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Bee - Boles

In 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.

For 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 district.

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 of these.

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.

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