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The National Hive

A popular hive for U.K. and Irish 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 his 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 hasn't been manufactured since the 1960s, although there are still plenty in use. I still have a lot of them, all 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. The standard floor is sloping and reversible. This is handy when spring cleaning, because all you need do is turn the floor over and it will be cleaned by various creatures, ready for next year. The disadvantage is that you only have a deep entrance. The appliance manufacturers have changed the design, so they are level, not sloping, with a shallow floor one side, deep the other. The standard roof depth is 6⅛ inches, but there have been several roof depths manufactured, currently 6 and 4 inches. I have several very old commercially made that are 8 inches.

External dimensions are only about 6mm smaller each way than the Commercial hive, so all parts are compatible. The standard for the National is bottom bee space, the same as the Commercial, although both can be top or bottom, by a simple modification. It is quite common to use National supers on Commercial brood boxes, or Commercial supers on National brood boxes. The former is popular in England the latter is popular in Ireland!

Although the 14x12 frame was introduced before the B.S. 1300 was written, 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.

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

The National is popular with both small-scale 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.

Originally written by Dave Cushman. Rewritten by Roger Patterson.

Page created pre-2011

Page updated 02/12/2022