Buzz Buzz Buzz – Beekeeping and old beehive standards

History of beehives

Man-made beehives date back to ancient Egypt during the reign of Nyuserre Ini and the Fifth Dynasty 2445 BC to 2421 BC. The Konark Sun Temple walls from the period show workers blowing smoke into hives as they remove honeycombs.

Thirty intact beehives dating back to the 10th century were found in the ruins of Rehov, an archeological site in the Jordan valley of Israel, showing that an advanced honey industry existed in Israel 3,000 years ago.

Traditional hives were just enclosures for bees, which did not have internal structures, and were mud hives, clay/tile hives, skeps and bee gums. Skeps are baskets placed open-end down, usually sealed with mud and were used throughout Europe. These domed baskets are very much a symbolic image of beekeeping, although they are not used frequently today and are banned in many states in the US. Bee-gums are hollowed-out tree-trunks and still used for bees which do not make large quantities of honey.

Modern beehives

Traditional hives required that the bees had to be killed to extract the honey – the last thing we need today. In 1768 Thomas Wildman, a Plymouth beekeeper and author of “A Treatise on the Management of Bees”, fixed a parallel array of wooden bars across the top of skeps, with a separate top to be added later. Bees could fix their combs to the bars, which were then removed as needed, without them being harmed.

Ukrainian-born Petro Prokopovych designed one of the earliest beehive frames in 1814. Improvements were made over time as Polish beekeeper Johann Dzierzon designed frames with distances between combs made for easier operation.

The Langstroth hive was a descendent from those designed by Prokopovych, and was patented in 1885 by Lorenso Lorraine Langstroth, an American clergyman. It opened from the top, whereas previous modern hives had opened from the side.  The frames could be separated easily from all adjacent parts of the hive – walls, floor and the covers. The Langstroth hive is currently used throughout the world, and is most popular in the US and Australia.

Modern hives generally consist of:

  • Hive stand - the upper hive components rest on this. It provides a landing board for the bees and helps to protect the bottom board from rot and cold.
  • Bottom board: this has an entrance for the bees to get into the hive.
  • Brood chamber or brood box: this is the lowest box of the hive and where the queen bee lays her eggs.
  • Honey super: this is upper box where the honey is stored and tends to be shorter than the brood chamber.
  • Frames & foundation: frames with wax or plastic sheets with honeycomb impression where bees build wax honey combs.

Some hives include an inner cover to provide separation from a hot or cold outer cover. The outer cover provides the weather protection for the hive.

A larger hive, the Dadant beehive, was developed by Charles Dadant in the 1880s. It provided a large, deep brood chamber with emphasis on room where the queen could lay and shallower supers for honey storage. The Dadant factory is still owned by the Dadant family in the US.

Beehives in the UK

The National Hive is the most widely used hive in the United Kingdom and appeared in the 1920s. It is a square hive, and includes grooves that serve as hand grips. The frames are smaller than standard Langstroth hives and have longer hand grips (or "lugs"). Many beekeepers see the brood chamber as being too small for modern strains of bees, and it has become commonplace to operate a National Hive with a brood box and one super (known as "Brood and a Half"), or two brood boxes (known as "Double-brood"). While this provides enough room for the brood, it also increases the number of frames that have to be checked through regular inspection.

The WBC was invented by and named after William Broughton Carr. It is a double-walled hive with an external housing that is splayed out towards the bottom of the frames, covering a standard box shape hive inside. The bees get extra level insulation because of the double walls, but some beekeepers find it inconvenient to remove these extra layers before examining the hives.

British Standards

BS 1300

The British Standard for behives – BS 1300 Beehives, frames and wax foundation – appeared in 1946. It was prepared by a committee formed at the request of the British Bee Keepers Association. The British, Scottish and Welsh Bee Keeper Associations, Honey Producers Association, the Rothamsted Experimental Station (now Rothamsted Research) all sat on the committee, with representation from the then Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

The specification prescribed the dimensions “essential to secure interchangeability between parts of beehives”. Dimensions for wax foundation sheets were also included.

BS 1300 recognized two types of hive as standard – the National and the W.B.C.  They were referred to throughout as the BSS National and BSS W.B.C. 

The committee had considered the desirability of including the designs of the Langstroth and Dadant hives, which were also widely used in Britain, but decided against this as the designs were under American control.

A late amendment was made in 1947 to include dimensions for the Glen Bee Hive. This was a large hive, designed for 15 frames, and one of the most favoured hives in Northern Scotland at the time. Dimensions were also provided for “British Jumbo” hives, adapted for mass production at low cost, and “Smith” hives – singled walled hives used in Scotland.

A new edition of BS 1300 appeared in 1960. The “Glen Hive” was by then only in occasional use and details of that hive were omitted. Several constructional changes were also made.

Over time, BS 1300 became obsolete. It was withdrawn in October 1984 and not replaced.

BS 1372 Bees (Colonies and Nuclei)

This standard applied to the bees themselves, offered for sale with or without a hive. Specifications for colonies, combs and stores, and for bees sold without combs.

BS 1372 was withdrawn in October 1984.

What’s available in the Knowledge Centre?

BSI’s Knowledge Centre can provide access to the 1946 and 1960 editions of BS 1300 and BS 1372:1947.

Members can view withdrawn standards without charge in our Chiswick study centre, and they are available for purchase in hard copy and PDF. BSI Members receive a 50% discount, free postage and can buy on account.

To find out more please contact the Knowledge Centre at: or by phone on +44 20 8996 7004.

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