Peter emailed me back with a really helpful advice.
Sounds like either the hive swarmed or the Queen died/ failed for some reason.
The good news is that’s it’s a reasonably strong colony and with the queen cells, it will survive.
With regards to the capped queen cells, I would certainly reduce the numbers down -I would keep the largest cells – the question is how many. I tend to leave 2 good cells.
One thought – with the frames that have the queen cells, did you shake them to remove the bees when inspecting the frames? If so, sometimes this can kill the larva as the larva is shaken to the bottom of the cell away from its food.
If you shook them, it might be worth leaving 3 cells.
As they are capped cells, I’d suggest you destroy the queen cells you don’t want – asap – so you don’t have lots of castes being generated, should they hatch out soon.
The next decision is whether and when to check that the queen cells have hatched, option 1 is to take a quick look at the frame(s) with the queen cells in about a weeks time (if they have hatched, the bottom of the cell will be open and the queen gone –in this case close down the hive and leave it for say 3 weeks to allow the queen to mate and start laying. There is a slight risk that this will disturb the bees and they could kill the unmated queen.
Option two, is once you have reduced to 3 queen cells, leave the colony alone for ~ 3 weeks, then take a look to see the new queen is laying etc.
In either case, should the colony fail to produce a queen, I can give you a frame of eggs for them to produce further queen cells.
Best of luck
So this afternoon I went down and destroyed all but 3 large queen cells. Some of those destroyed were just larvae and others were developing into a bee. Fingers crossed one of those left behind will emerge and be accepted into the colony. The colony were not very happy but i did it all in less than 20 mins so I didn’t disturb them for very long. All I can do now is wait and hope the colony gets stronger.