Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Cumberland Pencil Museum

My cousin Janet and I went to Keswick for a day out last week.  Though the Lake District is so close to where I live I don't often go, and every time I do go I say, "I must come more often" but don't.  Anyway, we pottered about the town centre which was busy but not heaving with tourists so it was quite pleasant wandering around.  I saw a man with a gorgeous standard wire-haired dachshund and just had to go over to talk to him.  It brought back memories of our very first dachshund, Kim, who was the same type.

Now to the Cumberland Pencil Museum.  Pencil Museum?? you may say, and yes it sounds as odd as the Currywurst Museum in Berlin, but you know, it was really interesting and worth visiting.

Anyone who draws will know of Derwent Pencils, they are known for their quality and are used by many an artist.  Well these pencil were made at a factory in Keswick for over two hundred and fifty years, the factory moved to West Cumbria in 2008.

Graphite was discovered in the early 1500's in Borrowdale close to Keswick.  Shepherds used it to mark their sheep which wandered freely across the mountains and fells. A cottage industry of pencil making soon developed.  Graphite became enormously valuable, costing around £1,500 a kilo in the late 1700's, it was transported under armed guard.  The UK's first pencil factory opened in Keswick in 1832, it became the Cumberland Pencil Company in 1916. 
The Museum was opened in the former factory canteen building in 1981. The famous Pencil Museum van, a 1954 Morris J Type, was found hidden under rubbish in the warehouse, brought out and restored, it now has pride of place at the front of the Museum.  The Museum has over 80,000 visitors a year.
You enter the Museum through a reconstruction of a graphite mine - which has seen better days! Then there are various display to look at.  I was fascinated by the top secret pencils that were made at the factory during World War Two. They were given to RAF servicemen before missions in Germany,  They contained rolled up maps and a compass where the eraser should have been.  The Germans never discovered this trick.  
The largest pencil in the world is on display as well as very inventive pieces of artwork made from pencils.  There was a room in which a film all about the history of pencil making ran which gave a good back ground to the exhibits. 
There was an artist giving tuition on using pencils for artwork.  Unfortunately we just missed getting into that as it was underway when we arrived.  The museum has regular free workshops on different subjects.  The shop was very good and had gorgeous pencil sets.  There were great bargains to be had in the sale, but alas, I'm still on my financial sensibility mode so I resisted.
The Museum isn't very big, and from the outside not very inviting - it's an old fashioned prefab.  But inside it is bright, lively and has a good atmosphere.  The story of the humble pencil is really fascinating, and this is a museum with the difference and well worth a visit.  
Visit the website Cumberland Pencil Museum

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