James has been keeping bees since he was five years old and beekeeping has been in his family for the last three generations since 1924. As a third-generation beekeeper, James is also the director and head beekeeper for the Hive Honey Shop in London.
How did you begin your career?
I come from three generations of beekeepers. I was taught the craft of beekeeping at the age of 5 by my grandfather and father. My grandmother showed me ways to use the beeswax and honey to make ointments, lip balms and candles. I was amazed that these tiny insects made a perfect sweet food from flowers. I would sit and watch them for hours coming and going about their business. My life long passion working with honeybees started there.
Did anything in particular inspire you to start your craft?
My family. I have always been fascinated by nature. I love all creatures big and small. I long to be outdoors and in all weather conditions. That’s when I feel most free and happy. Beekeeping has allowed me this freedom. Bees are so clever and unpredictable. I never get tired being around them, hearing their warm comforting buzzing or just being allowed to witness their amazing secret world.
Do you work with any other craftsmen/women to create your products?
Yes many many! Beekeeping can not be mechanised. It demands a good set of hands and a strong back. All of what I do depends of both inner and other strength. I rely on other craft people to help me achieve varies non physical aspects of my work. I am currently working with a metal worker Harvey in Norwood who has helped me create a unique honeybee blower stand. This stand is vital this year to blow the bees out of the honey boxes to clear them before extracting the fresh honey. No stand of this kind existed so I collaborated with Harvey to produce it. I so enjoy watching other craftspeople at work. It inspires me to be better at my craft.
If so what is your criteria for working with fellow craftsmen/women?
I have very very high standards and expect others that I work with to do have same. Nothing delights me more than looking at an object were the maker tried to achieve perfection. It fills me with sense of calm order and peace.
What makes your craftsmanship most rewarding?
Knowing that I am giving back more to the planet than I take away. My bees help pollenate plants, creating seeds and food for other animals and humans to exist. My bees keep the ecosystem rolling along.
Where did you learn the skills required for your role?
My family. Then I attend the British Black Bee Project at Hadlow Agricultural College grounds in Kent. I gained a lot of useful beekeeping skills and understanding while I was there like, queen bee breeding, bee genetics testing, bee disease identification and analysis. I met wonderful dedicated beekeepers of all ages and we shared our knowledge and worked closely together towards bettering bees for Britain. I then traveled the world searching out beekeepers to learn what I could from them. The wonderful thing about beekeeping is it cuts out any religious or political constraints. People just look at you as a fellow beekeeper and we share that common bond.
How would you describe a day in your role?
I never know what each day will bring. At times the business side is fast pace decision making, wearing many hats, relying on past skills and making time to learn new ones on the move. Even the beekeeping side can be stressful as bees are unpredictable and like to keep you on your toes. I generally put in 15-16 hour work per day. I am my own master and as I lay down in my bed at night I know I have sucked out each and every last drop of life for that day. I sleep well, very little, but well!
How have you stayed passionate and inspired by your craft?
Good question. The bees. They inspire me. I consider myself a student of beekeeping. After 55 years of beekeeping there is still so much to learn it just never gets old.
What are the accomplishments within your work in craftsmanship that you are most proud of?
In 1992 I opened my first honey shop. The concept of a shop dedicated to all things bees and honey did not exist. No one I spoke to understood or had identified this gap in the market. Honey was thought of as no more than a morning spread only. With the help of my wife we created a vast product line never seen before. I like to think our presences helped inspire this current honey renaissance. Also being selected by QEST for a scholarship in bee disease and beekeeping is something I am very proud of.
What made you choose this career and to work in this industry?
Beekeeping was not my first choice. I tried on many jobs over the years. Each and every one of those unrelated jobs have now come back to compliment and support my beekeeping career.
What are the main projects you are working on now?
I have identified three key products that I want to mass produce and offer to chain stores in and outside the UK.
How would your customers describe your craft?
Traditional artisan hand made honey products.
How would you describe your company/business in 3 words?
Trusted Quality Guaranteed
How does working with QEST support you/your craft?
I was one of the first scholars to be awarded a scholarship for Bee Disease and Beekeeping by the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust. In 1992 I was teaching a beekeeping class and one of my students had just been awarded a scholarship for antique furniture restoration by QEST. She told me all about QEST and suggested I apply. It is an honour to be associated with this prestigious organisation. Though I won my scholarship in 1993, QEST has never stopped supporting me or my craft. They work tirelessly offering advise, guidance and assistants to help my craft and business grow. By doing so they enable me to continue to help others by sharing the skilled knowledge of my craft, keeping this important heritage alive.
How would you describe John Smedley?
A national treasure. 230 years and still going is amazing. I admire their ability to be traditional yet modern at the same time.
Do you have a favourite John Smedley piece, if so what?
Jaspar In Midnight Looks so comfortable and stylish and perfect with jeans.
What are you most excited about for the future?
What I can’t see or imagine. What’s coming next.