Saturday, August 11, 2018

Making Marks

Manufacturing was an important aspect of the city of Birmingham, England.  In the Jewelry Quarter we found a pen museum.  Cutting and forming steel into pen nibs grew out of jewelry making.  Pen nibs are  something that is largely unknown to most of us today.  But William Mitchell was the premier manufacturer of steel pen nibs in England and at the time. Joseph Gillott was another manufacturer and it was estimated that 90 per cent of American school children used Gillott’s pens.

First there was the quill pen, but these pens required constant trimming—I think at the end of every line of writing—and thus it took a long time to write anything.  The metal pen nib was invented/developed and Birmingham was the center of nib manufacturing.  Much of the factory work was done by girls whose small hands could more easily manipulate the materials.

Working 10 hours a day, the workers were required to produce 18,000 nibs each day.  They were not allowed to talk or sing—in fact they were fined if they did so—because concentration was so important.  Each girl performed only one task, truly being a cog in an assembly wheel.

This container show the “lot” of pen nibs each worker was to perform the same repetitive task on.

A machine cuts the nib blank from a strip of steel.  Imagine feeding this piece of metal in so the required number of blanks are cut each time—one blank each 2 seconds!

This is an illustration of one area of a pen factory, the grinding room.  All of these girls are preforming the same task.

Pen nibs were made for many special tasks, including these, designed for musicians wishing to write musical scores.

The next day we visited Coventry Cathedral, which I will cover in a separate post.  One thing we learned there is that Coventry was the heart of the weaving industry.  There, women or girls worked in conditions similar to what we saw in the pen museum.



This certainly is an impressive arrangement, but of what?  Is it bullets? No, it is made with pen nibs.  Something that is largely unknown to most of us today.  But William Mitchell was the premier manufacturer of steel pen nibs in England and at the time. Joseph Gillott was another manufacturer and it was estimated that 90 per cent of American school children used Gillott’s pens.

First there was the quill pen, but these pens required constant trimming—I think at the end of every line of writing—and thus it took a long time to write anything.  The metal pen nib was invented/developed and Birmingham was the center of nib manufacturing.  Much of the factory work was done by girls whose small hands could more easily manipulate the materials.

Working 10 hours a day, the workers were required to produce 18,000 nibs each day.  They were not allowed to talk or sing—in fact they were fined if they did so—because concentration was so important.  Each girl performed only one task, truly being a cog in the assembly process.

This container show the “lot” of pen nibs each worker was to perform the same repetitive task on.



This machine cuts the nib blank from a strip of steel.  Imagine feeding this piece of metal in so the required number of blanks are cut each time—one blank each 2 seconds!

This is an illustration of one area of a pen factory, the grinding room.  All of these girls are preforming the same task.


Pen nibs were made for many special tasks, including these, designed for musicians wishing to write musical scores.



The next day we visited Coventry Cathedral, which I will cover in a separate post.  One thing we learned there is that Coventry was the heart of the weaving industry.  There, women or girls worked in conditions similar to what we saw in the pen museum.

Photos will be added later, sorry.


Coventry Cathedral

Our visit to Coventry was very moving. We have heard over the years about the Anglican Church that was destroyed during World War II and later a new, grand cathedral was built to express the faith and strength of the English people.

In 1940, during the early months of the blitz, Coventry was rained with fire bombs from German planes. When the fires were finally out, a partial shell of the cathedral was all that was left. The windows and pews had turned to ashes. In the cleanup, a workman found two beams that had fallen in the form of a cross. He raised the cross to inspire hope in the people of the town. Today that cross is displayed in the new Coventry Cathedral.

The new cathedral was built right next to the burned out church. The contrast is quite stunning. The stained glass is beautiful. Behind the high altar is a tapestry of the newly-risen Christ. There are a number of side chapels. In one, the Chapel of Jesus in the Garden of Gethseame , the rood screen evokes the cross of thorns There we gathered for a service of Holy Eucharist.

The organ in the new cathedral was built in Norway. It must sound amazing. The window at the back of this church has shadowing images of people in the glass window.

The theme of a Phoenix rising from the ashes is repeated in many place. We had lunch in the Rising From the Ashes café. As we explored the burned-out church, we saw a group of young adults sharing and learning in one of the old chapels.

The bell tower of the original church has been restored and it is possible to climb the inside stairs to the top. We didn’t.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Coventry Cathedral

Our visit to Coventry was very moving. We have heard over the years about the Anglican Church that was destroyed during World War II and later a new, grand cathedral was built to express the faith and strength of the English people.

In 1940, during the early months of the blitz, Coventry was rained with fire bombs from German planes. When the fires were finally out, a partial shell of the cathedral was all that was left. The windows and pews had turned to ashes. In the cleanup, a workman found two beams that had fallen in the form of a cross. He raised the cross to inspire hope in the people of the town. Today that cross is displayed in the new Coventry Cathedral.

The new cathedral was built right next to the burned out church. The contrast is quite stunning. The stained glass is beautiful. Behind the high altar is a tapestry of the newly-risen Christ. There are a number of side chapels. In one, the Chapel of Jesus in the Garden of Gethseame , the rood screen evokes the cross of thorns. There we gathered for a service of Holy Eucharist.

The organ in the new cathedral was built in Norway. It must sound amazing. The window at the back of this church has shadowing images of people in the glass window.

The theme of a Phoenix rising from the ashes is repeated in many place. We had lunch in the Rising From the Ashes café. As we explored the burned-out church, we saw a group of young adults sharing and learning in one of the old chapels.

The bell tower of the original church has been restored and it is possible to climb the inside stairs to the top. We didn't.

Photos will be attached when we have better internet.


Sent from my iPad

Easier Writing

Manufacturing was an important aspect of the city of Birmingham, England. In the Jewelry Quarter we found a pen museum. Cutting and forming steel into pen nibs grew out of jewelry making. Pen nibs are something that is largely unknown to most of us today. But William Mitchell was the premier manufacturer of steel pen nibs in England and at the time. Joseph Gillott was another manufacturer and it was estimated that 90 per cent of American school children used Gillott's pens.

First there was the quill pen, but these pens required constant trimming—I think at the end of every line of writing—and thus it took a long time to write anything. The metal pen nib was invented/developed and Birmingham was the center of nib manufacturing. Much of the factory work was done by girls whose small hands could more easily manipulate the materials.

Working 10 hours a day, the workers were required to produce 18,000 nibs each day. They were not allowed to talk or sing—in fact they were fined if they did so—because concentration was so important. Each girl performed only one task, truly being a cog in an assembly wheel.
This container show the "lot" of pen nibs each worker was to perform the same repetitive task on.

A machine cuts the nib blank from a strip of steel. Imagine feeding this piece of metal in so the required number of blanks are cut each time—one blank each 2 seconds!

This is an illustration of one area of a pen factory, the grinding room. All of these girls are preforming the same task.

Pen nibs were made for many special tasks, including these, designed for musicians wishing to write musical scores.

The next day we visited Coventry Cathedral, which I will cover in a separate post. One thing we learned there is that Coventry was the heart of the weaving industry. There, women or girls worked in conditions similar to what we saw in the pen museum.



Sent from my iPad

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Back to Backs

Never heard of back to backs? Neither had we till I started looking for a National Trust Cottage in Birmingham. The National Trust is a non-profit charity that preserves historical properties and has converted some of them into holiday cottages, using the income from the rentals to help support the Trust.

Built in 1802, the back to back houses were constructed to house the families of the growing factory-worker force in Birmingham, a center of the Industrial Revolution and manufacturing for England. Row houses, 3 stories high, with one room on each floor, were built 2-deep. Each floor had a window on one side and the back wall was solid, with another room behind it, facing the other direction.

When constructed, there was no electricity or running water, of course. The houses were built around courtyards which served as recreational and social space, laundry room, the location of the outhouses, and source for water.

This courtyard was used by 60 people. The block of buildings housed 3000 folks. The single water tap provided water to wash clothes and for household use. The apartment we toured at one time housed a husband and wife and 9 children. Plus, they rented out one bed to 2 lodgers!

Four of the children slept on these beds, some with their heads at the top, some with heads at the bottom.

A curtain separated the children's bed from the lodgers' bed, seen here.

Today, three apartments are rented out by the Trust. Ours was decorated in 1930's style. The others represent the 1870s and 1840s. We didn't see them. Here are a couple of photos of our place, with the kitchen on the ground floor, the bedroom and bathroom on the 2nd floor and sitting/living room on the top floor, all facing the Inge Street.

The steps between floors were brutal—steep, curving and narrow.

Living in the Back to Back house/apartment while we were in Birmingham presented some other challenges, in addition to the steps. We only had a small refrigerator, similar to what you would see in an office to keep a couple of sandwiches and some cans of pop. Ours was in the cabinet on a shelf under the sink. It didn't have good temperature control and one night the lettuce and a bottle of 7-Up froze.

After that we went shopping daily, sometimes twice a day, to buy sandwiches, prepared microwave entrees (we didn't have an oven) and salad fixings. Luckily, the Tesco Express, a take-away store, was at the other end of the block, at the bottom of the road as described in our information packet. Here is our source of food if we didn't want to eat our 2 meals every day.

Photos will be added to this blog later, when we have strong enough WiFi.

Sent from my iPad

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Back to Backs

Never heard of back to backs? Neither had we till I started looking for a National Trust Cottage in Birmingham. The National Trust is a non-profit charity that preserves historical properties and has converted some of them into holiday cottages, using the income from the rentals to help support the Trust.

Built in 1802, the back to back houses were constructed to house the families of the growing factory-worker force in Birmingham, a center of the Industrial Revolution and manufacturing for England. Row houses, 3 stories high, with one room on each floor, were built 2-deep. Each floor had a window on one side and the back wall was solid, with another room behind it, facing the other direction.

Pen Museum

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Willy Wonka is Real

Well, almost. Today we toured Cadbury World here in Birmingham. If you have eaten a Cadbury egg at Easter time, you know how wonderful their chocolates are.


And they have always been made right here in Birmingham. Mr. Cadbury began making and selling first chocolate drinks and then fine chocolate candies in the late 1860s. At that time, drinking chocolate was as popular as drinking alcohol and it was an acceptable alternative to alcohol for the large Quaker population here. The Cadbury chocolates are still made here, but we didn’t tour the actual factory.

When we checked in for our tour, we were given 4 chocolate bars and, later, 2 more.

(I can’t seem to be able to post pictures when blogging from my iPad, but they will be posted on Facebook.)

The story of Chocolate and Cadbury history was told through descriptive signs and (I think) holograms of the Cadbury family telling how the business developed.

In the last room the tour allowed us to temper the chocolate—stir and move it around on a marble surface to cool it from 50 degrees to 28 degrees Celsius. (That is 122 down to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.) There were also squeeze bottles where people could write their names in chocolate.

At the end, they gave each person a small paper cup with maybe 1 1/2 to 2 fluid ounces of milk chocolate and we could add other items. John added crushed biscuits, I chose salted carmel and cranberries. Absolutely delicious! The Dairy Milk Oreo candy bar would be my absolute favorite. I wonder if it is sold in the US?

Monday, July 30, 2018

Friendly People and Take-Away Stores

We have found the people here in England extremely friendly and helpful. Today we drove to do our laundry. We had purchased a TomTom gps to guide us when driving our rental car. When we couldn’t find the laundromat, I went into a post office and the clerk gave me very good directions to our location—only about 1 1/2 blocks away.

We parked and took our dirty laundry in.  I had very few coins and didn’t really know what they were worth and there was no change machine in the laundromat.  However, there was a money store next door—they transfer money for customers.  The man there came to help me—the 2 businesses are owned by the same person, and he gave me the change I needed and explained how the machines worked.

Another customer was in the place and he helped us 2 or 3 times, even calling the correct person over to help when one dryer didn’t work.  And he was interesting to talk to as we all did our wash.

After taking the laundry back to our apartment, we walked to the Birmingham Library, hoping to find historical information about this area and do some family history research.  In the USA, the 1630s and 40s are important history—Winthrop Fleet, Massachusettes Bay Colony, etc.  Since some of John’s family had lived in the Birmingham area, we were hoping to learn about them at the library.  The staff member we talked to at the front desk and another in the history section both said those dates are way too early for written records here.  Even churches weren’t required to keep records of birth and death till a later century and there are almost no written records available before printing became more widespread.

We did find a little religious history on-line at the library and a history book that explains the early history of this area from Roman times forward.  But nothing really helpful to us.

We did, however, see more of the Birmingham city center, including the city hall and lots of new, modern construction.  So it was a very interesting day.  This is England’s second largest city and it is obviously a vibrant place.

Something else stands our here and in London.  There are lots of take-away stores.  Think a cross between take-out food and grocery stores with prepared food.  Since we have a very small refrigerator and can only stock about 1 day’s food at a time, we have been buying remade entrees for dinner, plus salad and dessert.  Today we bought a sandwich to “take away” for lunch.  Two familiar stores now are Tesco Express and Sainsbury Local.

These stores do have some fresh vegetables and some canned—very little canned.  And we have frozen a bottle of 7 UP and a head of lettuce so we are careful what we put in the fridge.  One day I turned the temp up a little and the whole fridge defrosted!

It’s all about learning to live like the locals, I guess.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Things Are Different Here

Things are different here. That’s why we travel, isn’t it? To experience things outside of our regular daily lives. We have been in England just a few days. What have we found that’s different?

In the US, the 1st floor is the ground floor. Here, there is ground, sometimes even -1 ground, then the first floor is one level up from the ground floor entrance.

We were surprised to discover our hotel didn’t provide wash cloths. We had good towels, but no wash cloths. We are now in our second lodging and still, no wash cloths. So yesterday we stopped in Boots, a chemist shop (pharmacy) and found what we needed in the facial care aisle.

Our bed has a bottom sheet and a heavy duvet, but no top sheet. England is experiencing a record heat wave and the duvet is way too heavy. But there is no top sheet to use instead. As I said, it is a record heat wave. And many buildings don’t have air conditioning. The underground trains don’t have air conditioning. People everywhere keep saying, “It’s so hot!.”

London has a population of over 8 million and everywhere we went, there were people everywhere. Last summer we visited New York City and it was less crowded and less busy than here. And the great majority of people in London, especially near our hotel, were carrying or pulling luggage. Don’t know if it replaces a brief case or what. We had been worried about using the tube and trains to get around England. No problem—everyone does it. And everyone moves so fast! I’m old—75–and I don’t move that fast, I don’t figure out how to move about at that speed.

With all these people in a hurry to get somewhere, it is good that the city and the country have such excellent mass transportation. We rode a train from London to Birmingham and it was nearly full—and there are 48 trains a day between the 2 cities. The underground or tube takes people quickly all around London. These trains are packed.

Each electrical outlet has its own on/off switch. You plug something in, then turn on the switch, then you have power.

We all know exit signs. Here they say “way out.” People say cheers and lovely.

As far as I am concerned, breakfast can be bacon and eggs or cereal or toast—or all three. But cold cuts and cheese and lettuce and tomato—what kind of breakfast is that? Well, it is a continental breakfast. A full English breakfast is more like it—sausage, bacon, potatoes, eggs, grilled tomatoes. That’s good—and very fattening if we had it every day.

American society is becoming more diverse. But in our part of the US, Colorado and Arizona, when you say multi-cultural you probably refer to Black, White and Hispanic. Here in England include Muslims, Sikhs, Orthodox Jews, orientals and Africans.

And we have met so many really friendly, helpful people. Twice I have gone into a store to ask where to reach some destination. Both times the clerk walked out onto the sidewalk and took us in the direction we needed to go, pointing where we should head and giving the rest of the directions. Today we asked some sort of street monitor how to get somewhere and she walked us almost a block till we could see our destination. They all went out of their way to be helpful.

And Tuesday when we went through EU Boarder control, the man was very friendly and wished us a good visit.

I’m sure there will be more differences, and similarities during the next 7 weeks. We are excited to see what they are.

Be Flexible

Thursday we decided to visit Westminster Abbey, then shop at Harrods—a really upscale department store.  We took the tube to the Westminster Station.  We hoped to visit the Abbey and maybe attend the mid-day Holy Eucharist.  The line just to get a ticket to tour the historic church was so long we decided to skip that.  And the Eucharist was an hour-long wait.  Changing plans, we went to look at the Parliament building and Big Ben.  The building was surrounded by scaffolding.  We could see one face of the iconic clock and that was it.

This is the Harrods exterior.


Harrods window display.

Harrods food court.


More good displays.

Westminster Abbey.


So, we headed to the tube to go to the Knightsbridge station near Harrods.  Even the window displays at Harrods are beautiful.  John wants to buy a rain coat but we quickly decided we were in the wrong place to do that.  They cost 450 pounds and more.  Really nice coats but after we leave England John won’t have much use for a rain coat in Colorado or Arizona.

We walked by other exclusive shops, the returned to our hotel and had burgers from the Savannah Bar in the hotel.  We had seen beautiful buildings and many interesting people.  It was a good day, but it was very necessary to be flexible about what we did and how we enjoyed it.