Mr William Woodley, beekeeper and resident of Beedon
Mr William Woodley, beekeeper and resident of Beedon

This piece was published in the British Bee Journal on 11 November 1909.

MR WM. WOODLEY. Readers of the Bee Journal will welcome with exceptional pleasure the picture we present this week, as Mr. Wm, Woodley is one of the oldest as well as one of the best-known contributors to our pages. His wide experience of bee-keeping, extending from boyhood, gives to his writings a special interest, his articles being not merely theoretical, but containing sound practical advice which is much appreciated by all, but particularly by beginners in the art of keeping bees.

Mr. Woodley is equally well known as an exhibitor, and a few years ago his name appeared prominently in the prize list of every important show held in England. The reason for this was not far to seek. Located in a district the flora of which yields honey of very excellent quality, this natural advantage, along with his admirable style of preparing his produce for staging, made him a formidable antagonist on the show-table, and the uniform excellence of his exhibits usually placed him in the front rank of winners. His exhibits also had an educational value, proving how much success depends on care and neatness in preparing honey for exhibition.

Mr. Woodley was born at Oxford on March 9, 1846, and six years later he was, on the death of his mother, placed in the care of a great-aunt living at Stanmore, a small hamlet of Beedon, near Newbury, Berks, who was one of several bee-keepers of the old school who kept bees in skeps. When the boy William was considered capable of walking two miles to the village school, he was duly installed as a scholar therein; and upon reaching the age of seven his services were requisitioned during the six or seven weeks of each succeeding swarming season for the purpose of what the old lady called “mindin’ the bees.” He may thus be truly said to have begun bee-keeping early in life, and no doubt his early experiences among bees have stood him in good stead since, for none make better bee-keepers than those who have gained their first knowledge of the pursuit in boyhood. Many are the exploits Mr. Woodley can detail of bee-doings at this period of his life; how he assisted the chief bee-man of the place — who, like the great Huber, was blind — in recovering swarms from tall trees, the boy mounting the trees and being “shown” how to manage by the directions called out from below by the blind old bee-keeper.

In 1859 Mr. Woodley was apprenticed to a firm of grocers at Chieveley, Berks, his evenings being devoted to educational self-improvement, and seven years later he left the firm and removed to another employment at Slough, Bucks. While here he began to take an interest in photography; finally, being naturally of a mechanical turn of mind, he displayed a special fondness for handling watches and clocks. This proving a more congenial occupation than the grocery business, and having gained a fair insight into the subject, he returned to Beedon, and started business for himself in the watch and clock trade. The venture brought about a renewal of old acquaintanceships, and the old pursuit of bee-keeping was resumed in a small way, this time on his own account, and with straw skeps, of course. It was, however, not till 1878 that he adopted the frame-hive, and three years later he took first prize at the exhibition at South Kensington, his fine glass super becoming the talk of the neighbourhood at the time. Since that date the growth of Mr. Woodley’s apiaries has been steady and constant, the number of stocks now kept varying from 140 to 200. His fame as an exhibitor was recorded in our pages for many years, but he has now given up showing to any great extent. On one occasion, in 1889, a sample of his success in the art of bee-keeping was presented by the B.B.K.A. to her late Majesty Queen Victoria at Windsor, in the shape of a large and handsome design in honey-comb.

Mr. Woodley married in 1872, and his wife was, up to the time of her death in April, 1904, his most able and trusted assistant in the apiary. After Mrs. Woodley’s death their daughter took up the home duties and helped with the bees, performing such duties as folding and fitting up sections, glazing them when filled for market or the show-bench, hiving swarms, making candy, and undertaking other business connected with the working of a large bee-farm. On her marriage Mr. Woodley himself married again, a lady whom he had known from childhood. She took to the bee-work with enthusiasm, and has since rendered most valuable help in his bee and honey trade, which has largely increased of late years, the customers being located in all parts of Great Britain.

Like many other successful honey-producers, he relies entirely on the old native black bee, and believes in no other; and, while endeavouring to improve his strain, no foreign blood is allowed to mix with it. He has also so far been successful in keeping foul brood at a distance. Mr. Woodley is highly esteemed among his poorer neighbours, and for nearly forty years has been their adviser, will-maker, and trusted counsellor. His opinion is also generally sought on matters of importance occurring in his neighbourhood, and he has the management of a flourishing benefit society.

In addition to managing his private business, he has many calls upon his time in the public interest, having been Guardian and District Councillor for the last fifteen years. He also holds the office of Overseer of the largest parish in the Wantage Union, is chairman of the Parish Council and trustee of the Parish Charities, a member of the local Small Holdings Committee, of the Old-Age Pensions Committee, and holds several other public offices. His zeal and conscientiousnessin performing the above duties are shown by the fact that he has not missed a Parish Council meeting for fifteen years, though he has to walk three miles to attend them.

We are sure readers will join us in wishing that Mr. Woodley may long be spared to continue the good work he is doing for bee-keeping and in many other ways which the limits of this short sketch preclude us from detailing.

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