All this week we are featuring Lake District visitor attractions, inspired by the ITV programme Weekend Escapes featuring actor Warwick Davis and his family. Warwick visited several visitor attractions near Lake District cottages including Long Meg stone circle and the famous pencil museum in Keswick.
Folk may scoff at the idea of a pencil museum however there is a long history of pencil making in Cumbria. Not only that, the first recorded finding of graphite was in Borrowdale in the 1500s near the fell top of Grey Knotts above Seathwaite.
The discovery of this strange black material was at odds with other mined materials in the area. Initially the material was used to mark sheep and once its potential value was realised, security was tightened on the mine and the entrance was guarded.
Initially the graphite (or wad as it was known) was used to line cannon ball moulds. Soon, the graphite was smuggled from the mines to be used as pencils. Early pencils were crudely made sticks of soft graphite wrapped in string or sheepskin.
Word soon spread about these early pencils and so began a period of English dominance on the supply of graphite. A cottage industry of pencil making developed, one of the early pencil factories in the 1800s was the Coledale Inn at Braithwaite before the Cumberland Pencil Company factory was built in Keswick in the 1920s. The factory still stands today but the pencils are now manufactured elsewhere in Cumbria. A museum dedicated to the history of the humble pencil is open on the site and welcomes curious visitors.
Graphite in its purest form is no longer used in the manufacture of pencils (apart from specialist editions) and they are manufactured all over the world in a variety of shapes colours and sizes.
As well as charting the history of the pencil, the Keswick Pencil Museum also has a comprehensive shop and a café. Regular workshops are held at the museum where you can learn a range of artistic skills and receive expert tuition.
Artist pencils have been sold continually since 1939 and come in a range of 120 colours. The pencils were traditionally sold in tins or wooden presentation boxes; a historic display can be viewed in the museum. The Derwent brand still offers the widest range of pencils available. You can also see the largest pencil in the world, handmade by craftsmen at the museum, measuring 26 feet and weighing nearly 1,000lbs.
For details of self catering cottages in Borrowdale close to the location where graphite was discovered, click on the highlighted link. We have self catering cottages in Keswick close to the Pencil Museum. We also have dog friendly cottages too!