Reviewed by Catherine Joyce
The Cumberland Pencil Museum is situated in Keswick, which is in the northern Lake District. The museum is easy to find and has a large car park which costs £4 to park all day. The town centre is only a few minutes’ walk so once you have visited the museum you can easily walk into Keswick and see the rest of the town.
When we entered the museum we were given our own Cumberland pencil which was used to complete a quiz about the museum. If you get all the questions right you are rewarded with a small prize which my son was thrilled with. There was also a mini drawing treasure hunt which was a lot of fun to do.
The museum starts with an explanation of how graphite was first discovered in the local fells and used by shepherds as primitive pencils. The mining of graphite increased and eventually the cottage industry creating pencils led to the establishment of the first pencil factory.
The company’s role in the Second World War is explored in the new World War 2 Secret Pencil Exhibition with a video showing how a map and compass were hidden inside the pencils used by bomber crews flying over Germany. This was really interesting and the chance to dress up as a bomber pilot kept the children entertained whilst we watched the film.
The museum also houses the world’s largest coloured pencil which weighs over 400kg and is hung in the roof of the museum. On display are many different pencils made by the company and also other pencil related items and memorabilia. My favourite were the minute carvings made out of pencil leads, they are extremely detailed and so small a magnifying glass is needed to see them.
There were several informative videos in the museum explaining how pencil making came to the area and how pencils are now produced. I really enjoyed watching how the pencils are made and listening to the staff from the factory.
The museum itself is quite small and I didn’t really expect to stay for very long however the addition of the quiz, the excellent videos and the art room really enhanced our visit. We visited on a quiet day and so were able to sit at the tables and draw and colour for as long as we liked however I would expect that this would be more difficult at a weekend or in school holidays. There was a table with coloured pencils in the main part of the museum and we sat there happily colouring in the pictures we had drawn. There was also the Kid’s Art Studio which was decorated with pictures that visitors had drawn as well as a bigger display which currently has an “under the sea theme” On the table were plenty of small pieces of card, some pre-printed with outlines of flowers and various types of pencils to try out. As well as these there were also some step by step guides to help the less artistic draw simple pictures. These were really easy to follow and despite not being able to draw my husband enjoyed drawing the owl.
The museum has a well-stocked gift shop – if you need a pencil then this is the place to go – and also the aptly named Sketchers coffee shop. They serve locally sourced foods and have a good selection of homemade cakes which were very tempting. Children’s lunches are available for £3 and they also serve sandwiches, salads and homemade soup. We chose a light lunch of soup and a roll with cakes and a drink which was very nice. There were colouring pencils and paper on the table so perfect for entertaining children (and adults too!)
The staff were very friendly and knowledgeable, chatting with the visitors and explaining about the company, the factory and the pencils. They also run craft activities and family fun days which look like they will be fun.
We had a fantastic day out and my youngest son has now caught the drawing bug – he dug out his very neglected colouring pencils that evening and has been drawing ever since – we may have a budding artist on our hands
The museum is very reasonably priced with a family ticket costing £11.75 and we would certainly recommend that you visit.
Tickets cost from £3.25 to £17.50.
For more information visit www.pencilmuseum.co.uk.
The Cumberland Pencil Museum. Southey Works, Keswick, Cumbria, CA12 5NG