Between kid activities and taking photos I’ve lost track of how far in the coach we have been driven and don’t know which town or city we are now in, but all of a sudden we turned off the main road and are heading down some small very narrow and run down streets in an industrial area in what looks like a severe navigational error.
It turns out that if it looks like we are heading for a factory it is because we are heading to a factory: one that makes Pewter.
Wiki Tells me that:
“Pewter is a malleable metal alloy, traditionally 85–99% tin, with the remainder consisting of copper, antimony, bismuth and (sometimes, and less commonly today) lead. Silver is also sometimes used. Copper and antimony act as hardeners while lead is common in the lower grades of pewter, which have a bluish tint.
It has a low melting point, around 170–230 °C (338–446 °F), depending on the exact mixture of metals. The word pewter is probably a variation of the word spelter, a term for zinc alloys (originally a colloquial name for zinc).
Pewter items are often found in churches. Use of pewter was common from the Middle Ages until the various developments in glass-making during the 18th and 19th centuries. Pewter was the chief tableware until the making of porcelain.
Mass production of glass products has seen glass universally replace pewter in day-to-day life. Pewter artifacts continue to be produced, mainly as decorative or specialty items.
“Unlidded” mugs and lidded tankards may be the most familiar pewter artifacts from the late 17th and 18th centuries, although the metal is also used for many other items including porringers, plates, dishes, basins, spoons, measures, flagons, communion cups, teapots, sugar bowls, beer steins, and cream jugs.
In the early 19th century, changes in fashion caused a decline in the use of pewter flatware.
Pewters containing lead are no longer used in items (such as cups, plates, or jewelry) that will come in contact with the human body due to health concerns stemming from the lead content.
Modern pewters are available that are completely free of lead, although many pewters containing lead are still being produced for other purposes.”
We are taken into the factory by our bus tour guide and gather around a young man who is busy at work making pewter. He lifts the forms out of their moulds and we get a rather speedy explanation of the process.
Then we are lead to a room that’s clearly the sales area, there are pewter dragons, goblets, candlesticks, charms and a myriad of other small decorative objects.
Himself and I look at each other, there seems an unspoken expectation that we should all be going to the counter to buy something, but most of the objects on offer are too big, not to our taste and neither of us like the idea of feeling obligated.
Predictably Little Mr. thinks a fierce dragon would make a fine addition to our baggage, but it’s Kiwi Daughter who spies an acceptable object for us to take with us: and Himself casts a quizzical look at me as I buy a small Christmas decoration.
There is however a reason why I’m apparently giving in to the sales pitch: there’s a very rudimentary toilet a little way into the building and because I was slower than the rest of the bus party I got there last and was in turn last into the “shop”, so saw that the staff who did our demonstrations were quickly shooed towards the back of the building to what I supposed to be their “real” work places.
I think it’s safe to assume that they only pop out when the tourist bus arrives,disappear again when the tourists have left the room and that the workstation out the front is the showpiece area where the demonstrations take place.
Probably conditions out the back are more cramped, dirty and the work under far more pressure than we would ever like to imagine and for very little wages, so if buying a tiny ornament I don’t really need helps to pay their rent or put bread on the table then well, ok.
I explained to Himself what I had seen out the back of the factory once we were back on the bus, it wasn’t at all that he minded me buying something, it was more that he, like me felt the pressure to buy and was put off by that.
His quizzical look was because he saw I felt the same way but bought something anyway.
We will remember these workers and the hard lives they lead each year when we hang the ornament on the Christmas tree.
This is an express visit… we came, we saw, we bought… now it’s time to get back on the road.