HIVE: What is the “British Modified National Hive”?

(Above) British Modified National Hive from National Bee Supplies

2 October 2014

The Short Answer (TSA) 

            The “British Modified National Hive” is a beehive of standard dimensions used throughout the United Kingdom (UK), today, by commercial and amateur beekeepers alike.  Most nations, in which beekeeping is a significant industry, have standardized the size (dimensions) of commercial hives.

Unfortunately, many excellent, though non-standard, beehive designs, such as the WBC and Top Bar hive, remain most popular with amateurs.  Custom-built hives are unpopular with commercial beekeepers because replacement parts must be hand-made, which can be time consuming and costly.

Most commercial hives are often described as Langstroth beehives patented in 1852 by Lorenzo Langstroth.  But modern hive designs and dimensions vary widely and incorporate many innovations valued by different groups of beekeepers.

The term Langstroth, more properly, refers to a hive that incorporates precisely measured drawers and frames to regulate bee movements within the hive and to assure ease of honeycomb removal.

At the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, the WBC hive was the most popular hive in the UK.  The WBC was named for its inventor, William Broughton Carr.  Although using the Langstroth hive’s precise measurements for drawers and frames, the WBC incorporated other features that made it popular with UK beekeepers.

Ironically, what Carr intended to be its greatest innovation, proved to be its greatest weakness in terms of commercial popularity.  The WBC had an outer shell that was fitted over the basic walled beehive.  This was.intended to insulate the hive from heat in the summer and cold in the winter and produced a dual walled construction,

The insulating effect of the extra wall was only slight, but the extra time and effort required to remove the outer shell made this hive extremely unpopular with commercial beekeepers who like to examine their hives frequently.  Although the WBC disappeared from commercial beekeeping, it is still quite popular with amateur beekeepers both for its performance and, also, for its appearance.

But the WBC lives on, if only indirectly, in UK commercial beekeeping.  By the 1920’s commercial beekeepers were still buying WBC hives – sort of.  That is, they were buying the WBC hive stripped of its outer shell.

The British Ministry of Agriculture selected a single walled version of what had been the WBC hive as the “British National.”  In 1946, the British Standards Institute (BSA) assigned formal dimensions (uniform size specifications) for the British National Beehive.  The BSA, also, described the standard hive as having only a single wall.  Since the new “standard’ beehive eliminated the old option of using a second wall in the form of an outer shell, the BSA renamed the hive the “British Modified National” hive.

In spite of the name changes, Carr’s original WBC design, introduced many of the innovations that distinguish the British Modified Nation Hive from its competitors.  Many of the advantages of the British National are useful for both commercial and amateur beekeepers.  Prominently, this hive can be moved with ease because of its modular design.


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