Northern Bee Books have sponsored this revised autobiography of George Wakeford BEM, a locally celebrated Master Beekeeper. His uncanny expertise in the handling of bees and his service to hundreds of novices and clients earned him a reputation as a country genius not only among his fellow beekeepers but also with ‘lay’ persons, journalists, local historians and TV producers alike. With his passing in 1985, any chance of him revising his slim autobiography was lost. His little book was long out of print and hard to find, even second-hand. Those who knew him or learned of his remarkable life and accomplishments have requested a reissue. Northern Bee Books welcomed this opportunity but considered that his fascinating life story, as he tells it in his natural Sussex way, is far too modest and brief to do the man justice.
Accordingly Geoffrey Lawes, with the substantial assistance of Roger Patterson and George’s daughter Josie, has edited his original work, and added much background detail which supports George’s text. He enlarges on his life story, offers lucidity on elementary beekeeping, provides generous early 20th century photographs and gives a concrete realisation of country life as lived by a unique English countryman.
The story features two principal characters; George the man himself, affable, amiable, unaffected, and the village of Ebernoe where he was raised. George’s history reveals him as a character of Dickensian quirkiness, fully representative, in Jeremy Paxton’s words, of the “individualism, pragmatism, love of words, above all, that glorious fundamental cussedness’ that defines ‘Englishness'”. Ebernoe and the surrounding wooded fastness of North West Sussex similarly matches in magic George Wakeford himself, with its Horn Fair, feudal atmosphere, reputation for the sale of dwarfs and rural sports and crafts. Local historian Peter Jerrome spoke of “the general air of mystery that always shrouded this … remote and … inaccessible enchanted place”.
George’s original words and Agatha Bowley’s sketches are faithfully preserved. Additional material is distinctively printed. This richly illustrated volume offers delightful bedside reading to nostalgic lovers of the countryside and country ways, insights into beekeeping as it developed in the early 20th century, a gentle introduction to the art of bee-craft for the uninitiated and an engaging account of the skills and personal life-style of an admirable rustic Sussex gentleman.