Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sad day as Halesowen buttons maker comes to end

For generations, skilled Black Country crafstmen have turned out the highest-quality buttons for the biggest names in fashion.

But today their workshops lay abandoned, and the factory of 155-year James Grove & Sons in Halesowen was empty and quiet.

It appears to be the end of an era for a family business that had been making up to 40 million traditional horn buttons a year.

Just this summer the company was revelling in new work from top fashion brands Barbour and Burberry, Ralph Lauren and Ben Sherman. The only problem on the horizon appeared to be the company’s ageing workforce and the difficulty of replacing valuable skills as staff retired.

But a month later, managing director Sue Witcutt, who had steered the business for the previous six years, working with owner Peter Grove, had been terminated as a director. Two new directors, taken on in August, were terminated last month. Today the factory that had been the home of James Grove & Sons since 2007, in Stourbridge Road, Halesowen, stands empty, and there is no sign of the 20-strong workforce.

The business originally started out in premises at the junction of Birmingham Road and Cornbow in Halesowen in 1857 and moved to its present site in Stourbridge Road in 1865 where the old Bloomfield Works was built.

The works was replaced in 2006 when the company invested £1.5 million in its present purpose-built factory, where about 40 million buttons a year were made.

When founder James Grove started up the business he sold horn and hoof buttons made in Halesowen from hotel rooms as he travelled across Europe. The firm grew and built up markets supplying uniform buttons for the military, railways and the GPO – at its peak in 1917 it employed 600.

James Grove had still been turning buttons from traditional horn from Asia and also used polyester, corozo and casein as raw materials.

The 20-strong workforce includes some highly-skilled and experienced craftsmen including one employee who had been with the company for half a century.

Indeed, the skills of its workers was seen as one of the strengths of the business as it tried to step up marketing earlier this year to attract fresh orders, using its website to get its designs across to new customers.

Its proud tradition had seen James Grove and Sons supply buttons to the Ministry of Defence, British Railways and the General Post Office, and the firm’s history can be traced back to making buttons during the American Civil War of 1861 as well as for British soldiers fighting in the trenches of the First World War.

Founder James Grove served his apprenticeship with William Harris, who had a button factory at Spring Hill, which quickly became the largest and best-equipped horn button factory in Britain.

James and his wife Ann Elizabeth set up their business in premises rented from Ann’s father, but in 1865 this proved to be too small and so they decided to build the Bloomfield Works in Stourbridge Road.

The company employed about 600 men and women. Today, it employs around 40 people using sophisticated machinery and polishing techniques. When James Grove died in 1886 the reputation of the company as makers of top-quality horn buttons was firmly established. When visiting the Bloomfield Works in the 1950s people would have seen the long line of storage sheds piled high with sacks of horns and hoofs.

The horns and hoofs were the raw materials used to make buttons – and any that were rejected were ground down to make fertiliser, so nothing was wasted.
Pieces of horn were put into steam heated presses to make them flat and then button blanks were cut out by machines.

After five generations, the modern manufacturing process had been similar, with some work still done by hand.

Above article appeared in The Express and Star, 21 December 2012

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Button making in Halesowen

In the 1891 Census we discovered 14 year old Caleb Price living with his grandparents in Hasbury, Halesowen and employed as a button factory hand, a trade he was still employed in in 1911.

There were a number of button factories in Halesowen, mainly moulding buttons from animal horn. William Harris was one button factory owner in Halesowen and another, Thomas Coley, had the largest button factory in Britain. Or perhaps Caleb worked for James Grove's company (pictured) in Birmingham Street. Because button making was lighter work than nail or chain making (both common in Halesowen), the industry employed more women and more children who would often go into school for two hours before running off to the button factory.

The Price family and stone cutting in Halesowen

A contemporary view of St John the Baptist church in Halesowen, where Caleb Price married Annie Redfern in the April-June quarter of 1898. This photo shows a lovely old timbered building called the White Friar Cottages at the foot of Church Lane.

Another interesting coincidence, Hasbury is very close to where my sister and her husband live and Wall Well, where Caleb lived with his grandparents in 1891 is about a two minute walk their house.

Some fascinating information about the Price family of Halesowen at this link:

It appears Caleb had an uncle also named Caleb Price so the two people shouldn't be confused.

From left: Anna Maria Male, her brother William, her father William, brother James Price, sister Jane (Price), brother Caleb and his twin sister Mary Shilvock. This photo is from the webpage mentioned above. 

The Caleb Price in this photo is a cousin of our Caleb's father Stephen. It was a large family which takes a bit of working out. The old man in the chair, William was brother of our Caleb's grandfather. Some of their siblings went to Canada to work as stone masons but many others stayed in Hasbury.

It seems that the Price family played a recognised role in stone quarrying and building work around Halesowen.

Records for Caleb Price of Halesowen

Caleb Price was the father of Gladys Blount, who was paternal grandmother of my cousins, the Blount family who grew up in Bartley Green, Birmingham.

1911 census record showing the family of Caleb and Annie Price living at Chapel Street at Hasbury, Halesowen. Caleb was a button presser born in Worcestershire. The children included Basil aged 12, Elsie aged 10, Hilda aged 7 and Gladys aged 2. Caleb and Annie had been married for 12 years. The child named Gladys was David Blount's mother, aka Nanny Blount.

1901 Census record records Caleb and Annie Price again at Chapel Street in Halesowen. This time Caleb's birthplace is confirmed as Halesowen and their two children in 1901 were Basil and Edith Elsie. Caleb was a button maker.

In 1891 Caleb Price is living with his grandparents at a place called Wall Well in Halesowen. Caleb is 14 years old and works as a button factory hand. His grandfather Stephen aged 70 was a stone mason born in Hasbury. His grandmother Mary, also aged 70 was born in Ludlow.

This is a record of Caleb's Will (2nd page, 1st column, 3rd entry from bottom) showing his date of death 4th October 1950. His address was 489 Ridgeacre Road, Quinton (just round the corner from me!) He left £412 to his widow Florence Gertrude Price. This is a different name to his wife in 1901 and 1911 (mother of Gladys) who was named Annie Price which suggests he remarried sometime in the 39 years after 1911. He was about 73 when he died.

Caleb Price in the 1881 census living at Hasbury, Halesowen. Aged 4 in 1881 Caleb was the oldest child of Stephen and Hannah Price. Stephen was a nail maker born in Hasbury (as was Hannah). Caleb's siblings included Eliza (aged 3), Moses (aged 2) and Hannah (aged 2 months).

Friday, 26 April 2013

Some Monamolin history

Monamolin or Monamoling (Irish: Muine Moling) is a small rural village in County Wexford, Ireland, about 11 km (6.8 mi) south of the town of Gorey. Monamolin (in the parish of the same name), has a population of 661. It is surrounded by Kilmuckridge, Monthoward, Oulart, Boolavogue, Clologue, Ballycanew and Ballygarrett.

In 1885, Bassett's "Wexford Borough Guide and Directory" gave the following information about Monamolin. There is a list of land owners and farmers, there are no Dwyers or Mellons on the list but it may be mainly the wealthier landlords listed as there are a lot of English surnames and it doesn't approach the detail of the Griffith's Valuation.

In 1863 a Wexford man named Thomas Lacy published a massive book with the flowery title "Sights and Scenes in the Fatherland" and he had to say the following about Monamolin.....
A stained glass window from Monamolin RC church
St Brigid. Original photo from an artist
blog called A Doubtful Egg 

"Proceeding by this line of road to Wexford, the tourist will notice about two miles from Ballycanew, the strikingly handsome village of Monamolin, which stands amid rich plantations, on the side of a gentle eminence, on the northern side of the road.

The Roman Catholic Church, and the nice residence of the curate-this being an out-chapel of the union of Litter-together with the National School, form an interesting group; while the Protestant Church, a very handsome structure in the later English style of architecture, with its pinacled and embattled tower, and the neat residence of the clergyman, present features of an exceedingly pleasing and picturesque character.

The houses in Monamolin though low in number are remarkable for their cleanliness and apparent comfort; the whole presenting such a specimen of rural happiness as can bear a comparison with many of the pictures of home felicity that are drawn by those who look upon the agricultural districts of the sister country as models of unqualified admiration."

Andrew Dywer in Monamolin in 1853

An Andrew Dwyer recorded in the Griffiths Land Valuation of 1853 living at Monamolin, Wexford, the same parish where we find Sarah and Bridget Mellon and the family of Murta and Martha Dwyer in 1901. This is fifty years earlier, so at least one generation further back, possibly two. We'd need more evidence to link this Andrew into the family, but bearing in mind the name Andrew was passed through the generations, there's got to be a good chance he is an ancestor.

Andrew is at the top of the list leasing a house and garden from William Johnston. Also something referred to as 'Waste and garden". I discovered recently that the Leasor, in this case William Johnston, will be a good source of more detailed information as the Leasor was likely to have been the landlord, possibly an employer and also generally a Church of Ireland pillar of the local establishment. On the list for instance we see a Chaplin W Sweeney and Rev General Armstrong both big Leasors in Monamolin. The term Chaplin having military implications.

Some recent research into the Dwyer and Mellon family of Wexford

A miscellaneous one from the Dwyer side - a boy named George Mellon aged 8 died at Gorey, Wexford in 1869, therefore born 1861. Bridget Mellon who married Andrew Dwyer wasn't born until 1884, her father was named George but he was born around the same time as this boy. Given the scarcity of Mellons in the area, we can guess there could be a connection, i.e. cousins both named George, but with no further information to go on you have to park it somewhere pending another lead.

Interestingly, Bridget had a brother named Patrick whom Kitty told me had a son named George. So the name George Mellon clearly got passed down through the family.

On the house and building return for Monamolin in 1901, there is a list of Sarah Mellon's neighbours which happens to include a Murtha Dwyer just a few houses away.

Sure enough we find both a Murtha and his wife Martha Dwyer living at Monamolin in 1901. Murtha is 56, an agricultural labourer born in Wexford and he's deaf. Martha is 38 and they have two children, Edward aged 17 and Thomas aged 12. So not the family of Andrew Dwyer whom Bridget married as we are looking for his dad named Andrew, mother Margaret, sister Elizabeth and brother Edward. But again worth noting this family as Murtha could be a brother to Andrew.

Making a bit of further progress, bearing in mind George Mellon married Sarah Carr or Fortune in 1874 with Fortune being the favourite, a Julia Mellon was born on 11th October 1875 in Wexford with father George Mellon and mother Sarah Fortune. A son John was born to the same couple on 1st September 1879 in Wexford.

I recall now why I had problems finding this family in the 1901 census as the name Dwyer was miss-spelt Dwier but this is definitely the family at Ballyoughna in 1901.

Neither Liza or Edward married and they lived together all of their lives as bachelor and spinster. All of the subsequent Dwyer descendants in Birmingham and all those still living in Wexford, are descended from Andrew and Bridget.

The 1901 Census records Bridget Mellon living with her mother Sarah, a widow aged 49 at House 2 Barraglan, Monamolin, Wexford. 22 year old Bridget is a dress maker, her mother Sarah is a general domestic servant.

There is a marriage for a George Mellon registered in Gorey, Wexford in 1874. It is no more than a list of six names which appears to be divided into three couples and George would appear to be attached to a Sarah Carr. The other two couples are Mary Kelly and Mogue Redmond and also John Phillips and Sarah Fortune. I do happen to know that the name Fortune is connected to the Mellons/Dwyers, so perhaps we should keep it open whether George married Sarah Carr or Sarah Fortune ...for now.

Of the relationship between the people of the Black Country and the pig

In 1955, local history authors Hans and Lena Schwarz wrote about the diet of Halesowen nail makers, though they could have been writing about the diet of the entire Black Country:

"To the nailer, the pig was something the same as the reindeer is to the eskimo. It was not just a question of keeping a pig as an added luxury; poor families sold some of theirs at sixpence a pound and sixpence ha'penny a pound the best cuts.

Every bit of the pig was utilised ; from bacon pigs were obtained all the economical accessories, chitterlings, chawl, pig's pudding, pig's head, pig's trotters (and even, I am told, pig's tail), bony pie and out of the fry and pork fat, with onions added and only enough bread crumbs to hold it together, were made delicious spiced faggots swimming in a lush, subtle gravy (known as faggots and pays - truly food for the gods).

Pearl barley or groats (as in groaty pudding) and leeks or onions stretched a morsel of meat into an ample family meal."

From The Halesowen Story, Hans and Lena Schwarz

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

More documents tell the story of Frederick Clayton and his family

Living at Great Hampton Row with wife Emily Annie, daughters Emily Annie, Hilda, Sylvia and Miriam. Frederick was a house painter which was also the occupation of his brother William (g-granddad)

A birth index indicates the birth of their son Frederick in 1912

Whilst a death index seems to show that the child died in infancy in 1913

The 1912 voting register records Frederick at Great Hampton Row

In 1919 he is listed as an absent soldier living in Garbett Street

Frederick Clayton - my great grandfather's brother

Frederick Clayton was one of my great grandfather's younger brothers.

Frederick Clayton's birth certificate - born 28th October 1873. Back of 18 Witton Street which is close to St Andrew's in Small Heath (not Witton Road near Villa Park). Father was Thomas Clayton a blacksmith and mother Emma Clayton, nee. Brookes

Fred Clayton married Emily Annie Philips, a widow with a daughter also named Emily Annie Philips (born 1905 in London), on 30th April 1906 at St Edward's Church in Birmingham.

The couple had 3 further daughters, Hilda Elizabeth born 1906, Sylivia Priscilla born 1908 and Miriam Drusilla born 1910. I believe they also had a son named Frederick, born in 1912 who died in infancy in 1913.

Frederick was remembered as being a very good piano player and he also worked as a house painter, as did his brother William (my g-grandfather).

Frederick also had a long military career.

In 1914, g-grandfather William Clayton's younger brother, Frederick Clayton joined up to fight in the Great War with the Worcestershire Regiment 1st & 2nd Battalions. He was aged 40.

Frederick was given the rank of Lance Corporal, probably because he had a previous record in the forces dating back to the early 1890s, including action in the Boer War of 1900. However, WW1 must have proven tough for the 40 year old father of 3 children because he deserted in April 1915 for 7 days before rejoining. He was tried for desertion and sentenced to 112 days detention and demoted to a private. However, Frederick returned to duty in August 1915 and was posted out to Belgium. In August 1917 he was given back his Lance Corporal stripe and was demobilized in November 1919.
This document gives us more information about Frederick Clayton's earlier military record. He joined the army in 1894 and served in the East indies for 5 years before serving in South Africa between 1900 and 1902. His wife was Emily Annie Wayne of 229 Farm Street.
Fred's desertion in 1915 wasn't the first time he went AWOL and this document shows that he also took unofficial leave as young recruit in 1893. This time for three months for which offence he spent 42 days in the military prison.

One of Frederick's army documents lists the particulars of his family, his wife was Mrs Emily Annie Clayton. There are some details of their marriage at St Edwards Church, Birmingham in 1906. Emily Annie Wayne was a widow when she married Frederick, the witnesses to their marriage were Julia Finn and John Robinson.

The document also lists their four children: Emily Annie Wayne born in London on 23 Sep 1900 (Fred was her step father?), Hilda Elizabeth Clayton born 11 Nov 1906, Sylvia Priscilla Clayton born 3 July 1908 and Miriam born 1 March 1910



Robey ancestors - Copestake and Smith

This lady is Fanny Copestake who was an older half sister to Carol's grandmother Pretoria Dawkins. Fanny was born in 1881, she was one of 3 daughters (also Louisa and Margaret) born to Fanny Shaw and Samuel Copestake. Fanny remarried George Dawkins (Carol's g-grandparents) and they had 4 daughters and 2 sons (Sarah, Dick, Selina, George, Ruth and the youngest Pretoria born 1900 (named after an event in the 2nd Boer War most probably?)

Annie and Doris Smith, daughters of Samuel Smith and Louisa Copestake - more cousins of Leo

Louisa Copestake (born at Ashby-de-la-Zouch in 1879) the oldest of all of Fanny Shaw's children, so the oldest half sister of Pretoria Dawkins. Louisa married Samuel Smith from Cheshire (pictured below).

This is Robert Smith, son of Samuel Smith and Louisa Copestake, born in Melbourne in 1901. So by my calculations, Robert Smith was Leo Robey's quite a bit older cousin.

Robey family in the 1891 census in Melbourne

This census record from 1891 shows some of Carol's ancestors in Melbourne. Her grandfather Richard is aged 6 in this record. He died in 1966 having fathered 10 (surviving) children of which Carol's dad Robert Leo was number 9 born in 1938. Richard was one of 6 sons.

The 2nd record here shows another entry from Bagshaw's 1846 with two ladies named Misses Ann and Hannah Roby at Shardlow. Richard's birth was registered at Shardlow although it is both a district and the name of a Hall to the north of Melbourne, so I'm not sure if this means he was born at Melbourne and registered in the district of Shardlow or actually born at the village of Shardlow.

Also listed here at Shardlow is Edward Dawkins, a corn miller. Dawkins was the maiden name of Carol's grandmother (wife of Richard Robey) - who had the wonderful full name Pretoria Mary Dawkins.

Melbourne traders 1846

These sections from Bagshaw's Derbyshire Directory list local traders in Melbourne in 1846. Unfortunately I haven't found anyone named Robey in this list, although my search of this directory has been confined to Melbourne at the moment so it might be worth looking at neighboring villages from the map. There is a Hannah Dexter listed in the final section I posted here under King's Newton, Meg Dexter was the maiden name of Richard Robey's second wife (Richard being Carol's grandfather).

Melbourne history

Some Melbourne history taken from Bagshaw's Derbyshire Directory 1846