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The National Hive

A popular hive for U.K. and Ireland conditions

The British Standard National hive is the most commonly used beehive in the U.K. and Ireland. The history is a bit vague, but it seems to have been introduced in around 1920 or slightly before as the "Simplicity" hive, later becoming the "National Hive". When I started beekeeping in 1963 an old beekeeper who was probably in his 70s referred to the National as the "Universal" hive, but as he was the only beekeeper who I recall using that name it may have been as the result of confusion.

The original National had straight sided boxes with handholds machined in the sides in the same way as other single walled hives. To accommodate the British Standard long lugged frames the original was double walled at each end and single walled at the sides. Although I can find no reference, I was told that in the late 1930s/early 1940s (possibly due to timber shortages) a beekeeper simplified the design to give a single wall on the ends, but larger handholds. This eventually became known as the "Modified National" that was included in the British Standard 1300 (1946), that was updated in 1960. It was the subject of the MAFF Advisory Leaflet 367 of 1961, reviewed 1970.

The original National is no longer manufactured, although there are still plenty in use. I still have a lot of them, some of them well over 50 years old and still in very good order. The changes were only to the boxes, all other parts stayed the same, with full compatibility between the two types. They are now all referred to as "Nationals", as they were in MAFF Advisory Leaflet 367.

Although the 14x12 frame was introduced before the B.S. 1300. this does not appear to have been included in the British Standard. It has become popular in recent years, but is not favoured by everyone.

External dimensions are the same as the Commercial hive. The standard for the National is bottom bee space, the Commercial can be top or bottom. If the beespace is the same Commercial parts can be used with National hives. It is quite common to use National supers on Commercial brood boxes, or Commercial supers on National brood boxes. The former popular in England the latter is popular in Ireland!

The standard floor is sloping and reversible. This is handy when spring cleaning because all you need do is turn the floor over and the floor will be cleaned by various creatures. There have been several roof depths manufactured, varying from shallow to deep.

There are three common depths of frame manufactured and these are referred to as:-

The National is popular with both amateur and commercial beekeepers because:-

The "Hamilton Converter", when placed on the top of a National brood box allows the use of ten 16 x 10 Commercial brood frames running at 90°, making it a useful piece of kit for those who use both frame sizes.

There are some polystyrene "nationals" available, but not all are compatible with wooden parts.

The "Rose" and "Rational" hives are variations on Nationals and are compatible.

I have handled bees in most hives and I much prefer Nationals to anything else. I know those who are used to short lugs will disagree, but I think the long lug is a huge bonus. It also allows the use of castellated spacers in the brood box, which is my favourite method of spacing brood frames. It must be remembered that a hive is simply a tool of the beekeeper, so it's whatever suits you that matters.

Roger Patterson.