Friday, 11 September 2009

#6 Beehive yourself

‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness’ is the legend that appears beneath the corporate logo of Lyle’s Syrup and Treacle. It is hard today to think of any advertising agency who would allow the image of a bee colony in the rotting corpse of a dead lion and a turn of phrase that might be considered a bit ‘pulpit’ to be considered as a brand image and survive in post… but times have changed.

There is in fact a long tradition of bees in marketing. Bees are ‘productive’ and ‘well-organised’. They make sweet food out of flowers and they pollinate plants. We call them ‘workers’, ‘soldiers’, ‘drones’ and of course they have a bit of royalty! In naming them we transfer an image of our own society to them along with recognition of our own values, systems and hierarchies as if to say that they are like us and we are like them. One big happy family where everyone knows what they are doing. The image of bees has been a metaphor for productivity in commercial hands to an extent where it is almost a part of the language of corporate communication. It should of course be obvious to anyone that we are nothing like bees.

It is no co-incidence that it was for a long-time the corporate symbol of the Co-operative society. Bees and people bonded together in a virtuous cycle of production and exchange. A symbiotic relationship in which status is exchanged between the parties…Producers and consumers. Obviously I’m a bit unclear on what it is exactly that we as consumers put back into this relationship!

Perhaps bees are also a metaphor for social stability and I wonder if this was behind the choice of a beehive as the corporate logo for Paton and Baldwin former owners and developers of the Lingfield Point site.

The brand is now owned by coates crafts so I’ve called to ask them what its origins were and I’ll add to the blog if and when I hear back.

Paton and Baldwin was created by the merger in 1920 of two companies founded in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries based in Alloa and Halifax. The two brands ‘Paton’s Rose’ and ‘Baldwin’s Beehive’ survived and you can buy Patons knitting products now (They are emblazoned with a beehive). If you don’t believe me look it up!

At Lingfield the legacy of this brand is still felt in the naming of buildings. ‘The Beehive’ is the former theatre building. Now let as offices to among others, the naafi, a mezzanine has been constructed in the former auditorium to provide office space but the proscenium arch is still visible and the glorious plaster cartouche that emblazoned the hall has been restored beautifully. There flanked by the masks of comedy and tragedy the beehive corporate logo of Paton and Baldwin graces what was formerly a theatre venue.
Perhaps too there is something slightly transgressive or at least indulgent about bees and honey. We know when we eat it, that like Winnie the Poo, we are gluttons spoiling ourselves but that our greed could come at a terrible price as the swarm seeks revenge. Am I going too far? Think about this the next time you are asked for your nectar card!

In China, where agricultural practices are different to those relied on in the west, pollination is often done by hand which in view of the colony failures happening now might well become part of our future in agriculture too. The huge road trains that drive bee colonies around the Midwestern states are in commercial trouble. The Bees are dying… This forms part of that group of stories around our changing ecology which is such an important component of our current cultural and media environment. It is clear that when we talk about bees we are quick to find a moral narrative - isn’t that odd?

Bees of course know nothing about all this nonsense! (A.) They can't think and (B.) the only symbiotic relationship they have is with flowers.

People are nothing to them.

John and I first started thinking about bees when an architect called Joshua Bolshover presented a competition entry to Tees Valley Arts and Middlesbrough Council for a treatment of the ruderal verges of the A66 in Middlesbrough around the Cargo Fleet interchange in which he proposed bee keeping as an urban farming project which could feasibly be carried out on a trunk road. We were encouraging this line of thinking which is to say we had written the creative brief in a way that allowed a design response about productive urban landscape, but didn’t dare suggest livestock and hadn’t thought of bees! Bees he suggested would cause no damage to moving vehicles and there would be no need for fences and so on. He devised an elaborate ‘toolkit’ for verge maintenance to include hives as part of a suite of outdoor furnishings together with interpretation and of course wildflower planting. He called his proposal A66 nectar! It was a great idea beautifully expressed, exquisitely designed and although it won him an interview it didn’t get picked because (A.) it wasn’t a thing on a roundabout by an artist and (B.) it would probably have been too much trouble and for some other reasons that (er) I just can’t get into here. Anyway it was a fantastic proposal and he deserves a plug so check him out at

From this point on Beekeeping became a subject of interest. My next door neighbour keeps bees and makes honey and I’ve had a good neb about at them and all the kit that is involved. She charges £4.00 for a jar which is a bit rich considering that it is probably made from our flowers.

We are thinking about letting someone else keep bees in our garden (but what happens if the kids get stung?) and various artists have mentioned it. Olaf Nicolai for example once spoke to me about his commissioned designs for hives from various architects and there is a great project currently going on in Liverpool with artist Kerry Morrison for the New Heartlands area. Bees and bee mythology are clearly ‘on trend!’

When the first Futurescope was going up we were looking at the land in front of the Power House where a significant quantity of subsoil from the construction of the new road was being dumped/stored. (Road traffic engineers never think about what to do with the waste produced by their ‘designs’ and they don’t want to pay £6.50 a ton for landfill if they can avoid it! So with poor fertility and no established sward of grass we suggested that it might form a good growing medium for either wild-flowers or Sunflowers (but we were too late with this idea).
I am suspecting now that Eddie Humphries site manager at Lingfield is possibly not grateful for this suggestion because all did not go well… The scattered seed was immediately eaten by the wretched pigeons that live in the Power House. When it comes to ecosystems it’s a dog eat dog world. However, now that summer is drawing to a close the wildflowers are in bloom and (except for the places where they been eaten) they look beautiful. There is a broad mix of cornflowers, poppies and daisies and plenty of butterflies too.

There is another intervention as well - for Lingfield Point is branching out into beekeeping for real! The first three hives are installed at a top secret location on site (I have to say this for security reasons) and there are plans to produce and sell the honey. To which end the grounds team (Aka Willy) has kitted himself out with beekeeping gear, gloves, meshes, smokers (which make them drowsy) and has been reading up on it. Watch this space.
There is a magic in the incongruity of beekeeping on an industrial site but it is a fact that the brown-field is a haven for wildlife and part of a productive landscape whose potential for development needs to provide for and respect living things.

Christian Barnes
August/September 2009

1 comment:

  1. Did you see this interesting story?