RBKA History

RBKA Early Days

  • Reigate Beekeepers was originally founded in 1917 by Miss M. Whyte-Johnstone – a qualified and expert beekeeper, and quite a character by all accounts! It is believed  that she came from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the early 1900’s.

(See the article below for some personal recollections of Miss M. Whyte-Johnstone, by past President Michael Duggan.)

  • During the 1930’s our President was Sir Jeremiah Colman – of Colman’s Mustard fame, and he participated in the regular summer and winter meetings.
  • In 1932 Reigate Beekeepers’ first Honey Show was held, with 6 entry classes, the show was held at Cooke’s restaurant, and was only open to members.
  • In 1933 a Honey Show was held as part of Chipstead Horticultural Show. A new entry class for cake was added. The following is a quotation from minutes:-

“a conversation took place and it was considered that members’ wives should be allowed to enter the cake class and that the housekeeper to a widower member would be allowed to make his cake.”

  • In 1934 Sir Jeremiah Colman organised a large meeting and entertained five hundred beekeepers and their friends at GattonPark.
  • In 1935 the Reigate Cup was first presented at the Honey Show – (It cost 7 guineas!). Also 58 lbs of honey from Gift classes were sent to East Surrey Hospital plus 5 honey cakes.
  • In 1940 it was necessary to hold the AGM at earlier hour in order to close before the blackout, and enemy activity prevented the running of any honey shows.
  • In 1942 membership rose to 242 because many people took up beekeeping during the war to supplement and increase their sugar ration.
  • In 1943 honey was collected from members and packaged in 2 lb Syrup tins. A total of 412 lbs was sent to four submarine’s crews.

Honey prices were controlled. A 5 lb sugar ration was available to beekeepers for spring feeding, this additional ration was said to have been initiated by Sir Winston Churchill.

  • In 1947 it was reported that the Reigate Beekeepers experienced a long succession of perfect days during the summer.
  • In 1949 Miss Wyte-Johnstone was appointed President of Reigate Beekeepers.
  • In 1950 winter classes with the County Bee Adviser were started.
  • In 1954 Miss Whyte-Johnstone celebrated 50 years of beekeeping and started our library with a gift of books – a tradition that continues today.

The honey show became part of Gardeners’ Mutual Society Show.

  • 1958 was reported to be the worst year in the century with respect to honey yields.
  • In 1962 a Mr M.Duggan and a local cinematic film group filmed a number of beekeeping garden meetings.
  • In 1973 a County teaching apiary was set up at 123   Blackborough Road. This apiary was run by County Bee Adviser Derek Daniels, who was also Reigate Beekeepers member.
  • In 1974 a Reigate Beekeepers member’s entry in County Show, on theme of BBKA Centenary, won the 1st prize, a silver cup and achieved a BBKA Certificate of Merit.
  • In 1979 regular Bee Disease Clinics were started, and it was the SBKA Centenary.
  • In 1980 it was decided to revert to original practice, and Reigate Beekeepers Honey Show was no longer part of another group’s event.
  • In 1981 the first Reigate Beekeepers’ training apiary was opened at Brockham. This apiary was located just on the other side of the river from the current Brockham site, and members used to hold barbecues on the river bank, but unfortunately we had to move when the Esso pipeline came through in 1984.
  • During the 1980’s the Reigate Beekeepers’ training apiary moved to a number of different sites. First we moved to a site on the side of Box Hill just north of the A25. The farmer there welcomed us but the beekeeper ‘already in residence’ didn’t and was most abusive! So we moved to another site in the National Trust warden’s garden for a couple of years. When the warden moved the new chap wasn’t keen on having us in his garden so we moved up the lane on to a site near Juniper Hall. A public footpath ran through it so this wasn’t very convenient either.

In spite of the training apiary location difficulties Reigate Beekeepers continued to run Bee Clinics, Winter Courses as an introduction to beekeeping, and hold regular winter meetings and support stands at a variety of events throughout the summer. Visitors were always welcome.

  • In 1987 ? after all the ‘migratory beekeeping’ we were fortunately offered a home for our training apiary in the grounds of Box Hill School, Mickleham. The headmaster’s wife was one of our members and they already had a small apiary (White WBCs). One of the teaching staff was supposed to take over the teaching and maintenance at the school apiary, but changed their job shortly afterwards.
  • In 2009 the purchase of new training apiary site at Henfold Lane was achieved, and work started to develop the required facilities.
  • In 2010 Reigate Beekeepers training activities moved to the Henfold Copse apiary.
  • In 2011 Reigate Beekeepers welcomed its first 200th member since the 2nd World War era. Development of the new Henfold Copse site continued with extensive tree planting and water and electricity supplies being connected.

The official opening of Henfold Copse was held in June 2011, with the opening ribbon being cut by celebrity beekeeper Bill Turnbull.

  • In 2012 Reigate Beekeepers decided to construct a new training building at Henfold Copse, and the ‘Pavilion Project’ was launched.
  • By 2013, planning approval had been granted for the training building and all weather access into the apiary site had been established. The ‘Pavilion Project’ was renamed the ‘Education Space Project’ as the focus switched to some serious grant fund raising.
  • In October of 2014, the ground was broken for the installation of drainage and foundations dug for the pavilion building that were cast by mid November. Generous funding had also enabled the building itself to be ordered…
  • By January 2015, erection by contractors of the pavilion commenced, with the shell being complete and water tight by mid February. Volunteer members then commenced the fitting out.
  • In 2015, Members, partners, friends and guests celebrated the ‘Topping Out‘ of the splendid Pavilion building with a Summer BBQ at the Henfold Copse Apiary.  With everyone raising their glass, our President Malcolm Broatch, unveiled the Topping Out plaque … a splendid mounted sculpture in copper of a skep made by RBKA Member Mike Lowe.


Please click this link RBKA Officers to see the names of key Officers and other Roles in Reigate Beekeepers since 1983 (further work in progress to record all the names back to 1917).


(For some fascinating insights into how the history of Reigate Beekeepers is intertwined with that of Surrey BKA, including the politics, diffcult times, and information about the key Officers of Surrey BKA between 1897 and 1959 click SBKA history.)


My Recollections of ‘W-J’ (Miss M Whyte-Johnstone)

……………….by R Michael Duggan, 16th March 1994.beekeeping-history

With the passing of time it is hard to realise that most of our Division now only know W-J by name.

Miss Whyte-Johnstone was an astonishing character, and probably one of the great beekeepers of this County. She spent her early childhood in Rhodesia and became interested in bees at an early age.

I first met her in 1952 when I transferred to Reigate Division from Farnham. In the following eighteen years she never seemed to change. Somewhat bent, with pebble glasses,  always wearing a brown hat and attire (even a brown overall for beekeeping). She looked very much like a bee. She did not suffer fools, but was always extremely helpful and an enthusiastic adviser. In fact during the war she cycled everywhere, even with a full brood box on the carrier.

It was not until I moved here that I learned that she was the instigator of collecting honey nationally for submariners. At Grayshott my mother and I donated honey to the scheme and the Royal Navy sent a van up from Portsmouth to collect it.

The first garden meeting of the year was always held in her garden, on the first Saturday in May. Woe betide the Programme Secretary if it was not thus arranged ! It was always the best attended meeting of the year – she arranged the speaker. Records show that 40 -50 people attending, although it was often cold.

The committee meetings were also held at her house for years. Mr Chapman I recollect as the Hon Secretary was slightly disorganised and diffident, whilst W-J ‘drove the bus’.

Not only did she organise the local shows, but also made it clear to that you entered the National Show. I remember one show was held on the stairway of the Market Hall in Redhill, much to her fury.

For the National all entries were collected together at her house, and in 1956 when she learnt I had procured a small car, that the ‘seal of fate’. Instructions were issued, and I would return from London, Birkenhead, Cardiff etc. and drive to her house, pick up all the boxes (proper wooden show boxes), plus herself, and off we would go to Caxton Hall to enter all the exhibits. Sometimes Ted King was also dragooned into the exercise, for there were 20 or more Reigate Division exhibitors in all classes. On the Friday she would make her way to London, find all the show box tickets, and wait at the head of the queue. The Steward had to work hard !

(Click this link National Honey Show to read more about the National Honey Show from 1923 to 1980, with mention of Miss Whyte-Johnstone plus photographs of SBKA Officers.)

As a beekeeper she was superb. Some of her ‘golden rules’ still stick in my memory, such as, “never open the brood box until the apple is in bloom”. She sold me a young colony in 1954 which I bred from for years. The deep box, combs, bees, stores, crown board and top cover was £5.

She would go to endless trouble to help young people. Stephen Dalton the famous ultra-high speed photographer, sought her help as a sixteen year old. W-J and I went to his home at Godstone several times to set up bees in an outhouse. Her enthusiasm for the project probably determined his success in life. When the North Downs Cinematograph Society was making the film ‘Food of the Gods’ we wanted a close up shot of a queen and her attendants. This was duly filmed in W-J’s garden, but the queen took flight. Half an hour later I found it on her shoulder, but she wasn’t the slightest bit perturbed at the loss.

Although many thought of her as a Dragon, she was kindly, thoughtful, and a superb beekeeper.

(Click this link SBKA AGM’s  to read some fascinating extracts from the SBKA AGM and Council Meetings from 1879 to 1972, including information about Miss Whyte-Johnstone’s role as a County Bee Expert.),


SBKA Logo with HiveSurrey Beekeepers Association (SBKA)

The history of Reigate Beekeepers as a Division of SBKA has always been entwined with Surrey Beekeepers Association. SBKA events date back to 1879 being founded 38 years before Reigate Beekeepers.

Click this link SBKA Officers to see information about the officers of SBKA between 1880 and 1959, who also included our own early Reigate Beekeepers President Sir Jeremiah Colman.

Click this link SBKA AGM’s to read fascinating extracts from the minutes of the Surrey BKA AGM and Council Meetings, including difficult times for the Association around 1890, early discussions about ‘Isle of Wight’ disease (Acarine), and BBKA and Bee Politics, financial troubles, plus a reference to concern about  Reigate Beekeepers.

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  1. Angela Merritt says:

    An entry ought to be prepared on Michael Duggan and his contribution to the Division. Has anyone been able to obtain copies of the films he made?

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