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Who Knew? Tags: Birmingham Pen Museum


Who Knew?

Imagine if you will, Birmingham in the Industrial Revolution. It was a rapidly expanding city and its population grew from 74,000 to 630,000 in the 19th century.

Not the prettiest of places, smoke billowed from its many factories and in order to accommodate the expanding city, houses were hastily built, often back-to-back and they soon became slums.

Located in the middle of England, one hundred and twenty miles from London, there were few telephones, cars made their appearance at the end of the century and trains were slow. The aeroplane merely a dream. Computers would have been beyond comprehension and a large part of communication was by the written word, the old fashioned way, pen to paper.

Known as ‘The City of a Thousand Trades’ owing to the diversity of goods manufactured there, buttons, cutlery, nails and screws and jewellery to name a few but who knew that 75% of everything written in the world at that time was written with a Birmingham pen?

There were in excess of 100 factories in Birmingham producing steel pens in the nineteenth century. Quills had been the writing tool of choice before this but they took time to prepare and didn’t last. The tips would require attention with a knife to remain pointed, coining the term pen-knife.

Today on the corner of Legge Lane and Frederick Street is the Birmingham Pen Museum. It is housed in what was once Wiley’s Pen Factory and is now dedicated to preserving the memory of this industry.

The Pen Museum exhibits all manner of writing memorabilia. Feather quills, steel pens, typewriters, examples of Braille and much more. They even offer calligraphy lessons.

Fanny Philips, (pictured below) worked for C Brandauer Pen Company for seventy-one years and she is seen sitting at a manual nib-making machine. Nibs and pens had names and one of Brandauer’s slogans or advertisements stated –

They come as a boon and a blessing to men.

The Pickwick, The Owl and the Waverley Pen. 

Whilst Birmingham may not be at the top of your dream destinations, if you do find yourself there, as a writer you  might consider visiting The Pen Museum. It is situated in the well-known Jewellery Quarter, an area with many heritage listed Georgian buildings, trendy shops, quirky bars and restaurants.

To conclude, imagine for a moment life in two hundred  years time. Perhaps by then there will be museums full of laptops, desktops and Ipads.

How will we communicate? Will we still be able to write? We are excellent at punching in text messages on our phones and typing on computers but is it possible we won’t know how to write with a pen or pencil in the year 2216?

For those interested in the history of writing implements

So what do you think is next?

















This Week Monday 1st May
Category: Site News
Tags: Muse Blog. Meetings

This Week – Monday 1st May 2017

This has been a busy week on Writer’s Abroad so I will start with the Bragging Stool which is almost toppling over with achievements.

Alyson was long-listed for this quarter’s Flash 500 competition.

Lesley was long-listed for the To Hull and Back Challenge.

Sue, Angela and Chris were all successful in the Ad Hoc challenge.

Sue had an essay accepted for a book called Where’s Home?’  (For publication in 2018)

Congratulations to you all, ladies!


Member’s Meeting

Hot on the heels of Angela meeting up with Nicola in Spain, Nicola then met with Jo and Chris.

From all accounts these were great times and the three husbands, Rob, Simon and Rod bonded well too. There are some wonderful photos on site – take a look if you haven’t already seen them.

Another meeting is imminent; Jo, Lesley & Vanessa are catching up in Millau soon.

Monday Muse

Angela has given us some wonderful ideas, including writing about something mythical and including the word Bewitched. Additionally but not only, there is a great photo of Warwick Castle which if you haven’t been has a very scary dungeon! Plenty of choice here for a quick Monday Muse which may take you – who knows where!

The Blog is scheduled to be written by Jo but given that she is away, she may have swapped with someone or set it on the automatic timer facility. (The correct name of which escapes me at the time of writing!)

Challenges & Opportunities

Plenty of choice in this forum! Why not head over there now and take a look?


The next Formal meeting is scheduled for Sunday May 21st at 11am CEST with Vanessa in the chair.


Six degrees of Separation Tags: Separation

Six Degrees of Separation

This is a phrase I confess to having used occasionally but have never really taken into consideration. Until recently...

The internet says this theory was conceived in 1929 by a Hungarian writer, Frigyes Karinthy in a short story called ‘Chains.’(The link to Goodreads is here just in case you can’t resist a peep!)

There have been numerous tests since the theory came to light and there is plenty of information available online. It means a person anywhere in the world can be connected to another, through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries.

Keep the above in mind and before you go to sleep wondering where this is leading, let’s digress, let’s talk about -

The Perth Writers Festival 2017.

This event is held annually at the University of Western Australia. This lovely institute of learning began life in 1911 and is a mere 3963.9 kilometres from where I live on the east coast, 41 hours in the car or five hours by plane, take your pick!

The 65 hectare campus is situated right on the Swan River. Many of the sandstone buildings feature coastal limestone arches and Romanesque features nestling side by side with lush green lawns and wonderful gardens. Moreton Bay Fig trees and many species of oak trees flourish there offering a welcome respite from the searing West Australian sun.

It is the perfect setting for the three-day festival.

There was something for everyone. Topics were numerous and varied – the local paper says “sharp, satirical and provocative.”  Speakers were carefully chosen, an intelligent mix of international and local. There were workshops to attend for a reasonable fee, lectures with a nominal fee and numerous free lectures alongside panel discussions with many writers. Music could be heard floating through the courtyards in the evening as people sipped wine under the stars and listened to poetry.

The weather was hot, in fact too hot at times but the organisers had the foresight to provide plenty of food and beverage outlets with many shady umbrellas and places to sit. More than 43,000 people attended this year, a testament to how popular this event has become.

The atmosphere was one of genuine camaraderie, a feeling of being united by a real love of literature and understanding of words.

On the second day it was necessary to make a phone call, so slipping outside I found a cool spot among the trees and away from the crowds. Sitting on an empty bench I was joined minutes later by a smartly dressed lady with blonde hair and reading a book. On finishing the phone call she leaned over and said,

 “Excuse me, but if you don’t mind me saying – you should always get a second opinion.”  She’d overheard me talking to one of my daughters about a very sick friend who was looking for advice.  I agreed with this lady and we began chatting.

In a few minutes, she’d told me quite a bit about her life and that she’d once lived in Bangladesh. Not really thinking there was much chance, I asked her if by any chance she knew Paola. She did!

For those who don’t know, Paola is an accomplished writer and was a long-time member of WA.

On my return home, I contacted Paola by Facebook and she remembered the lady with blonde hair whose name was Nana Lye. She was happy to know Nana remembered her.

Now what was that about six degrees of separation?!



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The Duke's Shadow
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Break Out
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