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Site layout and content © 2007-2018  Eric & Hazel McMullin Except where noted.

Our Button Workers.

Caroline BIRD [1220] 1841 button maker Brickiln Street, Birmingham

Mary BIRD [5656] sister of Caroline 1851 button maker Walsall Rd, Aston

Sarah BIRD [5655] sister of Caroline 1841 button maker app Brickiln Street, Birmingham

Maria CHAMBERS [5086] sister in law of Caroline [1220] 1841 button carder Lionel St, Birmingham

Charles EDEN [22181] 1849 Pearl Button Manufacturer {Historical Directories} 1841 - 1861 pearl button maker New John St, Birmingham

Betsy EDEN [22775] daughter of Charles 1851 pearl button finisher New John St, Birmingham

Eliza EDEN [22776] daughter of Charles 1851 pearl button finisher New John St, Birmingham

Joseph EDEN [22179] brother of Charles 1851 pearl button turner New John St, Birmingham

Sarah Ann EDEN [22773] daughter of Charles 1851 pearl button finisher New John St, Birmingham

Samuel EDEN [22176] brother of Charles 1851 pearl button maker Great Russell St, Birmingham

Thomas Richard EDEN [22161] brother of Charles 1841 button maker journeyman Harford St, Birmingham; 1851 pearl button maker Garbett St, Birmingham; 1861 pearl button maker Nelson Street West, Birmingham

Cephas ENSOR [16638] son of William [16646] 1841 pearl button maker Francis St, Aston

Eli Felix ENSOR [16641] son of Cephas: 1841 pearl button maker Lombard St, Aston: 1851 pearl button maker Court 24 Barr St, Birmingham; 1861 pearl button maker Back of 102 Smith St, Birmingham. In 1851 it was a family business with his wife Mary Ann née SAVAGE [22951] and their children Martha [22955], Eliza [22956] and Eli [22957] also pearl button makers. Mary Ann died in 1856 but Eli was still making buttons with his father in 1861

Charles ENSOR [22825] son of William 1861 pearl button maker Back of Infant School, Ormond St, Birmingham; 1881 pearl button maker Brace Bridge St, Birmingham.

Jesse ENSOR [16656] son of William [16646] 1828 Button Maker Historical Directories 1841 button maker B'ham St George 1841 15 fo10 Hatchett St

William ENSOR  [22815] son of Jesse 1839 Pearl Button Maker 1839 Wrightson's Triennial Directory of Birmingham 1841 Pearl Button Maker New Town Row,Birmingham; 1851 Pearl Button maker New Town Row, Birmingham

Silas ENSOR [16658] son of Jesse 1839 Pearl Button Maker 1839 Wrightson's Triennial Directory of Birmingham 1851 Pearl Button Maker 5 Farm St, Birmingham

Jesse ENSOR [22821] son of William [22815] 1851 Pearl Button Maker Court New Town Row,Birmingham; 1871 Pearl Button Maker Miller Street, Birmingham  employing 4 men and 2 women

Caroline GROVES [22255] 1851 button carder ,7 Ct 17 Price St, Birmingham

Emma HEWITT [22731] 1861 Silk and Florentine button coverer 9 William Henry St, Aston

Arthur JOHNSON [937] 1891 ivory button turner Belgrave, Leicester  brother of William)

Arthur James JOHNSON [18760] 1911 Ivory sawyer, Archdeacon Lane, Leicester (son of William Alfred Johnson)

Louisa Jane JOHNSON [18759] 1911 button driller  29 Archdeacon Lane, Leicester (Daughter of William Alfred)

William Alfred JOHNSON [935] 1891 Ivory button turner Leire St, Belgrave, Leicester  1911 button turner Archdeacon Lane, Leicester.

James MELLOR [2083] 1881 Pearl button cutter Hope St Court 18 House 6, Birmingham  1891 Pearl worker  10 Hollier Street Cottages,  Aston.

John Jenkyn MELLOR [4444] 1881 Pearl button turner  Hope St Court 18 House 6, Birmingham.

Harriet PRATT [5256] 1881 Linen button carder Birmingham, All Saints

Louisa REYNOLDS [18757] 1891 Ivory button polisher Leire St, Belgrave, Leicester 1911 button polisher Archdeacon Lane, Leicester (wife of William Alfred JOHNSON)

Agnes SKELLET [4483] 1871 Pearl button finisher St George  Guest St, Birmingham

Ann SKELLET [4476]  1891 Pearl button carder , Great Brearley St, Birmingham (sister of Agnes)

Agnes TAYLOR [21912] 1891 button worker Aston, 1891 Park Rd, Aston (15 years old)

Elizabeth TAYLOR [21913] 1891 button worker Aston, 1891 Park Rd, Aston sister of Agnes

Thomas TAYLOR [5335]  1851 Pearl button maker Aston 1851 Upper Windsor St (unrelated to Agnes and Elizabeth)

Alfred TURNER [22832]1901 Pearl worker Aston  1911 pearl worker Aston

Thomas TURNER 1881 Pearl worker Aston 102, Lawley St, Aston  1891 pearl button buttoner 63, Henry Street, Nechells, Aston
Is this Alfred’s father?

Sarah (TURNER) wife of Thomas 1881 Pearl worker Aston


It is not intended to try to give detailed description of the manufacturing processes used in button making but links are given to sites that do. The main aim is to show how many of the family were involved in the manufacture of Buttons.

Birmingham seems to have been the principle button making town in Victorian England. Charles Dickens wrote about it in his journal Household Words which sold for 2d weekly. Edition 107 published on Saturday, April 10, 1852 was titled “What there is in a Button” This can be read at here.

The article opens

“It is a serious thing to attempt to learn about buttons at Birmingham. What buttons are we thinking of? we are asked, if we venture an inquiry. Do we want to see gilt, or silvered buttons? or electro-plated? or silk, or Florentine buttons? or mother-of-pearl, or steel, or wood, or bone, or horn buttons? All these are made here....”

Dickens had visited a factory making metal buttons but he reminisces about the many other types and gives fine descriptions of how buttons had been made pre industrial methods.

“...Some grandmother, who reads this, may remember the days when she bought horn button moulds by the string, to be covered at home. Some middle-aged ladies may remember the anxieties of the first attempts to cover such moulds—one of the most important lessons given to the infant needlewoman. How many stitches went to the business of covering one mould! what coaxing to stretch the cover smooth! what danger of ravelling out at one point or another! what ruin if the thread broke! what deep stitches were necessary to make all secure! And now, by two turns of a handle, the covering is done to such perfection, that the button will last twice as long as of old, and dozens can be covered in a minute by one woman.”

He goes on to show the value of the trade in contrast to the common saying "I don't care a button,"  which is intended to say how little value is given to some thing. He gives a long narrative to Pearl buttons saying “The pearl button manufacture is the prettiest, after all”

The majority of our button makers worked with mother of pearl. Some sea molluscs line their shells with a sticky mucus known as Nacre. This hardens and another layer is coated and so on. This is why by introducing a small stone over time it is coated with hundreds of layers of the mucus and turns into a beautiful pearl. The centre of the shell has the smoothest layers of mother of pearl suitable for button making while the outer edge is slightly coloured according to the type of shell. For instance yellow lipped Australian oyster shells have a good central area but the outer yellow area was sent on to the cutlers for handles. A few dealers would import the shells, these would be distributed to out workers. They then received the finished buttons and sold them on. The parts of the shell not considered fine enough for buttons were also collected up and sold on to Sheffield for cutlery handles. They used very few simple treadle tools to cut and polish the buttons in fact it was said that for £5 a man could completely set up his workshop. These back yard workshops were usually small lean to sheds. It was far from clean work. The shells were grimy and the processes made a great deal of dust, but they kept a whole family in work. The youngest children gathered the waste products together or straightened the blank discs ready for the drilling process. The girls stitched the buttons onto cards. The men cut the discs (blanks) with simple hole saws. They also turned the blanks to smooth the edges and add any depressions needed on the surface before passing them on for the holes to be individually drilled. There was no machine to help in any of these processes. Selection of the correct material was totally up to the skill of the worker who also had to judge where to make his cuts in order to get the maximum blanks from each shell. Most of their buttons were flat like the familiar shirt buttons we use today but the most expensive were carved with raised ripples and waves.

Detail of the work can be seen here

So what did our remaining button makers do? We have some who worked in horn. Louisa REYNOLDS, her husband William Alfred JOHNSON and two of their children worked with ivory. Then on our PRATT line the BIRD girls Caroline, Mary and Sarah are described as button makers not carders it is thought they actually worked in a factory making the five part metal buttons mainly for military use that the city was so famed for. Finally Harriet PRATT was carding linen buttons in 1881.

Here is an article explaining the manufacture and uses of Linen buttons.

From the Genuki page about Leek and Lowe Staffordshire we find a description of the Florentine buttons that Emma HEWITT was working on in 1861 in Aston.

“The articles in silk and mohair, for which the town is chiefly celebrated, are sewing silks, twist, buttons, ribbons, ferrets, galloons, handkerchiefs, shawls, sarcenet and broad silk. Florentine buttons, consisting of wood, bone, or iron moulds, covered with worsted stuff, are also manufactured here, and give employment to many hundreds of women and children in the surrounding villages, who are employed in sewing the cloth on the moulds.”


“The florentine and silk buttons have now nearly superseded the gilt button manufacture. These contain each two circular bits of iron, a piece of thick pasteboard, another of canvas, and the outer silk or florentine covering. All these are cut out by stamping presses. The sheet of iron, of paper, of canvas, or of florentine, is shifted gradually till it is nearly all cut up into little discs”