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Maureen Rose, Button Maker

October 11, 2021
by the gentle author

‘Every button tells a story’

On the ground floor of the house where Charles Dickens grew up at 22 Cleveland St in Fitzrovia is a wonderful button shop that might easily be found within the pages of a Dickens novel. Boxes of buttons line the walls from floor to ceiling, some more than a hundred years old, and at the centre sits Maureen Rose, presiding regally over her charges like the queen of the buttons.

“A very nice gentleman – well turned out – stood in my doorway and asked, ‘Charles Dickens doesn’t live here anymore, does he?'” Maureen admitted to me with a sly grin. “I said, ‘No, he doesn’t.’ And he said, ‘Would you have his forwarding address?’ So I said, ‘No, but should I get it, I’ll put a note in the window.'”

Taylor’s Buttons & Belts is the only independent button shop in the West End, where proprietor Maureen sits making buttons every day. It is a cabinet of wonders where buttons and haberdashery of a century ago may still be found. “These came with the shop,” explained Maureen proudly, displaying a handful of Edwardian oyster and sky blue crochetted silk buttons.

“Every button tells a story,” she informed me, casting her eyes affectionately around her exquisite trove. “I have no idea how many there are!” she declared, rolling her eyes dramatically and anticipating my next question. “I like those Italian buttons with cherries on them, they are my favourites,” she added as I stood speechless in wonder.

“Let me show you how it works,” she continued, swiftly cutting circles of satin, placing them in her button-making press with nimble fingers, adding tiny metal discs and then pressing the handle to compress the pieces, before lifting a perfect satin covered button with an expert flourish.

It was a great delight to sit at Maureen’s side as she worked, producing an apparently endless flow of beautiful cloth-covered buttons. Customers came and went, passers-by stopped in their tracks to peer in amazement through the open door, and Maureen told me her story.

“My late husband, Leon Rose, first involved me in this business. He bought it from the original Mr Taylor when it was in Brewer St. The business is over a hundred years old with only two owners in that time. It was founded by the original Mr Taylor and then there was Mr Taylor’s son, who retired in his late eighties when he sold it to my husband.

My husband was already in the button business, he started his career in a button factory learning how to make buttons. His uncle had a factory in Birmingham – it was an old family business – and he got in touch with Leon to say, ‘There’s a gentleman in town who is retiring and you should think about taking over his business.’

Leon inherited an elderly employee who did not like the fact that the business had been sold. She had been sitting making buttons for quite some time and she said she would like to retire. So at first my mother went in to help, when he needed someone for a couple of hours a day, and then – of course – there was me!

I was a war baby and my mother had a millinery business in Fulham. She was from Cannon St in Whitechapel and she opened her business at nineteen years old. She got married when she was twenty-one and she ran her business all through the war. As a child, I used to sit in the corner and watch her make hats. She used to say very regularly to me, ‘Watch me Maureen, otherwise one day you’ll be sorry.’ But I did not take up millinery. I did not have an interest in it and I regret that now. She was very talented and she could have taught me. She had done an apprenticeship and she knew how to make hats from scratch. She made all her own buckram shapes.

I helped her for while, I did a lot of buying for her from West End suppliers in Great Marlborough St where there were a lot of millinery wholesalers. It was huge then but today I do not think there is anything left. There was big fashion industry in the West End and it has all gone. It was beautiful. We used to deal with lovely couture houses like Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell. I used to go to see their collections, it was glamorous.

I only make buttons to order, you send me the fabric – velvet, leather or whatever – and I will make you whatever you want. We used to do only small orders for tailors for suits, two fronts and eight cuff buttons. Nowadays I do them by the hundred. I do not think Leon ever believed that was possible.

Anybody can walk into my shop and order buttons.  I also make buttons for theatre, television, film and fashion houses. I do a lot of bridal work. I am the only independent button shop in the West End. I get gentleman who buy expensive suits that come with cheap buttons and they arrive here to buy proper horn buttons to replace them.

My friends ask me why I have not retired, but I enjoy it. What would I do at home? I have seen what happens to my friends who have retired. They lose the plot. I meet nice people and it is interesting. I will keep going as long as I can and I would like my son Mark to take it over. He is in IT but this is much more interesting. People only come to me to buy buttons for something nice, although I rarely get to see the whole garment.

I had a customer who was getting married and she loved Pooh bear. She wanted buttons with Pooh on them. She embroidered them herself with a beaded nose for the bear and sent the material to me. I made the buttons, which were going down the back of the dress. I said, ‘Please send me a picture of your wedding dress when it is finished.’ She sent me a picture of the front. So I never saw Pooh bear.

A lady stood in the doorway recently and asked me, ‘Do you sell the buttons?’ I replied, ‘No, it’s a museum.’ She walked away, I think she believed me.”

‘Presiding regally over her charges like the queen of the buttons’

Cutting a disc of satin

Placing it in the mould

Putting the mould into the press

Edwardian crochetted silk buttons

“I like those Italian buttons with cherries on them, they are my favourites”

Dickens’ card while resident, when Cleveland St was known as Norfolk St (reproduced courtesy of Dan Calinescu)

You may also like to read about

At Charles Dickens’ Childhood Home

16 Responses leave one →
  1. October 11, 2021

    A splendid article Gentle Author. Thank you.
    I know my Mum would have loved it brong a milliner.

    Andy x

  2. October 11, 2021

    Maureen has a great sense of humor. Her shop is a dream shop, I’d by dozens of buttons which I would never use. Thanks, dear G.A.

  3. October 11, 2021

    What a gem of a place. I didn’t even know it existed, so MUST visit it at the earliest opportunity. I did once make a set of buttons for a summer dress of mine, but didn’t need anything like the talents of this lady to do so. Thank you Gentle Author for this wonderful post.

  4. October 11, 2021

    What a delightful story THIS is! Gentlemen bring their expensive suits with cheap buttons to buy real horn buttons from Maureen Rose. Or even the wedding dress with Pooh buttons — gorgeous! I really hope and wish that this store will be around for a long time.

    In Frankfurt, Germany, by the way, there is a button store named W. Wächtershäuser, that was founded in 1822:

    Love & Peace

  5. October 11, 2021

    Brilliant article. Love it. Thanks.

  6. Adele Lester permalink
    October 11, 2021

    Fascinating! I could spend a day in Maureen’s shop!! Now you’ve made me wonder, GA, where my father had the buttons made for the clothes he made me?

  7. paul loften permalink
    October 11, 2021

    Thank you for showing us a useful shop that is not a vapery. However I must take exception to Maureen’s assertion that retired people have lost the plot . There are many plots in life that people discover outside of their daily work

  8. Ann V permalink
    October 11, 2021

    Wonderful! I could spend all day in Maureen’s shop. Can I recommend a brilliant book for anybody interested in buttons and women’s lives. It is called ‘The Button Box’, written by Lynn Knight.

  9. Jennifer Newbold permalink
    October 11, 2021

    I think I’d like to visit Maureen’s shop just to chat with her… she has the kind of sense of humour I appreciate!

    When I was in my early 30s, there was a button shop in Midtown Manhattan that I used to walk past on occasion. The window was always filled with beautiful buttons. It was called ‘Tender Buttons’, and I remember the name because it was so whimsical. I don’t believe I ever went into the shop because I had no extra money and wasn’t confident making my own clothes, but I loved to look in the window at the buttons… like little jewels! I wonder if it is still there.

  10. October 11, 2021

    There used to be a shop similar to this in New Rd, Stepney. They would make belts and buttons for you. You went up two steps, it was at the beginning of New Rd on the right coming in from Commercial Rd. My mum used to take me there to get her buttons and belts. She was a dress maker. Worked for Mary Quant, and lots of Jewish company’s. I remember one in Johnson Street just down Commercial Rd. Hard times.

  11. Margaret May Erangey permalink
    October 12, 2021

    My father always had a “ button box” on his chest of drawers…spent many an hour when I was a child playing with them…happy days!

  12. Cherub permalink
    October 12, 2021

    I loved this post as I totally love buttons and have jars of all different kinds I’ve collected over the years. My favourites are special hand made glass ones from E Europe. They can make or break an outfit, especially something that is hand knitted. I also cover buttons in things like scraps of tweed using a button mould. For me they are just lovely things to have around.

  13. Jae Bea permalink
    October 13, 2021

    TINA that old button shop on New Road Whitechapel — that was so much part of your childhood as a dressmaker’s daughter — is just across the junction from where Maureen’s mother lived on Cannon Street. I suspect there’s a lovely conversation to be had as and when you visit 22 Cleveland Street 🙂

    GA, totally enchanting introduction as ever. Thank you

  14. Peter Halston permalink
    October 14, 2021

    Would a companion piece interest you?
    David Miller at DM Buttons is the chap to use to make proper buttonholes for Maureen’s buttons.
    If he had to rely on me he’d be broke in days; thankfully, there’s enough work for him to hang on.

  15. Steph permalink
    October 18, 2021

    What a beautiful article! What I would give to rummage!! Lol

  16. October 25, 2021

    Jennifer Newbold: The Tender Buttons shop you mentioned actually closed… I think it was closed about a year ago. I heard somewhere there are plans to re-open it at some time…. maybe with a different owner.

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