Day Visit to Forge Mill Needle Museum

 Mary & I had a day with no other commitments so we decided on a day out somewhere. Preferably somewhere new. The weather forecast was for light rain and a gentle breeze so somewhere indoors seemed like a good idea.

Figure 1: Temperature, Average Wind Speed and Rainfall in Hereford (7 am to 7 pm, 13/2/24)

The weather forecast didn't disappoint. Figure 1 plots the temperature, average wind speed and rainfall in Hereford for each 15-minute period between 7 am to 7 pm on the 13th February. The temperature (red) rose steadily through the day 6 ℃ to 11 ℃. Average wind speeds (green) were between 1 to 4 km/h for most of the day apart from a bit of a lull between 3 pm and 5 pm. A persistent drizzle fell for most of the day until around 5 pm when the skies started to clear as we drove home.

We, however, were not in Hereford but in Redditch, a few miles south of Birmingham, visiting the Forge Mill Needle Museum. Without doubt, we could have been in Hereford as far as the weather was concerned. It was indeed a good day to be a duck!

Photo 1: Swans, mallards, tufted ducks (real ones) and moorhens on the Mill Pond at Forge Mill (13/2/24)

The Forge Mill Needle Museum seemed a good option for a wet day due to Mary's interest in embroidery, sowing, knitting, tatting, crocheting, macrame and tapestry. After a friendly welcome from the staff and a tasty lunch (soup and toastie combo) from the Coffee Bar, we paid our £6.80/adult plus £1 for the guide (good value) and set off to explore the museum.

The entrance to the museum on the middle/ground floor led to an exhibition space occupied, during our visit, by a wildlife photographic exhibition. Downstairs, in the basement, are displays and dioramas describing the many processes involved in needlemaking.

Photo 2: Removing burrs and excess metal after the needle eyes had been punched out

I found this the most interesting part of the museum. The ingenuity of the Victorians who developed the machinery needed to speed up the traditional home industry of hand-made needles. It was a dangerous as well as an unhealthy job. The grinders, who sharpened the needles, had a life expectancy of 30-35 years only but earned very good money - when the mill owners tried to introduce extraction equipment to improve the working conditions, the grinders rebelled because they thought it would reduce their pay-rate.

Forge Mill Museum shows the needles were made in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The thirty or so processes needed to make needles have not changed; the machinery has however. The video below shows how needles are made now using the same processes developed in the 1800s. 

Video 1: The Needle Making Processes

On the first floor there were displays of manufactured needles. 

Photo 3: Display of Sewing Needles, Surgical Needles and Fish hooks

Gramophone needles were another mass-produced product until the gramophone was replaced by record players, turntables and styli in the 1950s. And when gramophone needles were no longer required, they repurposed them as the tips or points for darts.

Photo 4: Gramophone Needles

Companies designing and selling fishing tackle (e.g. Allcocks) set up in Redditch because of the production of fish hooks.

Photo 5: Fish Hooks for All fish Types

Photo 6: Fishing Flies/Hooks

And going from the sublime to the ridiculous, these extremely small & delicate surgical eye needles ...

Photo 7: Surgical Eye Needles on a Cushion (approx 6 cm in diameter)

Photo 8: Close-up of Surgical Eye Needle

... and these oversized 6-foot needles used for sowing the buttons on mattresses longways!

Photo 9: Six Foot Mattress Needles

Although the floor area of the Needle Museum was fairly small, we spent a very happy 2 hours taking it all in. We didn't have time to look around the nearby ruins of Bordesley Abbey (it was still raining) or visit the room of artefacts in the reception building. Mary did find time to buy some needles, however, while bought some hot drinks and cake from the Coffee Bar just before it closed.

It was quite a long drive home, due to an unexpected road closure, but we'd both enjoyed our museum visit. 


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