Can you imagine taking a job that almost guaranteed that you’d be dead by 30? Yet in Redditch during the 1800s there was no shortage of takers. Why? The money. One guinea a day (equivalent to about £60 today) was the reward and that made you very well off in those days. And the job? A Pointer – undertaking the hazardous process sharpening needles on a grindstone. Injury and illness were commonplace - from flying metal, shattering grindstones, and ‘pointers rot’, a lung disease caused by the dust.
Redditch was the world centre of the Needle Industry in the 1800s, but today just one firm remains. In its heyday, the town manufactured 3,500m needles a year. It started with makers moving from London following a dispute and finding that the area offered all that they needed – water power to drive the mills, metal from the industrial Midlands and wealthy landowners’ love of tapestries. These created the demand for weavers, the needle makers’ clients. Best of all, it made an easy cottage industry.
Forge Mill was the oldest needle making mill in the world when it ceased operation in 1958. Following the sudden collapse of its water wheel it was abandoned just as it was and this helped its restoration as a working museum. At that time it was making fish hooks – an important specialist product locally. This trade developed from the expertise developed by the Cistercian Monks at Bordesley Abbey. The ruins of the Abbey adjoin the Forge Mill where there are exhibitions, a shop and extensive grounds to enjoy in beautiful countryside.