Similar to the Oddfellows Beehive, the following is not directly about the Manchester Bee but it’s interesting to look at similar iconography that developed from around the same time period.
I’ve not been able to pinpoint exactly when it was adopted as a symbol, but it is closely tied to the movement for many years, as highlighted by a visit the Rochdale Pioneers Museum.
On 21st December 1844, the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society opened their store selling food items. While there had been previous cooperative groups, the Society proved to be the starting point for the modern movement, with their set of ideals for the operation of cooperatives – the Rochdale Principles – being adopted by future societies.
When the Society moved into new, purpose-built central premise in 1867, a large beehive adorned the exterior of the building.
You can find similar beehives adorning the exterior of old cooperative buildings across the country, with the examples below located in the Stockport area.
I highly recommend a visit the museum, which details the begins of the society, the history of the cooperatives movement and its worldwide influence. You can also buy books there about Harmony the Honey Bee, which are aimed at introducing children to the ideals of the cooperative movement.