Recently, we have been visiting the area around the coastal town of Leven. A fairly long piece is slowly coming to fruition. Until then, here is a short post.
Walk up Durie Street in Leven and listen out for the bees singing. Perhaps, the sound of the skep is more of a muted murmur now, but raise your eyes from street level and you may hear them.
The first hive is above what is now the town library. Our industrious and co-operative little bees swarm around their skep as they have done since 1887.
This symbolic image on a former building of the Leven Reform Co-operative Society reminds us of the Rochdale Pioneers. In 1844, with an economy in decline, wage reductions and strikes, a group of unemployed weavers met at the Socialist Institute to debate the philosophies of Robert Owen and Chartism. Whilst there are many examples of co-operative societies existing before 1844, The Rochdale Pioneers formulated a set of guiding principles, upon which, an expansive version of co-operation was founded. Looking at these principles today, it is notable how well these stand up as a set of co-operative ideals:
1. Democratic control, one member one vote and equality of the sexes.
2. Open membership.
3. A fixed rate of interest payable on investment.
4. Pure, unadulterated goods with full weights and measures given.
5. No credit.
6. Profits to be divided pro-rata on the amount of purchase made (the dividend or divi).
7. A fixed percentage of profits to be devoted to educational purposes.
8. Political and religious neutrality.
Within ten years of the Pioneers founding efforts the co-operative movement in Britain had grown to nearly 1,000 co-operatives with many adopting the symbol of the beehive.
We are back in Leven. Follow the echoes and walk further up Durie Street. On the clock of the former Co-operative department store, a golden skep, clotting the fingers of weak, ebbing sunlight:
Stand. Raise your head and look to the sky. Follow the thread of sibilant hum to the very top of the building. A change of tone – to low dissonant drone. A sign that the bees are, once again, getting ready to swarm:
Underneath the skep
intimations of new life
still sounding – echoes
of the Pioneers.
Now Playing: Earth – The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull
11 replies on “Echoes of the Pioneers: Three Beehives in Leven”
Fascinating stuff. This has taken me in a new direction of thought!
Thanks Diana. I hope it is a fruitful direction!
Wonderful! A hive of industry and wonder, above the standard “eye level path” taken by many!
Thanks very much. Always worth a look up, particularly when the ground level of buildings is often changed/adapted from the original function.
Wonderful – thanks very much. I am enchanted by the way in which, in Victorian times in particular, bees were used as a symbol of diligence and industry. I am reminded of the wonderful bee mosaic on the floor of Manchester Town Hall (http://www.fotolibra.com/gallery/387091/bee-tiled-floor-manchester-town-hall/), and the special resonance the bee symbolism has at a time when their existence is threatened by the products of the very industry they were used to represent.
I look forward to the forthcoming longer post on Leven
Thanks very much Ian and for the Manchester link. I also wondered about the appropriation of the bee as a symbol of industry. Whether, in some way, this contributed to fostering an ideology equating industry, solely with the pursuit of ‘economic growth’. As you say, the Victorian symbolism takes on a special resonance, given the present plight of our natural bees.
That last photo looks very alchemical – do you know any more about it?
‘The Bees Made Honey..’ is a good album, though not my favourite by Earth.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the rose gives honey to the bees:
as ever, all the best from the Shoreline
Thanks. To date haven’t found very much about the image which, I agree, looks very alchemical. It sits at the top of the building and even the architectural sites of record – RCAHMS & British Listed Buildings – barely mention it which is strange. Thanks for the Roses!
And all of these symbols – these stories – ready to teach or guide or remind us, could so easily have been missed. The quickest way to get from point A to point B is the journey that goes straight ahead. But the richest, most enduring one must certainly allow for side glances, glances that search above and below – we arrive home later, but so much more enriched!
[…] a Co-op bee skep. Presumably a former Co-operative Society building. Not quite as impressive as the magnificent trio in Leven but a fine reminder of the co-operative ideals of those Rochdale […]