In the aftermath of the devastating attack at the Manchester Arena on the 22nd May 2017 an amazing sense of unity and solidarity was shown all across the city and beyond with the Manchester Bee right at its heart. For over 150 years the worker bee has been an emblem for Manchester and is one of the best-known symbols of the city. In 2015, Inspired by Manchester's awesome urban art, I created a piece entitled 'Urban Bee'.
I wrote the following article in June 2016
From the grandest buildings, bridges and industrial heritage to humble lamposts, litter bins, planters and traffic bollards, the Manchester bee can be seen all around the city. The worker bee is a symbol of Manchester’s industrial heritage; testament to the ceaseless hard work and activity that made nineteenth-century Manchester a global trade and industrial giant.
The worker bee motif can be traced back to 1842 when a crest of arms was granted to the city. A classic heraldic design, the coat of arms is full of symbolic information. A centre-piece shield is flanked by an antelope and a lion. The antelope, more of a mythical figure than true animal, stands for peace, harmony and courage whilst the lion is a classic symbol of bravery and strength. The shield itself is taken from the lords of Manchester, who ruled the city prior to 1301. A common belief is that the three diagonal stripes depicted on the shield represent the rivers which run through the city centre: the Irwell, the Irk and the Medlock. The image of a ship signifies trade and enterprise. The shield is crowned with a globe covered by a swarm of seven bees. The city's motto, Concilio Et Labore, which can be loosely translated to 'wisdom and effort' or 'through council and hard work' or even 'By working together let's acheive great things', is shown on a scroll at across the bottom of the design.
Within Manchester's magnificent Town Hall, a splendid bee mosaic tiled floor adorns the landing leading to the building's Great Hall. The recently installed £3.5m glass passageway across Library Walk, linking Central Library to the town hall extension, has bee motifs on its glass panels. Also inside and outside of the town hall is the Cottongrass motif signifying the nineteenth century cotton trade when Manchester was given the nickname of Cottonopolis.
In modern day Manchester, the bees have broken out of the confines of the heraldic arms and have been incorporated into creative renderings of business logos and graffiti art. Boddingtons Brewery, best known for Boddingtons Bitter (Boddies), marketed as 'The Cream of Manchester' has a bee central in its logo. Its Strangeways Brewery closed in 2004. There is common statement of identity in the form of tattoos to display a love of the city. In a 2015 interview with the Manchester Evening News, Elbow's frontman Guy Garvey says “Me and my friend are both having the Manchester worker bee tattooed. It’s the only thing I would ever consider having tattooed on my body. I’ll probably get it on my calf.”
Upon a growing number of Manchester buildings, beehives are being created in rooftop gardens. Manchester Art Gallery sells its own honey aptly badged as 'Bee-Raphaelites Honey'.
The worker bee has come a long way as a symbol for Manchester's culture and history and due to its popularity can now be considered 'cool', maybe that's why Manchester is Buzzin' Man!