Scots a bole is an alcove,, and bee-boles are wall
recesses. They were made to shelter beehives of the old straw
rusky type. They are not built on to a wall, but are
an integral part of it, recessed on all sides, the front being
open. Straw ruskies or skeps went out of use a mere fifty years
ago, yet many owners of oldish houses have these wall recesses
in their gardens without realising what their purpose was. You
may still come upon bee-boles alongside mansion houses, castles,
farms and cottages, and in Scotland their distribution is interesting.
instance, far more have been discovered in Fife and Angus than
anywhere else, and the Arbroath district seems especially favoured.
No doubt the proximity of the great Abbey of Aberbrothock (the
secular possessions of which were very large) provides the reason
for this. Tn pre-Reformation days, with the extensive use of candles
in abbeys and monasteries, there was a big demand for wax. On
Feast Days an abbey might burn fifty or more candles on the High
Altar alone, each weighing several pounds of wax.
Consequently, every abbey had its own apiary, sometimes numbering
its hives in hundreds. These hives were looked after by a group
of monks, and part of their job was the keeping of records of
the tithes paid in wax, and the making of Canonical candles.
Where bee-boles are found you can usually assume some ecclesiastical
connection, for many farms and holdings were owned by the Church.
Beekeeping was encouraged among the tenants, and rent was accepted
in the form of wax and honey. The annual rent for a cottage might
be 16 quarts of honey; for a larger holding, half a stone of wax.
Bee-boles served the purpose of sheltering the straw skeps from
the weather. Some recesses are checked for boards
to protect them in winter. Some have water-shedding lintels. Many
are fitted with locking-bars of iron, and decorated with mouldings
of dressed stone. Others, again are very plain and rough in con-struction,
but several are plaster-finished inside. The recesses are often
about 18 inches square, but they vary in size.
There may be several in a row, or even a double row. The heavy
metal crossbars are hinged to the wall at one end, and pad-locked
at the other-this as a deterrent to thieves. It is difficult to
fix the age of most bee-boles. Probably the oldest of those surviving
are 17th century. Mr James Riley, of Arbroath, who has sought
out, photographed and jotted down the dimensions and features
of many bee-boles, has located thirty-one sites in Angus alone.
These are all located in the lowland part of the county. Probably
many more could be discovered in the Tayside area as a whole.
Here are some places where bee-boles are still to be seen. In
the Arbroath district they occur at Mains of Letham, Marywell,
West Newton, Brax Toll, Colliston Mill, Cairnie Farm, Holly-bank,
Cairnton and Carmyllie East Manse.
Others occur at Ethie Castle, Bryanton, Boysack Mill, March of
Lunan, Lawton Mill, Waulkmill and Bandoch-all in the Inverkeilor
There is also a garden-wall beehouse in the garden at Nether Dysart,
a farm with old monastic associations.
Around Dundee, the Auchterhouse district can show some fine examples,
as at Pinehill and Parkhead. Forfar has bee-boles at Balglassie
and Welton; Brechin at Hawthorn Cottage. Nearer the hills and
the heather there are others at Cairndrum (Edzell) and Witton
(near Edzell Castle). Fettercairn has one at Balbegno Castle,
but for some reason they begin to thin out in the Mearns. There
are more in Fife, as stated above, but I have not a full list
At present there seem to be about fifty sets of bee-boles known
in Scotland, and seventeen of these are within a radius of three
miles of Arbroath.