We proudly manufacture and print our garments here in Manchester, the city where the Industrial Revolution began. The city once nicknamed Cottonopolis, home of Britain's cotton industry. A city renowned for its creativity and innovation.
We've decided to feature a few different projects from around Manchester; visionaries who are cultivating their own innovative enterprises; artists and designers creating inventive new visuals; musicians driving the heartbeat of the city. We're passionate about local people embracing and excelling in their own forms of craft, launching initiatives which have a wider impact for good, and choosing to pursue positivity in their work to inspire others.
Manchester famously has a bee as its emblem, a symbol of the city's industrial heritage and it's worker bees working together in a "hive" of activity for the common good. The iconic golden bee logo is proudly stamped on bins, lampposts, and planters all over the city centre. And the Manchester Bee is something which has really been celebrated in recent weeks, on posters and signs, street art, and not least on hundreds of people who have had Manchester Bee tattoos in solidarity with the victims of the recent Manchester Arena terrorist attack, donating the proceeds to the families of the victims.
We love the sense of unity and pride the Manchester Bee evokes. So when we heard about some real Manchester Bees, actual hidden hives in the city centre, we thought we better got togged up and go investigate.
Made In Manchester Series - Part 4 - Manchester Bees
We met with Canon Adrian Rhodes at Manchester Cathedral. He's a chaplain there, and also an apiarist (aka a beekeeper). He looks after 6 beehives on the roof of the Cathedral, as well as a few more on the roof of the Printworks, and some in his own garden at home. The Canon set up his first apiary at home after taking a course in beekeeping. Not long after, the cathedral beehives were commissioned as part of the "Dig The City" summer garden festival in 2012. Since then, the set of beehives has grown, as has the bees' role at the cathedral.
"We do this as part of a project called Volition." the Canon explained. "It is a cathedral project for people who are long-term unemployed. They come on a ten-week project, a day a week, and they are taught things like how to prepare for interviews, how to write CVs, how to present yourself, and as part of this they're put on placements half a day a week, and I usually have 4 or 5 of them as volunteers as I look after the cathedral bees and the bees on the Printworks."
A secret, spiral staircase led us up to the cathedral roof, through a tiny, beautifully ancient wooden door at the top. The hives stand on the roof with views over Shambles Square and The Corn Exchange, a charmingly historical part of the city, and perhaps one of the most beautiful, full of handsome old architecture, gracefully maintained and working in a contemporary landscape.
The Canon made sure we were decked in the protective bee suits, and proceeded to fire up his smoker, "Bees are very inquisitive and we want to keep them out of our way and we want to keep them quiet." he said. "Everybody thinks we use smoke because it calms them down. It actually doesn't. It makes them slightly more agitated. They are afraid of two things. Bears and fire, as fire will burn the hive. So when they smell smoke, they start to get scared that there might be a forest fire. So we smoke them and they go down out of our way."
Fascinatingly, they go back into the hive rather than flying away. "They have a thing called a honey stomach which is a special stomach for nectar. They fill up their honey stomach with honey or nectar from the hive, because if they need to flee the hive, they will need some food" the Canon explained. "They make wax from the honey, so they need to take honey supplies in order to make a new home."
The smoker is filled with small shreds of paper and wood chippings... but Canon Rhodes adds a personal touch to the mix, "I put a little bit of incense in. After all we are in a Cathedral and I am a Canon of the Church of England" he says, "It makes it just smell beautiful. The bees don't care but I do!"
It was incredible to learn so much about the Canon's bees. He explained how there are three sorts of bees; the Queen, of which there is just one, the worker bees, which are all female and make up about 90% of the bees, and the drones - the male bees which are bigger than the females but do nothing except mate. There are also unique roles within the hive too, including bees which forage, nurse bees and undertaker bees. It really did start to make sense how the community of bees could be linked to a city.
Their industry, of course, is to make honey to live on. The bees bring the nectar in from flowers, collect it when foraging in their "honey stomachs", and add enzymes to it when back at the hive. Amazingly they waft their wings, mainly over night, to reduce the water content of the nectar, rather like a fan. Canon Rhodes explained, "When it gets to just under 20% moisture, at that point it's honey, and then they cap that with wax."
Asked if Manchester honey had its own unique flavour, the Canon replied that he didn't think it did in particular, although the different pollen and nectar collected when foraging really has an influence on the flavour. He mentioned how there's lots for the bees to forage nearby, despite being in a city, be it wildflowers by the rivers, or nearby parks, but the best thing for bees is keen suburban gardeners who like to have flowers throughout the year in their gardens.
Canon Rhodes bottles his own honey from the cathedral bees, with the help of a team of volunteers. The "Heavenly Honey" is sold in the cathedral shop (though it won't be back in stock until around September when it is harvested). Last year the team harvested enough honey for 70 jars, however he's expecting more this year. "Last year was a funny year for weather. What happened was from May to well into August, we kept having four or five days of really nice weather, and the bees would go out and forage. They'd bring lots of nice nectar and pollen back, and they'd bring it into the hive. Then it would go cold rain, and so they couldn't go out, so what did they do? They ate it!"
Genuinely, these Manchester Bees really do seem to represent and embody our city. Each bee has its own role, its own part to play in the hive. They work together as a community. They create, they have their own industry, and are very skilled at what they do. One thing that Canon Rhodes mentioned, which really resonated, was that honey bees like these are the only species of bee which live through the winter; they all live to support each other and to protect the queen bee. Our city has had its own fair share of "winter"; times of hardship and struggle, but in those times we have been shown to rally together.
Buzzin' arr kid.