As a Mancunian born and bred, there really is something so captivating about the Manchester bee and its familiar presence around the city. From pavements to clock faces, Manchester’s symbol of its hard work ethic is hard to miss across the city.
The Manchester worker bee has evolved to proudly symbolise the city’s rich past and vibrant present and has been Manchester’s emblem for over 150 years. First adopted in the 1800s when Manchester was awash with textile mills that were commonly described as ‘hives of activity’, with the workers inside likened to worker bees.
The bee reflected a time when the city became a leader in the Industrial Revolution, symbolising a hive for activity and enterprise.
Since then, the Manchester bee has also been used to symbolise the city’s indomitable spirit following the arena bombing on May 22, 2017. In a show of unity 12 bees were painted on murals across the city and covered the northern quarter for many months after the attack.
These days Manchester is a city mostly associated with a deep and rich pop culture and a musical history that has influenced artists and musicians all over the globe. Coincidentally, the nightclub formally known as Sankey’s in Ancoats is housed in what was the Beehive Mill on Jersey Street.
The University of Manchester features bees on its crest, a mosaic of a worker bee sits at the steps of the city’s town hall, and even Boddingtons’ famous logo depicts two bees in front of a barrel. Since then, bees have continued to be featured across Manchester’s most famous buildings, landmarks and brands, right down to the bins in the city centre.
There are a large number of different depictions of bees within the town hall, but they all feature four wings (the Manchester Bee only has two), except for one particular area commonly known as ‘The Bees’, where there are 67 bees displayed on the first floor.
I am yet to discover who created the bee designs featured inside the town hall, it could have been the architect, Albert Waterhouse, or possibly one of the Italian craftsmen who laid out the flooring outside the first-floor Great Hall. Whoever it was, is behind the transition of the simplified version of the bee from four to two wings. This design went on to directly inspire Warren Marshall’s bollard bee in 1976, with the outline then used as the source for what is now known as ‘The Manchester Bee’.
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