Eva Crane

Authority on the history of beekeeping and honey-hunting who travelled the world in pursuit of bees


Ethel Eva Widdowson, beekeeper, physicist and writer: born London 12 June 1912; Lecturer in Physics, Sheffield University 1941-43; Director, Bee Research Association (later the International Bee Research Association) 1949-84; OBE 1986; married 1942 James Crane (died 1978); died Slough, Berkshire 6 September 2007.

The name of Eva Crane is synonymous the world over with bees and beekeeping. She was at once author, editor, archivist, research scientist and historian, and possibly the most travelled person in pursuit of bees that has ever lived. She was a noted authority on the history of beekeeping and honey-hunting, including archaeology and rock art in her studies. She founded one of the leading institutions of the beekeeping world, the International Bee Research Association (IBRA), and ran it herself until her 72nd year. And yet her academic background was not in apiculture or biology, but in nuclear physics.

She possessed "an intellect that took no prisoners", said Richard Jones, her successor as director of the IBRA. Always precise, her maxim was "observe, check the facts, and always get your research right". Yet she was a modest person with a piercing curiosity. She insisted that she wasn't at all interesting; that it was the places she went to, and the people she met, that were. For that reason, though a clear, intelligent and most prolific writer, she never wrote a memoir. The nearest she came was a book of travel writings, Making a Bee-line (2003), written near the end of her long life.

Crane has been compared with Dame Freya Stark in her willingness to travel to remote places, often alone and at an advanced age. Her aim was to share her beekeeping knowledge with farmers, voluntary bodies and governments, but, typically, she claimed to have learned far more than she taught.

Between 1949 and 2000 she visited at least 60 countries by means as varied as dog-sled, dugout canoe and light aircraft. In a remote corner of Pakistan, she discovered that beekeeping was still practiced using the horizontal hives she had seen only in excavations of Ancient Greece. Another place that intrigued her was the Zagros mountains on the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran, where rich local traditions and an unusual variety of hives suggest that it was here that the age-old association of man and bees first began.

She was born Eva Widdowson in 1912, the younger daughter of Thomas and Rose Widdowson. Her elder sister was Elsie Widdowson, who became a world-famous nutritionist. Eva was educated at Sydenham Secondary School in Kent, and won a scholarship to read mathematics at King's College London. A brilliant student, and one of only two women then reading mathematics at London University, she completed her degree in two years. An MSc in quantum mechanics soon followed, and she received her PhD in nuclear physics in 1938.

An academic career at the cutting edge of quantum science seemed to beckon. Eva Widdowson took up the post of Lecturer in Physics at Sheffield University in 1941. The next year she married James Crane, a stockbroker then serving in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.

Among their wedding presents was a working beehive. The idea had been for the couple to use the honey to eke out their wartime sugar ration, but Eva quickly became fascinated with bees and their ways. It led to a radically different and unexpected turning in her life, from the arcane study of particles and energy to the lively, buzzing world of the hive.

She took out a subscription to Bee World and became an active member of the local beekeepers' association. Later she became secretary of the research committee of the British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA). However, convinced of the vast potential of beekeeping in the tropics, her outlook was international. In 1949 she founded the Bee Research Association, dedicated to "working to increase awareness of the vital role of bees in the environment". The charity was renamed the International Bee Research Association (IBRA) in 1976.

The rest of Eva Crane's life was devoted to building the IBRA into a world centre of expertise on beekeeping. Based in her front room at Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire until 1966, the association eventually found an office in the village and since 1985 has been based in Cardiff.

Her work as an editor and archivist was prodigious. From its outset in 1962 until 1982 Crane edited the association's Journal of Apicultural Research. She also edited Bee World from 1949 until her retirement in 1984 (the two journals were united in 2006). Another major activity was compiling and publishing regular research abstracts, Apicultural Abstracts, which she also edited from 1950 to 1984. It is now one of the world's major databases on bee science.

She assiduously collected and filed scientific papers, which eventually resulted in an archive of 60,000 works on apiculture. It includes a unique collection of 130 bee journals from around the world, including perhaps the only complete runs of some of them. The archive is now so large (and in need of professional management) that it is housed at the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth.

In support of the IBRA and its work, Crane also established the Eva Crane Trust. Its aim is to advance the science of apiology, and in particular the publication of books on the subject, and the promotion of apicultural libraries and museums of historical beekeeping artefacts throughout the world.

Eva Crane was a prolific writer, with over 180 papers, articles and books to her name. Her broad-ranging and extremely learned books were mostly written in her seventies and eighties after her retirement in 1984 from the day-to-day running of the Association. A Book of Honey (1980) and The Archaeology of Beekeeping (1983) reflected her strong interests in nutrition and the ancient past of beekeeping. Her writing culminated in two mighty, encyclopaedic tomes, Bees and Beekeeping: science, practice and world resources (1990; at 614 pages) and The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting (1999; 682 pages). These distilled a lifetime's knowledge and experience and are regarded as seminal textbooks throughout the beekeeping world.

Peter Marren

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions