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About the Manchester Bee

Bees have been a heavily symbolic animal since ancient times, particularly noted as representations of hard work, diligence and industriousness. Their linkage to Manchester dates back to the time of the Industrial Revolution. In 1842, whilst the city was in the throes of progress, it was granted a coat of arms with bees included as part of its crest. Placed upon a globe, their placement highlighted Manchester’s global links at the time, with 60% of the world’s cotton being processed in the city.

It’s important to note that Beehive imagery was already prevalent around Manchester during the time. The first meeting of the Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity took place in Salford in 1810, with one of their emblem’s being a beehive. When their coat of arms was incorporated in 1837, a hive was placed in its lower left quadrant. In addition, the first building stage of pertinently named Beehive Mill was completed in Ancoats in 1824.

You can find the city’s coat of arms still adorning buildings across the city centre, normally in a place of prominence up on high. The Bee and Globe were also adopted by other institutions’ coat of arms as a way of linking themselves to the city. For example, they appear on the arms of Victoria University (created in 1880) and Manchester Ship Canal Company (formed in 1882).

The next milestone was the opening of Manchester Town Hall in 1877. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the bee was freed from its globe and integrated into the buildings structure. Within the Great Hall, bees adorn the roof; flying towards the coats of arms of Manchester’s trading partners. Outside the hall, they were mosaicked into the marble flooring of the first floor landing. These later bees are important as they became the primary influence on subsequent depictions of the city’s emblem. For example, a photograph of one of them is displayed prominently on the recycling bins dotted across the city. It’s also from this point onwards that the bee on its own symbolically represented Manchester.

For example, in 1900, two bees were added to the Boddingtons logo, highlighting the brewer’s link to the city and representing a pun on the company name – Boddingtons Breweries. A few years later in 1912, bees were included in the clock faces of the Refuge Assurance Company’s new clock tower. Designed by Paul Waterhouse, the son of the previously mentioned Alfred, the tower was the tallest structure in the city centre at the time.

Apart from its usage on medals as part of Manchester Civic week in 1926, I haven’t come across another use until the bee street bollards were introduced to Manchester’s street in 1976. Designed by Warren Marshall, the bollards are still dotted across the city’s streets to this day. Things are then quiet until recent years.

I think it’s fair to say that use and knowledge of the bee was on the rise in the city in the years prior to the Manchester bombing in a myriad ways. The previously mentioned recycling bins appeared on the city streets in 2015. Business, such as Teahive (opened 2011) and Cottonopolis (opened 2015) had adopting it as their logo. Finally, artists like Mancsy and Mural Life had made use of the bee in the artwork. What brought the symbol to international prominence was, sadly, the Manchester Bombing in May 2017. The symbol quickly spread via social media and the Manchester Bee Tattoo Appeal was soon launch in order to raise funds for those affected.

For more information on any topics above, please follow the links to the relevant articles.

About the Manchester Bees Project

The Manchester Bees project began in June 2012, with the aim of answering one simple question:

“How many bees are there to find around Manchester City Centre?”

The above thought occurred when I found and photographed the above bee design, located alongside the Rochdale canal. I was aware of the bollards, of course. Dotted all over Manchester City Centre, almost all of them bear the imprint of a bee. I was also aware of Manchester’s coat of arms, with its bees encircling the globe at its top. But how many Bees appeared on and in Manchester’s buildings? I set up the original original Manchester Bees website as a way of finding out.

It quickly became obvious that there were a great deal more than I had expected. From the Palace Hotel clock face bees, to the mosaic bees of Manchester Town Hall, to the Street Sweeper bees of Manchester Day. As the project developed and I kept finding more and more bees, I became interested in finding out how their history and how they’d become integrated into the fabric of the city and its people, which eventually lead to the creation of this website.

I still don’t yet know the answer to the question, and I doubt I ever will. New bees keep appearing all the time, especially now that the Manchester bombing brought the bee to international attention and prominence.

If you have questions or anything bee-related you’d like to share, please do get in touch via the contact page.
Finally, thank you to Danielle of Pesky Varmint for the design of the site.

About the Author

Gareth Hacking is a Manchester based photographer who has been documenting Manchester for the past ten years. For more information on his work and other projects, please visit www.garethhacking.co.uk.