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A.W. Gale (1900-1969)

A large scale commercial beekeeper

Alec Wilfred Gale of Marlborough, Wiltshire, was one of three well known British commercial beekeepers of the mid 20th century. The other two were R.O.B. Manley of Oxfordshire and E.W.D. Madoc of Norfolk.

Little is known of Madoc, possibly because his name is hardly in print. Manley is known as an author of three well known books and for his name to be given to items of equipment, but it is A.W.Gale who is credited with being the more successful beekeeper. Certainly when I started beekeeping, virtually every beekeeper knew who "Gale's of Marlborough" were.

Although good old Wikipedia states that A.W. Gale ran 2000+ colonies in the 1940s, the most authoritative source states almost 2000 in the 1950s. Either way he probably had many more colonies than either Manley or Madoc. He used what was known as the "Gale Hive" that was effectively a 13 frame top bee space national, all used on single brood box. All those I have seen are of similar construction to the original national, with straight sides and recessed hand holds, not the Modified National that is in common use today. Brood boxes were used as supers, so all combs were the the same size. Drawn comb in the supers were placed at 11 per box instead of 13 as in the brood boxes.

I'm a bit confused about the type of bees that Gale's used. In the book mentioned below, D.A. Clements states "....Brother Adam sent one queen every year as a breeder, and therefore a high proportion of Gales strains were based on the Buckfast ones." Brother Adam suggests he sent Gale's several of his imported queens every year and that Gale changed his opinion over the years. There is an advertisement in the seventh edition (1944) of W Herrod-Hempsall's "The Bee-Keeper's Guide" by Gale's stating that for 25 years they have been using "...line-bred Caucasian Hybrid bees...". They were advertising bees for sale, which is an activity not often associated with Gale's.

In an advertisement in the 13th edition (1945) of "The Practical Bee Guide" by Rev J.G. Digges there is an advert by Gale's. It states they have 1,800 colonies in 40 apiaries and produce 30-40 tons of honey from 1,000 honey production colonies. Due to wartime conditions they are unable to supply queens, although they can supply bees.

In 1955 89 tons of honey was produced. If the number of colonies was 2000, that is within shouting distance of 100lb per colony if all were used for honey production, but bearing in mind the above the number of honey producing colonies may have been significantly less. Bearing in mind this was before OSR, that is a monumental achievement. Think of all that lifting in order to check for swarm cells!

Although A.W. Gale died in 1969 the company continued until 1982, when it closed. One winters day in about 1975/6 I visited a company in Marlborough in connection with an engineering job I had, so I dropped in at Gale's. There were about 4 elderly staff members there, but looking back it was clear the decline had set in.

One of the best known stories in beekeeping is that the well known packers of imported honey, "Gale's Honey", took their name from A.W. Gale to take advantage of the success of the latter, but this is a myth. A.W. Gale took "Gales Honey" to court to try to prevent them from trading under the "Gale's" name, but lost because they had been using the name since 1919, before A.W. Gale started.

In writing the above I have used several sources, including the booklet "A Man and His Bees - The Story of Alec Wilfred Gale" by D.A. Clements, who worked for A.W. Gale for several years during the 1950s.

Roger Patterson.