Scafell Pike, Herdwick sheep, Beatrix Potter, Donald Campbell's Bluebird, Lake Windermere, Alfred Wainwright, Kendal Mint Cake, William Wordsworth, Swallows and Amazons. Just a few of the diverse reasons why you might be familiar with the beautiful area of north-west England known as the Lake District. For connoisseurs of writing and drawing instruments however, the Lake District is also famous as the birthplace of the humble pencil. Regular readers of our witterings will probably be familiar with the basics by now. Legend has it that sometime around 1500 (yes, about 516 years ago, not 3pm yesterday afternoon), a storm uprooted a tree in Borrowdale, in the heart of the Lake District, revealing a seam of pure graphite. This previously unknown material was found to be extraordinarily useful in making durable marks on all manner of surfaces, from sheep to drawing paper. Pencil making evolved over the subsequent centuries thanks to the efforts of inventors and chemists all over Europe, but Cumbria remained the only source of graphite for a couple of centuries and a hotspot for sheep-based graffiti. Small-scale pencil makers were therefore common in the area but the first proper pencil factory didn't get going until 1832. This eventually became the Cumberland Pencil Company in 1916, who went on to develop the famous Derwent range in the 1930's - the factory being located in the town of Keswick, on the edge of Derwent Water, within Borrowdale. These days the Cumberland Pencil Company lives just down the road in Workington, in a brand-new purpose-built factory, opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2008. Earlier this year, the Cult Pens team temporarily dragged themselves away from the wide-open fells and cosy hostelries of a Lake District holiday to drop by the factory and brush up on the state of the art in pencil-making.
The charming Alan Dakers conducted us on a lively tour of the machines and processes on the calm but busy factory floor - the happy team at Workington produces over 1 million pencils per month. The process is genuinely fascinating, but rather than reading a bunch of words you can see an excellent video all about it here:
Derwent's pencils have a faithful following amongst designers and artists, and their range has expanded hugely over recent years, developing some exciting new products and branching out into pens and accessories that complement their pencils. You can view our Derwent range here.
7 September 2016