Bee Collection

Reference: BEE COLLECTIONDate: 1600s to dateExtent: about 800 books
Title-page illustration from The natural history of bees by James Duncan (1840)

A collection of books on bees and apiculture, most of which are searchable via the catalogue.

The Bee Collection brings together two private collections (Cotton Collection and H. Malcolm Fraser) with books and periodicals from the University Library collections.

The Cotton Collection consist of 221 volumes, uniformly bound, of predominantly English works, but with some French and German, published from 1609 to the 1870s. William Charles Cotton (1813-1879) was the vicar of Frodsham, Cheshire. His collection was bequeathed to the Parish of Frodsham, which retains ownership. It was deposited in the library of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 1932, and transferred to the University of Reading in 1987.

The H. Malcolm Fraser books include 30 pre-1851 works but are mainly 20th century. Many of the books include letters, receipts or related articles. The University Special Collections also hold the papers of H. Malcolm Fraser (see below). His collections were given to the University Library in 1970-71.

More information

Associated library collections

  • Cowan Bee Collection (part of The Museum of English Rural Life library collections)
  • The library of the Museum of English Rural Life, which is searchable via the catalogue, also contains books on bees and beekeeping.


H. Malcolm Fraser Collection

Reference: MS 1095           Date: 1929-1963           Extent: 17 boxes

Henry Malcolm Fraser was born in Wandsworth in 1874.  Malcolm took a B.A. degree from London University and became a schoolmaster at various small private schools before obtaining a post at Alleyne’s Grammar School in Stone, Staffordshire where he remained for the rest of his teaching career, eventually becoming Headmaster.

Malcolm Fraser was a member of the North Staffordshire Field Club, a society researching the natural history and archaeology of the area. It was probably through this association that he became interested in bees and beekeeping and it was certainly the bequest, in 1925, of two Latin works on agriculture from another member of the club, the Reverend Thomas Barns, vicar of Hilderstone near Stone, that formed the basis for Fraser’s extensive collection of books on bees. Malcolm Fraser began to research the history of beekeeping and eventually submitted a thesis on Beekeeping in antiquity to London University which was accepted for a PhD in 1930 and published in book form the following year. In 1936 he also published a translation of the entries in the Domesday Book relating to Staffordshire and dedicated it to the memory of Thomas Barns and to his friends in the Field Club.

On his retirement Malcolm Fraser and his wife moved south in the 1940s to the suburbs of London. He continued to keep bees and to write and lecture on the subject and engaged in correspondence with many other experts and amateurs. His book collection grew throughout the 1940s and 1950s but he was always willing to lend even his rarest volumes to fellow enthusiasts. Malcolm Fraser was also closely involved with the British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA), serving as a member of the Council until the reorganisation in 1945. He then became Chairman of the Central Association of Bee-keepers, a body newly formed to encourage the individual scientific approach to the subject, rather than focussing on local groups.

Eventually, after a long and active retirement, H. Malcolm Fraser died in 1970 at the age of 95.

The collection consists of 86 notebooks as well as articles, offprints, photographs and correspondence, all relating to bees and beekeeping


  • A full description of the archive collection is available on our online database.
  • A handlist for the whole archive collection is available here