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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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