p@rsons_world of Richard Watson Frow

This webpage celebrates the work of Mr R.W. Frow MBE, the Lincolnshire Beekeeper whose recipe for "Frow Mixture", so generously given to the World's beekeepers at no benefit to himself, turned the tide of the epidemic of "Isle of Wight" disease, now known as Acarine disease.

Richard Watson Frow MBE

Died Nov. 29th 1973

An original essay [March 2000] by the late Alan Campion - reproduced here with his permission.

As a beekeeper who was taught the craft in Lincolnshire in the seventies, I was quickly made aware of the name of one particular Lincolnshire Beekeeper who had been well known throughout the beekeeping world for over three decades. I refer to Mr Richard Watson Frow, ( I was told the family pronounced Frow to rhyme with throw, not cow).

Mr Frow, who invariably signed all his articles R W Frow, was credited with making available the results of his experiments into a treatment for Acarine, a disease in bees caused by a tiny mite which invades the breathing tubes of young bees and causes their death.

Acarine, also known as Isle of Wight disease since it first occurred there, became a real problem during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Around that time Mr Frow had become interested in bees and purchased a colony. They died out, and he wondered why. He learnt about Acarine and its effects on a colony of bees, and tried again with more bees. They too died out. Some writers have stated that Acarine was so widespread in the twenties that all our British bees were wiped out and all our present bees are the descendents of bees imported from Europe to replace the dead stocks! I would not wish to get into an argument about this, as it seems quite likely that many feral colonies tucked away in the wilds were never infected and survived to live again.

Station Master at Wickenby

Mr Frow was the Station Master at Wickenby, which was never on a main line and this presumably gave him time to think, and to study. He became absorbed with the acarine problem and, having read several beekeeping magazines, he discovered that Acarine was also widespread throughout Europe. Several Germans were studying the problem and as the published information was in German, he resolved to learn to speak and write the German language in order to be better informed about scientific progress.

He quickly realised that one needed to use a microscope to study the anatomy of honeybees, so he purchased a microscope and slides, and books to teach himself how to use them.

"A new Treatment for Acarine Disease in Hive Bees."

Dr Rennie and others came to the conclusion that IOW disease was caused by the mites in the spiracles, and experimented with putting noxious substances into beehives with the aim of killing the mites in the bees' breathing tubes without killing the actual bees. This was no easy task. Not having large resources or the benefits of modern scientific methods, trial and error was the usual experimental mode. Many colonies must have suffered and been wiped out in the search for a cure. Time and experiments went on until in the edition of The British Bee Journal dated November 17 1927. Mr Frow submitted his momentous article: "A new Treatment for Acarine Disease in Hive Bees."

He described the results of using his treatment, which subsequently became known as 'The Frow Mixture' as being, 'quite astounding'! In the same article he listed the active ingredients so that any other beekeepers could have the mixture made up at any dispensary. The ingredients, safrol oil, nitrobenzene and petrol sound quite lethal, but they worked and thereafter the main interest lay in the best ways and times to use the treatment.

Mr Frow's efforts were appreciated throughout the beekeeping world, and for his contribution to Beekeeping he was made a Member of the British Empire in 1946. The interesting point is that he never appeared to have considered making a fortune by securing a patent for the mixture, and marketing each bottle himself.

Frow's legacy....

Frow retired, and I have been told he lived the rest of his life at Sudbrooke, near Lincoln. At the time of his retirement he disposed of both his bees and his books and equipment. His bees went to Lincolnshire Beekeeping association, and the gift enabled the association to loan colonies of bees to beginners, to be returned after a year or two.

Frow's books, microscopes, and slides were lodged at Riseholme. Originally placed at Lindsey Farm Institute, the collection has remained in the same building while the Institute metamorphosed into the Lincolnshire College of Agriculture and Horticulture, and ultimately the De Montfort University, Lincoln, Riseholme Campus. Curiosity and early retirement prompted me to request access to the collection, so that I could see what was there. I was told that all the books and artefacts were locked up and I was the first person for at least two years who had ever asked for the shelves to be unlocked. I opened one book after another and it was a surprisingly moving experience.

A practical man, he apparently realised that a book loaned is often a book lost, so each of his books is marked 'R W Frow, Talbrünni, Wragby Road, Sudbrooke, Lincoln.' Many of the books written after his fame had spread were signed and dedicated to Frow in the authors' own handwriting. There were books ranging from basic beekeeping for beginners to more advanced aspects of the craft, beginners German and Scientific Beekeeping Journals in the German Language, books on every aspect of microscopy and several scrap books containing articles which Mr Frow evidently found of interest from the 1930s till the 60s.

One book, 'A honey bee and her master' published in 1936 and written by A D'Arcy Chapman was of especial interest. It appears from the handwritten inscription that the author was well known to Mr Frow, and Chapter 9 is devoted to 'A dangerous parasite, Acarapis Woodi', and covers both the mite and Frow's efforts and eventual success to discover a treatment against it.

On page 42 is drawing showing Mr R Frow with his microscope and a foot away from me was the microscope itself. A magnificent brass and black metal affair with a separate fitted mahogany box containing all the alternative lenses necessary for the full range of observational work. There was even a large square glass lantern slide, probably prepared for Frow to use as a visual aid when lecturing. It was still in the box sent by a photographer in Lincoln with the instructions 'send by 1.30 train', written on the cover.

The collection contains several bound copies each of a years editions of The British Bee Journal, and there in the edition dated Nov.17 1927 was the article which first enabled the Acarine problem to be controlled.

Interestingly it appears that Frow was later, in 1940, nettled into further letters to the same journal in an apparent effort to dispute a real or imagined rumour that he was not after all the first to come up with what later became known as the Frow mixture. It appeared to me that I had stumbled on a time warp. The collection means that a great deal of material is very easily accessible to any serious researcher. I can remember having read a single page article on the work of Frow somewhere a few years ago, but I believe that here is a ready made opportunity for research just waiting to be taken up.

In conclusion....

Finally I cannot guarantee every statement in this article is strictly accurate. I have asked that it be printed in the hope that it creates research into the work of Mr Frow who from a first impression never received the credit or rewards he might have expected. If anything I have written is later proved to be incorrect I shall be the first to admit that my inspection of the material was too speedy and possibly led me to the wrong conclusions.

Alan Campion.
Author of "Bees at the Bottom of the Garden".
(About to be re-issued)
March 2000

Note: The unique archive of Frow's Books and other reference material formerly held by the Library of the Riseholme [Lincoln] campus of De Montfort University is now in the care of Thorne Beekeeping Supplies (UK)

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