Button making was one of Birmingham's most important industries since the 18th century. By the 19th century, Birmingham was renowned as the button making capital of the world. In 1870 there were 6000 workers in over 300 button making companies. Most of these workers were women and children. In 1833, 1841, and 1861 the premises of Hammonds were inspected to check the conditions under which children were working. Reports show that children, some as young as eight years old, were working for twelve hours a day, six days a week "stamping, pressing, and punching buttons." On Sundays, the children were expected to attend Sunday school. The reports concluded that the working conditions of the children were acceptable.
Hammond, Turner & Bate were best known for making buttons for the military. In the 1850s the company produced a number of different buttons for the Confederate army.
Buttons were made from all sorts of materials, including brass, iron, nut, horn, and linen. The most popular buttons were made out of oyster shells. These pearl buttons were very fashionable in Victorian times and were worn exclusively by men. Shell was imported from the South Pacific, Australia and Malaysia. The shell was very fragile and up to eighty separate processes were required to make the best buttons.
Hammonds continued trading until c1955, although the company appears to have made fewer buttons and more metal items, such as cake stands, sugar trays, and tea strainers.
By Mark Matlach
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