Courtney & Co: 10 Years in the Making
Courtney & Co have saved the horn button making industry in the UK. We were lucky enough to have David and Andrea Courtney tell us their story.
FROM THE BEGINNING
For the people of Halesowen, in England’s West Midlands, the shortest day of the year 2012 turned into one of the darkest in the town’s history. For on that day, administrators arrived at the factory of James Grove & Sons Ltd and dispassionately announced that the company was insolvent and was closing its doors. For the two dozen or so employees it was devastating. For the Grove family, it ended an enterprise which spanned 155 years and 5 successive generations. For its customers it seemed to mark the end of horn button-making in the UK. For James Grove was the last maker of its ilk.
Months passed by and hopes of rescue evaporated. The factory was emptied, plant and machinery auctioned and the once faithful employees either sought other jobs in the area or retired. Their cumulative skills, knowledge and experience are lost and no longer in demand.
SAVE BRITAIN'S BUTTONS
Responding to an article in Country Life magazine to ‘Save Britain’s Buttons’ on the 5th June 2013, Andrea & David Courtney bought a small array of what was on offer and agreed to lease it to someone who intended to restart production. The attempt proved unsuccessful and within 18 months’ the phoenix company collapsed.
Faced with the option of either selling the machines or taking over the baton, Courtney & Co was born, without any previous direct or relevant experience in button-making or the garment industry. It was a brave, some say insane, decision, but was born out of a simple desire to revive not only horn button making in the UK, but to learn and pass on the skills and crafts which had been honed over generations of James Grove’s operational lifetime.
Without any prior knowledge or experience of our own, we were fortunate in having a small handful of mostly retired button-makers who wanted to help and support us. Moving people, machines and materials between Halesowen, Corby and our home in the Cotswolds, we slowly over time learned each of the various elements involved acquiring not only new skills, but a legion of new machines along the way. We launched our first range of buttons made from Corozo at the end of 2016 adding Codelite® (milk casein) buttons two years later in 2018.
Eventually, things took shape and with our new team members, Steve and Lise, onboard the company started to look and operate as the button-maker we had long wanted to become. Making buttons is now wholly within our gift and we have recently achieved our guiding ambition of making horn buttons where the once illustrious James Grove company had left off.
It is a job of care and precision. It takes time. The ‘round’ blanks we buy are sadly not ‘round’ or the right diameter at all most of the time. So, with a new horn grinding machine, we rectify the blanks to make them perfectly round and ready for turning – the process which gives it the contours of the finished buttons.
The machine is a piece of engineering excellence, but once again demands time, care and precision. It takes hours, literally hours, for the machine to be set-up accurately and correctly. But there is no alternative. Once set up, the machine produces buttons at an impressive rate, 15 a minute or so depending on size, material and pattern. But this is just a fraction of the time it takes to scour, matt or polish the buttons which drop with metronomic regularity into the collecting bin of the turning machine.
Using a combination of reconditioned wooden barrels from James Grove and others we have added along the way, the buttons cascade not for hours, but days in a way that smoothens and either matts or polishes the surface depending on the type of media which is added to the barrels.
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT!
For us, making horn buttons is all about time. The minutes and seconds of each individual process turn into hours and days. But the real time has been spent getting this far. 10 years to be exact. And with Steve’s and Lise’s passion and commitment to their ‘forever’ jobs’ we hope that we will also be able to pass the skills we have learnt on to the next generation of button makers and prevent another James Grove-style outcome for many years to come.
COURTNEY & CO - Now inviting new brand customers to view their collection. Contact the team HERE