Field Trip Psychogeography Signs and Signifiers Sounds of Spaces and Places Symbol Uncategorized

Echoes of the Pioneers: Three Beehives in Leven

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.

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers raised money from 28 original subscribers to establish a shop at 31 Toad Lane, Rochdale which was equipped and stocked with basic goods and produce. The Pioneers chose the beehive as a symbol of co-operation and unity and the original stone skep stood on top of the, now demolished, central store at 45-51 Toad Lane, Rochdale.  The skep now sits preserved and incorporated into the outside wall of the Rochdale Pioneers museum. 
Rochdale Pioneeers museum4
(c) The Rochdale Pioneers Museum

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 


The Rochdale Pioneers Museum

Manchester History

By Murdo Eason - From Hill to Sea

murdo eason / walking / writing / between world & word

11 replies on “Echoes of the Pioneers: Three Beehives in Leven”

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 (, 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

best wishes


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.

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!

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