts and Peasemore AL/499

  1. Ice in May 1902… The early 1900s must have been unusually cold, when the Isle of Wight disease broke out they had temps below freezing in May.

    Confused by the trifolium – is it a kind of clover? He refers to it as a different flower to white clover, perhaps it’s red clover?

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 3 February 2015 — 5:09 pm

      My take on Mr Woodley is that he uses trifolium (literally three-leaves) as an umbrella term for clover.
      I think there is three types of trifolium he refers to. Firstly trifolium repens which is white clover; very common in lawns.
      The second is trifolium incarnatum which crimson clover (not to be confused with red clover).
      Thirdly there is trifolium compestre, known as trefoil or hop-clover by Mr Woodley which is green fodder for horses.
      Mr Woodley has written about Red Clover, especially in the American context; the Americans were trying to breed a honeybee with a longer tongue so they could forage on the Red Clover. I don’t think the Americans got very far with that idea though!

      1. Ah, I see! Thanks for the explanation.

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