Brummie Buttons

I really like buttons. I mean really like them. Like this much:

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p027b3t8/player

Buttons are of local importance as well. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Jewellery Quarter, and Birmingham more broadly, made all the fixings and fripperies needed for contemporary life, from buttons to buckles and hinges to coffin plates. Come the nineteenth century, it also made 75% of the world’s steel pen nibs. Birmingham became known as the ‘toy-maker of the world’, ‘toy’ being another word for small items of fashion such as buttons, buckles and snuff boxes. Apparently, the Jewellery Quarter wasn’t just the home of trinkets and gems.

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And now it’s the home of bars with roof terraces and delicious food

So, Birmingham was originally the centre of the buckle-making trade:

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but when this was massacred by the humble shoelace in the late-eighteenth century, buttons came to the rescue. In 1800 there were over 100 separate button makers in the few square miles making up the city centre. In 1770 there were even two separate button makers in the tiny street where I work, and nine at larger Snow Hill.

Buttons were the city’s miniature money-maker until the early twentieth century. As William Hutton stated on a visit to Brum in 1780, ‘it would be no easy task to enumerate the infinite diversity of buttons manufactured here…’.

Buttons were Birmingham’s stock in trade because they were both functional and fashionable, desirable and essential. Originally made of horn (lovely, trendy, stinky cow-foot buttons), buttons have been made in Birmingham since at least the twelfth century, according to recent archaeological excavation at the Bull Ring. However, in the eighteenth century the trade exploded, with buttons being made of mother of pearl, glass or shell, embossed or stamped, or even covered in silk.

Button-making was also a huge employer, even after the partial mechanisation of the trade in the mid-nineteenth century, due to the fragility of some of the materials.

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As I mentioned before, I love buttons – they’re the epitome of functional beauty, and (as Terry says in the video) a fascinating window into social history. In fact, that great social commentator, Charles Dickens, wrote an interesting (and very, very detailed) article about the Birmingham button trade. You can read the whole thing here if you fancy it, but I’ll leave you with an apt quote from the piece:

‘It is wonderful, is it not? that on that small pivot turns the fortune of such multitudes of men, women, and children, in so many parts of the world; that such industry, and so many fine faculties, should be brought out and exercised by so small a thing as the Button.’

[All designs available at Tiding of Magpies]

Sources:

 

Clent Hill I see you again?

Juggling work and life admin and relationships and health and everything else is always a tricky one, and recently I’ve been feeling a little burnt out. One of the best things about running a one-woman operation is the (relative) freedom to work to your own timetable, but being your own boss can make it difficult to stop working.

I love Birmingham, I love the Jewellery Quarter, and I love being 30 seconds away from gin cocktails at all times, but…I’m less fond of being near crowds and away from nature for long periods of time. I also love that we’re smack in the middle of the country so friends and family are always visiting us so we can show off the city, but The Goblin (my lovely fiancé) and I do try to have one weekend a month with no visitors. Last weekend was our March weekend to ourselves and spring has finally sprung (sort of), so how better to unwind than to get out of the city?

Despite being a massive urban sprawl, it turns out Brum is actually pretty near a fair amount of lovely countryside. Exhbit A: the Clent Hills –

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A wild goblin appears
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Yes, the bench was too tall for my tiny legs.

It was so beautiful and so quiet and so green and so full of dogs and so only-25-minutes-drive-from-the-flat. Pretty much perfect.

Our excursion was going so well that we also stopped by Hanbury Hall – you can take the heritage nerds out of the National Trust, but…*

Definitely getting some design inspiration from these wallpapers and from the formal gardens…

There was only one downside – nice as a bimble at the NT always is, we definitely underestimated how many people a smallish property could attract on a Saturday afternoon. So many children. So very loud. So incredibly high-pitched and annoying, in fact, that The Goblin (usually one of the broodiest men alive) begged me to sterilise him…and so we finished up with the gardens and came back home for some quiet snacks in front of Psych.

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And have I stayed relaxed? Well, I’m writing this at 7.15pm on a Tuesday night, so that probably answers the question…maybe I’ll have better luck next time! Any suggestions for where in the West Midlands to try next?

*We both used to work at National Trust properties in Shropshire.