If the buildings of the James Grove button factory represent the body, and the machines that have stamped and pressed buttons of all shapes and sizes for decades, represent the beating heart of the manufactory, then it is the workers who are the soul of the business, the army of local Black Country men, women, and in the early days children, who over the years have played the most vital role in the whole operation.
Since the very first day in 1866 when the Bloomfield Works opened its gate on the Stourbridge Road, the people of Hawne, Halesowen and further afield have given their support and loyalty to the firm, through both good times and bad. The management have also played their part, forging a team spirit over the years that has ultimately paid dividends. Under the initial leadership of James Grove, followed by successive generations of the Grove family, the foundation of a customer base was established, and new customers from the world of fashion have been sought ever since. The fact that James Grove & Sons still exists today, when hundreds of button manufacturers in the Midlands alone have fallen by the wayside since the war, is a testament to everyone who has ever passed through the factory gates for an honest day's work.
The incumbent company Managing Director, Peter Grove, recently invited us to look around the Bloomfield Works to record as much as we could for posterity. Due to the redevelopment of the site, the factory will soon be torn down to make way for a brand new replacement which will be built on the existing site. Peter readily admits it will be a sad day when the hammer falls on the old buildings, but they are now too old and no longer comply with the rigorous scutiny of modern day factory law and legislation. The business, however, is still in a healthy state and there is a secure future for button making in Halesowen. Looking very much on the positive side, Peter told us:
"In two years time the James Grove company will celebrate its 150th anniversary of button making, in a brand new factory, and everyone at the new works, as well as the people of Halesowen, will hopefully feel very proud that day."
Over the past few weeks the Bugle has taken an in-depth look at the button factory, taking into account a survey of the buildings, and a close examination of the working processes that turn ordinary buffalo horn into buttons to suit the most fashionable and glamorous of clothes. For the next two weeks we will focus on some of the current employees whose hard work and skill mirrors the traditions of button makers of the past.
Mrs Chris Turner, who is assistant to the operations manager, was our tour guide, and as we made our way through the factory, many of the current crop of hard working employees were gracious enough to pose for the camera. Some expressed sadness that their familiar, day to day working environment will soon be gone, but without exception, everyone was fairly up-beat and looking forward to moving to the new factory when it is built.
The names and faces of those working in the factory at the present time, will of course be familiar to many in the area. But they are only the tip of a work force iceberg that stretches back generations. Using a mixture of archive material kindly provided by the company, and the pictures we took ourselves, we hope to reflect a little of the atmosphere of working for James Grove. It would, however, be terrific if, at the start of a new and exciting era in the company's history, former employees who have either left to seek work elsewhere, or retired, could contact us here at the Bugle with their memories and recollections.
Stepping through the door into the horn warehouse on the upper level, we found Roslyn Shorthouse, Hilary Cove and Susie Rivers, all hard at work picking through a myriad of horn buttons, sorting out one natural shade from another. These matching sets which number in their thousands are eventually carded, then boxed and made ready for dispatch. A picture taken in the mid-sixties, supplied from the firm's archives, shows as many as eleven women sorting through a pile of horn buttons. The precise date of the photograph isn't known, nor are any of the names of the sorters, but there is one clue when it was taken. By the side of the young lady four seats down, there is a picture of 60's pop star Gene Pitney sellotaped to the wall, an American singer who was at the peak of his career in