British button manufacturer James Grove & Sons went into administration in December 2012 – but now there is a new business rising from its ashes
James Grove was the last horn button manufacturer in Britain, and when the business closed down it looked like over 150 years of craftsmanship would be lost. Read how one man is determined to salvage some of those skills, and is looking for investment to help him do it. (Photos by S.E.H. Kelly)
Only a few years ago James Grove had moved out of its original Victorian premises into a shiny modern plant and things seemed rosy. But then the recession hit. A chain of unfortunate events meant that a business that in 2005 had been very cash rich, could no longer pay its bills. The administrators were called in, and instead of selling James Grove as a going concern, they made a private deal to sell the assets to an aerospace company, who then proceeded to sell the bulk of the machinery to the Far East. To add insult to injury, the new owners threw 150 years worth of archive material – a priceless record of button making in the UK – into a skip.
The remaining machinery was sold as a block to an online auctioneer and one eagle eyed business man realised its worth and put in an offer for some of the key pieces. Along with the specialist button making equipment, he was also able to pick up pattern books and original dies dating back decades which will enable him to re-produce many of the original James Grove button designs. He now intends to re-establish horn button making in the UK under the name Grove Pattern Buttons and has secured premises for the new business in the jewellery quarter of Birmingham.
The new owner has also been speaking to some of the original staff from the button factory who were made redundant last December. The former Head button turner from James Grove & Son, who had worked for the company for 51 years, has agreed to come out of retirement in order get the new business off the ground. He has offered to do so on the proviso that he can have an apprentice to train, as he is really keen to pass on his 5 decades worth of skill and knowledge. Also keen to come back out of retirement is the former dyer from James Grove, who is regarded by many as the best in the world at dying horn, and the barreller (finisher); both are keen to pass on their accumulated knowledge to a new generation of button makers.
However, setting up a button factory does not come cheap, and the new owner is hoping that other potential investors will come forward to help him secure the future of the business. With several big designer brands having committed in writing to working with Grove Pattern Buttons going forward, the future of British button manufacturing looks good, provided that an injection of cash can be secured in the short term. You can hear more about their plea in the above video.
If you are interested in helping to revive British button manufacturing please contact Grove Pattern Buttons here
Photos courtesy of S.E.H. Kelly, who wrote a wonderful article about James Grove on their blog last year
Update: The button company now have a page on CrowdCube giving people the chance to invest in the company. Go here to find out more