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Meet the woman who runs London’s oldest button shop

Maureen Rose, the owner of Taylors Buttons shop
Photograph: Sarah Ainslie

Maureen Rose has been making buttons for more than 40 years. Her shop in Fitzrovia is a fascinating remnant of an almost lost London…

Taylors Buttons is the only independent button shop in the West End. It’s more than 100 years old and it’s only been owned by two families in that time. It was founded by the original Mr Taylor; then there was Mr Taylor’s son, who retired in his late eighties when he sold it to my husband.

I was a war baby. My mother was from Whitechapel and she opened her own millinery business in Fulham at nineteen. She got married when she was twenty-one and ran her business all through the war. As a child, I used to sit in the corner and watch her make hats, but I didn’t take up millinery – something I regret now, as she was very talented and she could have taught me.

I helped my mother for a while: I did a lot of buying for her in Great Marlborough Street, where there were many millinery wholesalers. There was a big fashion industry in the West End: I used to go to see the collections from houses like Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell. It was so glamorous. Now it’s all gone.

My late husband, Leon Rose, first involved me in this business. He started his career in a button factory learning how to make buttons. Then his uncle, who had a factory in Birmingham, got in touch to say, ‘There’s a gentleman in town who’s retiring and you should think about taking over his business.’ So he did.

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’ve been working here for more than 40 years now and since my husband died in 2007 it has been a one-woman show.

Every button tells a story and I have no idea how many there are in the shop. Some are more than 100 years old, but most I make to order. You send me the fabric – velvet, leather or whatever – and I’ll make you whatever you want. We used to do only small orders for tailors: two fronts and eight cuff buttons for a suit. Nowadays I do them by the hundred. I don’t think Leon ever believed that was possible.

Anybody can walk into my shop and order buttons, but I get a lot of orders for theatre, television, film, fashion houses and weddings. I get gentlemen who buy expensive suits that come with cheap buttons: they come here to buy proper horn buttons to replace them.

My friends ask me why I have not retired, but I enjoy working here. What would I do at home? I’ve seen what happens to my friends who have retired: they lose the plot. I meet nice people in the shop and it’s interesting. I’ll keep going for as long as I can. I’d like my son to take it over. He’s in IT, but this is much more interesting.

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.

Interview originally published on the Spitalfields Life blog by The Gentle Author, whose book ‘The Life & Times of Mr Pussy: A Memoir of a Favourite Cat’ is out now.

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