|Sculpture reminding us of Birmingham's history|
I started the day with the 10:05 departure for Birmingham, nicely on time all the way following a difficult couple of days for Cross Country Trains caused by a derailed freight train near Birmingham. I had my morning coffee on the train - quite a decent coffee I was, pleased to discover. On arrival I picked my way out of the building site which has been New Street station for the last couple of years (not long now before completion), around the roadworks for the tramline extension and visited briefly the Ian Allen book and model shop to look through the range of model cars to add something to the streets of my art deco model railway layout.
Then it was off to the Coffin Works, the former premises of Newman Brothers, manufacturers of coffin furniture for the funeral trade. I knew the midday guided tour was fully booked because they had told me so on Twitter, so I just popped in to see what was available, booked myself on the 14:00 tour and went on the Pen Museum.
It was a short walk through streets being redeveloped to provide new flats where metal-working premises used to be. Like all our cities, this side of Birmingham is being transformed but is bearing witness to its past trades on which the great wealth of this city was built. Finding the entrance to the Pen Museum is quite a challenge: it is in a building where pen nibs were once made and where many other businesses still trade, and it still looks like a factory. I twigged that I had to open the small wicket gate within the vehicular gate to get into the courtyard where the door into the museum was situated, and once inside was amazed at the huge number of pen nibs displayed before me. I declined the immediate offer of a hands-on demonstration of nib-making while I looked around and took in my surroundings. I was greeted by name - the result of having Tweeted that I was on my way there - and after a while allowed myself to be shown how to make a nib. The whole mass-production process cannot be demonstrated because it involves the use of furnaces, but the pressing and cutting operations can all be carried out using Victorian hand presses. As I cut my second nib my "tutor" explained the girls employed on this equipment were expected to turn out 17,000 nib blanks a day ... At one time 75% of the world's writing was done with pens made in Birmingham, and calligraphy pens are still made elsewhere in the city, but the rise of the ballpoint in the mid-twentieth century saw off this industry as a major part of the city's economy.
Through to another room, I was shown the marketing displays of thousands of pens, along with blotters, inkwells, typewriters (these would have been worth an hour on their own) and a huge collection of novelty ballpoints. By this time it became clear that I would have to tear myself away to stand any chance of a meal before my appointment at the Coffin Works, so I said my farewells and made my donation - entry is free but it is well worth giving a donation to such an enthusiastic group of people who keep alive the memory of such a significant industry.
|The Stamp Room, the smallest of the hammers|
|Shroud for a Villa fan|
The one thing I had promised myself on this trip which did come off was tea and cake at the Centenary Lounge at Moor Street station, a walk across the city centre. This simple little tea and coffee place is in Art Deco style and uses crockery closely based on the Great Western Railway's design for their centenary (and these can be brought from the café or its website for use at home as well!) and they do a very nice cup of tea or coffee and a range of cakes and other snacks. It is also licensed but for me, tea was what was needed, and I had to try the Red Velvet cake, flavoured with vanilla and coloured with beetroot ...
I had intended to visit the ThinkTank museum of science and technology, but by now time had slipped by to the point when it was too late to go in, last entry being at 16:00, so I put that on the "list" for next time and crossed the road to Selfridges where I had a little gift shopping to do. Selfridges is the curvy shop covered in metal discs which dominates any photograph of this end of the city centre. A walk through the market area brought me to the National Trust's Back-to-Back houses which I wanted to photograph, not having done so when we visited them on a holiday in Birmingham a few years ago.
I decided to forego a pint at the Wellington real ale pub which had been on the original schedule in order to fit in dinner at Ask Italian in New Street neatly before the 19:22 departure for Stansted Airport which brought me home in time for an early night, tired out from all that I had seen and done and already feeling the need to return as soon as I can fit in another trip.
Link: My 2011 holiday in Birmingham