Visiting A Pen Museum – A Weekend In Birmingham

posted in: Blog, UK | 28
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Jess, who’s 13, writes: Over the summer, dad and I visited Birmingham for a programming event I was taking part in, and found ourselves with some time to spare. We generally divided our time between walking around the shops in the Bullring shopping centre and watching TV in our hotel room, but decided that we needed to actually go somewhere and do something instead…

The Bullring
Outside the Bullring Shopping Centre – just two minutes from our hotel!

We had been staying in the Birmingham Central Bull Ring Travelodge, and found it was perfect for our stay – it was spacious and quiet, and our rooms had everything needed for a short stay. To top it all off, the hotel was only a ten minute walk from our train station (Birmingham New Street) and was only a minute from the Bullring Shopping Centre. This meant that dad and I spent an awful lot of time drinking Starbucks, eating food from Wagamamas and going to cinemas! The breakfast wasn’t lavish, but it did have everything needed and I do think that our hotel would be a great choice for families visiting Birmingham.

Our hotel room
Our Travelodge hotel room

As dad and I decided that we couldn’t just spend all of our free time shopping, I looked up local attractions and found a museum which intrigued me – a pen museum! Dad and I decided to walk over and take a look inside, and were pleasantly surprised. We must have spent around an hour in the museum, and learnt a lot.

The Pen Museum
There were lots of authentic pens and advertisements to look at.

During the 19th Century, 75 per cent of everything written in the world was with a “Birmingham” pen. Birmingham’s factories were at the head of this trade until the invention of the biro and fountain pen in the 1950s. At one time, there were around 100 factories in the Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter! The development of the steel pen reduced the cost of writing and enabled the spread of literacy throughout the world.

The Pen Museum has the atmosphere of a Victorian pen factory and is “dedicated to preserving and promoting the legacy of [the pen] trade” It is fairly small (there are only two rooms) but there were lots of volunteers to explain different contraptions and to take us on a tour of the museum.

Pen Nibs
People created displays of pen nibs like this one to enter into competitions

Dad and I were taken around the museum with about ten other people, and the man who was taking us around was friendly and very funny. We were shown displays of pen nibs which were entered in competitions, strange inkwells shaped like animals, antique typewriters and very old telephone systems. I loved sitting down and trying my hand at calligraphy which I was terrible at; my hands were absolutely covered in navy ink within about two minutes…

Calligraphy
Writing with calligraphy pens was very difficult…

I really enjoyed seeing how braille is printed onto paper. You write your name down and work out the corresponding numbers, and then you put a sheet through a machine and press onto these numbers. The paper comes out looking and feeling exactly like braille, which was really cool.

Braille
Working out my name in Braille

However, my highlight of our visit had to be making a pen nib using exactly the same machines that would have been used in Victorian times. We started with a sheet of metal, which we cut into the distinctive shape. To do this, I had to pull on the machine’s handle really hard – it was incredible to think that the women working there had to make thousands a day!

Machinery
I loved using these machines to create authentic pen nibs!

After we pressed, curved, hardened, and slit the metal, Dad and I had successfully created a real pen nib. My arm was aching from how hard you had to pull the machines.

Overall, Dad and I do recommend The Pen Museum if you have a spare hour in Birmingham as everyone is lovely, there is lots to see and learn, and I really liked the interactive demonstrations. Who knew that pens were so interesting?!

Entry to The Pen Museum is £2.00 for adults and free from under-16s.

Disclosure: Jessica and Brian stayed at the Birmingham Central Bull Ring Travelodge on a complimentary basis, although the company had no input into this blog post. Family rooms now have separate space saving truckle beds, offering children their own individual bed and providing more space in the room. Plus kids eat free, including all you can eat breakfast. Rooms cost from £35 a night upwards.

Some other lovely museums which I’ve visited

A great visit to Weald and Downland 

Top Secret: a visit to Bletchley Park

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28 Responses

  1. Ness @ JibberJabberUK

    I honestly had no idea that Birmingham had such a history of pens. I know certain towns and cities are associated with different trades but Birmingham and pen making wasn’t one of them.

  2. Christine

    We went there a couple of years ago! There are some very dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers….. Our kids enjoyed making the pen nibs too. If you go again, there’s an amazing museum of the jewellery quarter which is a must see.

    • Jess

      I didn’t know that there was a museum of the jewellery quarter! I wanted to look at the coffin museum, but dad said no…

  3. Halima

    I have heard of the Pen Museum and it’s on my list of places to visit when I’m next in Birmingham!

  4. Pinkoddy

    I never even knew there was a pen museum! The hotel sounds good and the German market will be there soon enough.

  5. Lucy Dorrington

    What a beautifully written post (do excuse the pen pun, lol!). It sometimes is the most mundane of objects that can turn out to be the most fascinating!

    • Jess

      I agree totally! It was really interesting to see all of the old stationery. I applaud your pun…

  6. Globalmouse

    We often meet friends in Birmingham and struggle sometimes to find things to do – this looks great and I love the idea of getting names in braille, how brilliant!

  7. Keryn

    A museum… just for pens?! I know more than one person who would love this place including me! Great write up!

  8. Kara

    I have never been to Birmingham – I really want to visit the Bullring and the pen museum looks fab

    • Jess

      We had a fab time. The Bullring was unbelievably busy on the Saturday – we had to queue to be able to go on the escalator!

  9. Marta

    I always loved pens and paper and used to write pages and pages of thoughts, just for the pleasure of it. Now I seem attached to my keyboard, but this post made me want to take out my notebook again!

  10. Gemma

    My eldest would love this! Never heard of it but definitely worth a visit next time we go to Birmingham

  11. Stuart Forster

    I hadn’t heard of the pen museum in Birmingham, so thanks for bringing it to my attention. I’ll try and head there when I go to the city for the Christmas markets.

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