While the following is not directly about the Manchester Bee, the use of beehive imagery here in Manchester, dating back before the creation of the Manchester Bee is an area of interest requiring further study, as it could possibly be the original inspiration.
As you walk along Deansgate past the entrance to Byron Burger, you will notice the coat of arms depicting a beehive in its lower right quadrant on a glass doorway just a few short steps away.
This is the coat of arms of the Oddfellows Friendly Society, or to their give the full title, the Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity. They are the current owners of The Courthouse on Deansgate since 2012, but their history goes back over 200 years to 1810. The coat of arms itself was incorporated in 1837, with two minor revisions in later years. It includes some of the historic emblems of the Oddfellows, all of which predate the founding of the Independent Order.
Evolving from old English Trade Guilds, Oddfellows societies began in London during the late 17th century, the name apparently derived from the odd assortment of trades the members would have, though it might also have been a joke. The Manchester group was formed in 1810 when a number of local groups became dissatisfied with the way the Grand Lodge, based in Sheffield at the time, was governing, so joined together to form an independent order. Their first meeting took place in the Ropemakers Pub on Chapel Street in Salford.
Oddfellowship is descended from the same roots as Freemasonry, which is why the two share many of the same symbols. The beehive for both “illustrates prosperity and the rewards of hard work”. This seems have been inspired and popularised by Jonathan Swift’s 1704 book The Battle of the Books. In it, Swift argued that classical thought, as exemplified by bees working together for the common good of the beehive, was superior to modern scientific thought, which he represented with a spider, which by working alone is self-centred. The beehive thus symbolises working together for the common good, the declared purpose of the Oddfellows.
The society’s historic home in Manchester is located on Grosvenor Street, still standing but now home to the University of Manchester’s Languages Centre. Carved above the entranceway is a large version of the Oddfellows coat of arms and inside it adorns a stained glass window and floor of the main hall. They later relocated to 40 Fountain Street, which was also known as Oddfellows House, before moving to their current home.
The organisation also gives it name to a number of pubs across the Manchester area as these used to be used as their meeting places. The photograph below is of the Oddfellows Arms in Openshaw, with others located in Swinton, Bolton and further afield in Mellor.
(NOTE: The above text was updated and revised on 7th October 2016, thanks to feedback from Paul Eyre of Oddfellows)