Skep in a bee bole

A skep in a bee bole (0078)

Rows of bee boles: some typical shapes (0131)

Rows of bee boles: some typical shapes (0758)

 Rows of bee boles: some typical shapes (0912)

Rows of bee boles: some typical shapes (0131, 0758, 0912)


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What are bee boles?

A row of recesses, often in a south-facing garden wall. Each recess was big enough to hold a skep – the coiled-straw hive used by beekeepers in Britain before the introduction of the modern wooden hive in the late 19th century.

What is the IBRA Bee Boles Register?

Records of bee boles and other beekeeping structures built in the past. Started by Dr Eva Crane (see: in 1952, the Register now contains records for 1591 sites, and images for most of them. To improve accessibility to the records and to encourage conservation and further recording, the Register was put into a database and made available online in 2005. The work was organized by Penelope Walker, with the help of those mentioned in Acknowledgements.

This database was last updated on 29 December 2017.

What does the IBRA Bee Boles Register database contain?

A wealth of information on bee boles and other beekeeping structures (see Types of structure) that were used in the past to provide shelter for skeps of honey bees – and hundreds of pictures. They were built in many parts of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales (for France, see Further information, below) – have a browse to see what there is in your area. Click Search.

Use of the IBRA Bee Boles Register, and intellectual property rights

All data, images and information in this web site (together with all intellectual property in the document) are the property of IBRA, except where a copyright symbol © appears. All rights reserved. (Note that "© Crown copyright: RCAHMW" indicates "© Crown copyright: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales".)

The Register is available free for personal viewing and research. However, prior permission must be obtained from IBRA (see Contact us) – or copyright holders indicated – for use of any part of this web site for any other purposes.


A few of the structures are accessible to the public (e.g. at National Trust properties), but all others are on private property. It is essential that anyone wanting to view a particular structure makes a prior appointment with the owner. The Register database complies with the Data Protection Act 1998.


Measurements were made in feet and inches when recording started in 1952, and this continued after metrication. So that comparisons can be made, the dimensions given in the Register database are all non-metric. (1 inch = 2.54 cm; if converting, bear in mind that the metric dimensions obtained are over-exact for the structures.)

Further information

For those interested in reading about the beekeeping structures and their use in the past, click Publications.

Property owners whose bee boles are in dry-stone walls may be interested in the Dry Stone Walling Association web site.

The Garden History Society also has a useful web site.

About 150 walls with recesses for hives (bee boles, 'niches') have been recorded in France, and some in Belgium. Until 2001, the records were collected by the IBRA Register, and they are now held by Apistoria (1 Place Bardineau, 33000 Bordeaux, France; email: which is planning to set up a database. For an article on these sites, and further relevant references, see Walker and Crane (2004) in Publications.