About TheManchester Bee
Did you know that one of the best-known symbols to represent Manchester is the worker bee?
We have all seen in recent years how this iconic image has become a widely recognised symbol that represents strength and unity in Manchester. But did you know that the history behind this stripy insect actually goes way back over 150 years!
Why the bee? Let’s be honest, we don’t normally associate our stripy friends with a busy city. Read on and we’ll explain all you need to know about the Manchester bee.
History of the Manchester Bee
To understand how and why the worker bee became a symbol of Manchester, we need to head back to around the 18th century. At that time, this great city was just a small market town.
That was until the industrial revolution came along. At an astonishing rate, Manchester became a hub of industry with cotton production sitting at the heart of it all. In part, this was due to the fact it is located close to Liverpool, which was a major trading route for cotton to the UK. But it also had a lot to do with the damp climate which was perfect for milling cotton. Another key factor was the steep streams in the area which provided power for the mills and soft water for the washing and bleaching of cotton. In fact, the city became so well known for the trade of cotton that it earned the nickname – Cottonopolis!
The trade in cotton hit an all-time high and factories and mills were cropping up all over the city to keep up with demand. Products were constantly moving in, around and out of the factories and became such a hive of activity their owners gave them the nickname ‘beehive mills’.
What do you find in a beehive? Worker bees.
What does the Manchester Bee symbolise?
Having been their symbol for so long, there are plenty of places dotted around the city that use the Manchester worker bee.
The first place to look is Manchester City Hall - you could say it’s this building that created the design of the image. You’ll still find the original mosaic design on the floor of Manchester City Hall and, if you look closely, you’ll notice that there’s something different about it. This bee only has one set of wings (real buzzy bees have two). This all came about because, in the 1870’s when Manchester Town Hall was built, they created an impressive mosaic floor using the symbol of the bee. We’re not going to lie, creating a bee out of mosaics must be hard, so to simplify the image they opted for a single set of wings rather than two. The design has stuck ever since.
While there, have a look and see if you can find other bees on coats of arms dotted all over hall, on the roof, on the mantlepiece in the reception room and in stained glass windows.
Manchester living bees
You don’t normally expect to find bees, buzzing happily around a city. You sort of think their rightful home is in the countryside, right? But this isn’t the case.
Bees are happy living pretty much anywhere as long as they have a nice hive to settle in and plenty of flowers to get hold of. Keeping bees in a city is not a particularly new idea but it’s definitely growing in popularity.
Of course, with the worker bee representing their city, you’d rightly expect Manchester to be doing big things to help these useful pollinators. Believe it or not, there are beehives dotted on rooftops all over the city - and you really will find them in the most unexpected of places.
Let’s start off with Manchester Cathedral where six beehives are located above the entryway. That’s right, beehives at the Cathedral! It’s home to over 250,000 bees and the honey they make is sold through the Cathedral’s bookshop.
Head over to the Manchester Printworks building, which has been developed into a leisure centre. On the roof, you’ll find a little oasis of calm which features a bee-friendly garden and four beehives. The project has been so successful that in 2015 it was awarded the Biodiversity Hotspot Award by Manchester City Council.
Now over to the cultural sector where you’ll find Manchester Art Gallery looking after three beehives along with a wildflower garden up on their roof. They got the idea from the hives at Tate Modern and Tate Britain. The honey produced is used to create Brew Wild Beer.
There are plenty more out there as well. With the historic symbol and the work they are doing around the city to help save the bees, Manchester has been named the best city in the UK for bees.