Obituary British Bee Journal – 25 October 1923

Mr William Woodley, beekeeper and resident of Beedon

Mr William Woodley, 1846 – 1923

Obituary Notice.


It is with the deepest regret we announce the death of Mr W. Woodley, of World’s End, Newbury, Berks. Although Mr Woodley is not so well known to our present bee-keepers, his name was almost a household word some fifteen or twenty years ago. For many years he was a constant contributor to our pages, until, through advancing years and his many other interests, he was unable to write so much. His “Practical Notes’’ were a regular feature of the Bee-keepers’ Record, and his “Notes by the Way “ of the British Bee Journal for several years. As a producer of first-class sections he had few equals, and as a rule carried off premier honours whenever he exhibited. Our deepest sympathy goes to his family in the loss they have sustained.

The following account of Mr Woodley has been sent by Mr C. H. Heap. We thank other readers who have also sent notes and cuttings.

Death of Mr William Woodley.

Death has claimed Mr William Woodley, one of England’s most notable bee-keepers. Mr Woodley was taken ill in the middle of September, while on a visit to his cousin, Mr A. D. Woodley, at Reading. He refused to have a doctor, and insisted upon returning to his home at Beedon. There his condition became so much worse that medical aid was obtained, and he was taken into Newbury Hospital for a serious operation. This was successfully performed, but at his advanced age—78 years—he was unable to recover from the shock, and died on the evening of October 8. The funeral took place at Beedon on Saturday, October 13 and was attended not only by relatives, but by a large number of friends and neighbours.

Mr Woodley represented a fine type of English character—upright, persevering, public spirited, resourceful, and ever ready to give a helping hand. In his native village he was held in great respect, and the poorer people looked to him as a friend and counsellor. He had been chairman of the Hampstead Norris Parish Council since its establishment nearly 30 years ago and was an active member of the Wantage Board of Guardians and Rural District Council. He served on the Old Age Pensions Committee for the district and was chairman of the managers of Beedon School. He was also a founder of the Compton Pilgrims’ Benefit Society, which has now a membership of 7,500.

Thirty years ago Mr Woodley had become famous as a bee-keeper. He specialised in sections with great success, and for years carried off the best prizes at the biggest shows. He was no jealous guarder of secrets, but for many years by his contributions to the “Bee-Keepers’ Record,” the “Berkshire Bee-Keeper;” to this journal, and occasionally to the American bee-keeping magazines he placed the advantage of his knowledge and great experience at the disposal of those who were seeking success in bee culture. Until the last he was a reader of current American bee literature, but his habit of thought saved him from the error of imagining that methods and practices that suit America are equally suitable for this country, with its different climate and flora. Years ago Mr Woodley worked over 200 stocks, and did a large business in honey and in supplying swarms of bees, many going to Scotland, where they were worked for the heather. Acarine disease robbed him of the whole of his stock, but he had began to work it up again, without any intentions, however, of going so extensively as formerly into the business.

Mr Woodley was led by his cousin to take an interest in bees. Mr A. D. Woodley’s father promised him a hive of bees, but for some time he did not accept the offer. An article in “Chambers’s Journal” which he read in 1879, and the subsequent possession of Cheshire’s “Practical Bee-Keeping,” published about that time, filled him with enthusiasm. He accepted the offer, and got his father during the Easter holidays to help him make a frame hive, into which he transferred the combs and bees. He persuaded Mr Woodley to take an interest in the bees his great-aunt kept at Beedon, and at Whitsuntide of the same year went over to Beedon and made him his first hive. This hive Mr Woodley called “Jumbo,” and it is in existence today. Mr Woodley secured some most beautiful honey in bell glasses, which were exceedingly popular in his novitiate days, and the products of his bees were soon on the show bench at the Crystal palace and elsewhere. Until disease swept away his stock Mr Woodley had been a regular exhibitor at the Royal Agricultural Show.

Mr Woodley preferred English bees. To Italians he gave trials, but he told a bee-keeping acquaintance a year ago that as soon as the Italians were nicely in the supers they always swarmed. The district around Beedon is remarkably good for bees but he said the character of the farming has changed in recent years. A large acreage of land used to be under Dutch clover, but less now grown. In the old days the click of the cutting machines was not heard in the fields. Now the machine goes into a large field in the morning and the clover is all down by night-fall, whereas the swish if the scythes went on for days, giving the bees longer time to work on the bloom. After being cut the clover was in bloom again better than ever in a week or ten days. The yield of nectar was great, and the bees worked their hardest. So full of nectar was the clover blossom that at certain times of the year, when hay was being cut from the stacks, the hay-cutters said the bees would hover around for hours.

With his bee-keeping Mr Woodley combined the business of a watch and clock maker. This trade he taught himself with the help of the “English Mechanic,” every copy of which he bought from the first to the last. For this work he forsook the grocery business about two years after he finished his apprenticeship.

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