Who doesn’t love a pencil? They’ve been pretty much inseparable from everyday life since they were invented way back in 1795.
If you need to do a little sketch. Look no further. If you want to make a note which can be easily edited with the help of an eraser – we’ve got just the thing.
Want to mark out measurements on a little piece of wood before you saw it in half? Forget about it.
From drawing sketches to working out maths problems in school to marking exam papers to creating complicated diagrams and designs, this versatility is not lost on a little corner of the Lake District.
There’s even a whole museum dedicated to the once-lead-based writing tool.
And there’s one specific part of history that the Derwent Pencil Museum, located in Keswick on the banks of River Gretna, is dedicated to the most. The town has a near 200-year history of manufacturing pencils but it is the fascinating story of World War II spy Charles Fraser-Smith and his inventions visitors to the museum can discover.
The British military intelligence agent, who is said to have inspired the character of ‘Q’ (most recently played by Ben Whishaw) in the James Bond films, created several gadgets for soldiers during the war, including a pencil with secret compartment to hide a map and a compass inside.
Step forward the Cumberland Pencil Co. in Keswick to help him bring his idea into reality. The rest, as they say, is written (with a pencil) in history.
Today, the museum stand beside the former Cumberland factory, and Fraser-Smith’s is among many interesting facts and tales surrounding the pencil. Visitors can have their photo taken next to the world’s largest colour pencil, at 26-foot long. They can marvel at the world’s first pencil and be among the 80,000 people said to visit the little museum every year, coming from all over the world.
Did you know?
The museum was badly damaged by a flood in 2015 when the River Greta burst its banks during Strom Desmond. Many exhibits were destroyed, including an irreplaceable pencil collection. It reopened in June 2017 with Countryfile presenter John Craven cutting the ribbon.
The Cumbria company started out as Banks, Son & Co. in 1832, changing its name a few times over the decades before settling on its current moniker in 1916.
It produced graphite and coloured pencils, artist charcoal for almost a century, before relocating to Workington in 2007. Fine pencils and a variety of art supplies are still manufactured under the Derwent name.