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Friday, 4 December 2015

A day in a time warp with buttons

A week ago I was having lunch with my book writer friends. We meet twice a month...this time it was at Alex's house. She writes for both children and adults and I love her work - you can find out about her work here..

As I was leaving,  her husband Michael came home and told me how he was clearing the old family firm's premises in the centre of Leicester ready for a move to a smaller site nearby.

I pricked up my ears...Michael's grandfather  started WN Gutteridge  back in 1922 on a busy street alive with factories making knitwear and clothing which was sent worldwide. It was a haberdashery and trimmings firm which imported buttons from all over the world, then dyed them on the premises and sold them to the many textile firms in Leicester.

The old place had been sold, so Michael and his brother and fellow director Chris were having to  downsize - and it's not easy clearing nearly a hundred years of history and thousands of boxes of buttons.

Now this was a story, so on Monday I went down to interview Michael and Chris ...

I was in for a was like going back into a time warp. Four floors of history, where the echoes and ghosts of the past were very evident.

And there were boxes and boxes of buttons everywhere

And down in the basements, there were thousands of boxes of them, all extra stock from years gone by.

Boxes of buttons such as these pink rosebuds from the 50s and 60s....

Thousands of different flower buttons of different colours

Heart shaped buttons

And  many more buttons from the Philippines with a transluscent sheen, each one so individual. They were beautiful, and later in Michael's office he showed me how the buttons were made from the shells....

But there were more buttons to see, blingy buttons to go with the huge shoulder pads of the 80s, toggles, wooden buttons, buttons saying Winnie the Pooh,fabric covered buttons - you name it, they were there.

And then I was taken to the dying room where all the buttons are transformed....and to the button polisher which buffed them all to a shine.

Michael and Chris have a mammoth task on their hands....rattling around this huge, Victorian factory
where their grandfather and father worked too. At one time there were nearly forty employees, and they told me wonderful stories of how they were brought here as children, sneaking into the tiny goods lift and riding up and down for hours, how there were open fires in the offices...where one of the secretaries would make crumpets ....

But back to the buttons, which were no longer needed and needed to be disposed story was broadcast on Tuesday, and by the time I got to the newsroom, there were emails and phone calls from collectors, artists and charities who all wanted some of them.

 Meanwhile I had been given a few as a memento of my visit which I will treasure. Back home,  I put them on a piece of slate to look at, which brought back memories of my childhood When I was a child on a quiet rainy afternoon I'd sit at the table moving the buttons around a tray, making shapes and button pictures.

Why not listen to a clip from my story about the buttons'll be able to find out what buttons were originally made from...items that I would never have thought of! Not in a million years.....

Click below


  1. I'm so so pleased that people will be collecting and using those lovely old buttons. I couldn't bear to think of them sitting in landfill. I had a little pink cardigan with those rose buttons on when I was a girl, I'm sure I did!

  2. You probably did! It was absolutely fascinating at the firm!

  3. Gosh! It all makes me feel rather emotional! Thanks so much for recording that moment in social history.

  4. Oh thanks Pippa.....I felt emotional too's such a wonderful building , untouched over the years......

  5. Before I reached the end of your post I was thinking that so many people would love those buttons and I'm glad I was right. I've always loved buttons and have a tin for my grandchildren to play with as I did when I was young. What a lovely day you had. I'll listen to the interview later as I'm reading this in bed.

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    2. Yes, thousands of buttons found a home! And my glass jar of buttons is much fuller than before! Hope you like the audio too!