FORGE MILL NEEDLE MUSEUM
By Ann Evans
Photos courtesy of Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography
Have you discovered Forge Mill Needle Museum yet? I went along a couple of weeks ago to see the latest exhibition they were hosting – Sew Small, featuring work by The Miniature Needlework Society. And although I’d gone along to see the exhibition, I found the Needle Museum itself to be a fascinating place.
Forge Mill was once the hub of the needle making industry, with Redditch dominating the world needle trade. In fact the town once produced 90% of the world’s needles. If like me, you’ve never given much thought to the humble needle, or the people who make them, a visit to Forge Mill is a real eye-opener (excuse the pun!).
Firstly, visitors can explore the mill. This atmospheric listed building still houses original water powered machinery and you can experience what life was like for the workers throughout Victorian times. The workrooms are exactly as they would originally have been, with all the heavy wooden machinery used to scour (polish) millions of needles.
The Mill is unique in that it is the only water powered scouring mill left in the world and was still a working operation right up to the 1950s.
Another part of the attraction at the museum are the beautiful needle showcases produced by Redditch needle and fishing tackle companies in the 18th and 19th centuries, some of which went into international competitions. There is also a display of old photographs showing workers in this thriving trade in bygone times and early sewing machines, plus lots more.
The Visitors’ Centre is set in an original reconstructed 16th century barn. As well as various temporary exhibitions they have a permanent display of artefacts from the nearby Bordesley Abbey – a 12th century Cistercian abbey, once home to 24 monks until Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. Back in the 1990’s a major excavation took place, and many of the artefacts are on display including stone carvings, medieval tools, clothing and actual skeletal remains. Take a stroll across the fields via a pathway to explore the ruins for yourself.
A visit to Forge Mill Museum is a good family day out, with lots of scenic parkland, children’s play area and light refreshments from the coffee bar to enjoy in the grounds or under the covered cloisters area. In addition to a lovely gift shop, the Visitors Centre has a range of children’s activities and educational sessions, workshops plus different exhibitions throughout the year. So there’s always lots going on to enjoy. You might never look at the humble needle in quite the same way ever again!
Further details: http://www.forgemill.org.uk/