Black Country button heritage saved
IN December 2012, James Grove & Sons Ltd of Stourbridge Road Halesowen, Britain’s last horn button maker, closed its doors after 155 years in business.
As a result over 150 years’ of button-making heritage was at risk with the sample books, historic dies and company records in danger of being lost forever. There was a fear that China would step in to buy all that remained of the company. But after responding to an appeal in a magazine back in June 2013, 18 months after James Grove & Sons had closed, a company called Courtney & Co from Bourton on the Water in the Cotswolds acquired the last remaining button making and finishing machines and much of the heritage of this Black Country stalwart and saved it for the nation.
Bryn Williams from Cradley, a former employee of James Grove, brought this news to our attention just recently after he bumped into former managing director Peter Grove. He told us: “It’s exciting news and something that everyone in the Black Country should be pleased about, not only former employees, but also all those sympathetic to holding on to the traditions and heritage that made the Black Country great.”
Peter also told Bryn that the company in the Cotswolds was in the throes of creating a museum in the name of James Grove to display the history of this once famous Black Country button maker, a situation the Bugle will keep a close eye on as this story develops.
Courtney & Co are a new mould of button makers who are determined to keep the name of James Grove very much at the forefront of their operation. Taken directly from their website they say: “Hopefully 2019 will be the year when horn buttons will be commercially produced once more. To do so we are investing in new machines and premises and aim to launch the ‘James Grove Heritage Centre’ in which to showcase much of the company’s heritage that was acquired 6 years ago, together with more material we have acquired since. The new centre will also serve as a place of reference for people to come and inspect old pattern books and dies, understand the art of buttonmaking and find out more about a company that was once the largest horn button maker in the world.’
In 2005 the Black Country Bugle had the privilege of enjoying a guided tour of the James Grove & Sons factory on the Stourbridge Road in Halesowen, during which time we were able to comprehensively photograph the buildings, the work processes and the materials at hand such as the huge collection of dies, the presses, the pattern books that dated back to the 19th century, and the polishing drums that rotated at a gentle pace, rubbing the buttons up the right way. We were also able to meet some of the staff.
Sadly the buisness has gone, so too the buildings, but thanks to Courtney & Co the name of James Grove & Sons will not be forgotten.
A few of the hundreds of dies belonging to James Grove & Son
A bank of polishing drums at Groves’ Halesowen factory
James Grove button heritage
James Grove & Sons
James Grove sample books
James Grove employees in 2005