An alternative textile tour of London – part 2

6 July 2011

A bit of web research tells me that it was Mrs. Kathleen Cythia Frith (nee Henderson) better known throughout her life as “Toni” who was the founder and inspiration behind “The Button Queen“, a little jewel of a shop in Marylebone lane, just north of Oxford Street, behind John Lewis.

She started by selling general antiques, first of all from a shop at the bottom of Camberwell Grove in South London, and later Bermondsey Market on Fridays and the Red Lion Market in Portobello Rd. on Saturdays.
She used public transport to get aroung and because her stock had to be carried on buses she quickly geared her trade around smaller items. Apparently she had studied costume at Goldsmith’s College (also in South London), so focussed on buying jewellery, costume and buttons.  .

Towards the end of the 1960’s, just as Carnaby Street took off. Toni took a tiny shop at 1 Marlborough Court, just off Carnaby St. The space, 8ft x 5ft, had been a shoe repairer’s.  After some years, she outgrew the space and moved to Saint Christopher’s Place, just north of Oxford Street, and nine years after that to 19 Marylebone Lane, just the other side of Wigmore St.

This was where I first came across the Button Queen, some thirty years ago when I used to make regular trips to the Westminster rent records office for my employers.  It was a funny shop as it was on the apex of a triangle.

Toni Frith retired some years ago, and became a “dog walking” a volunteer for “The Friends of Animals League” at foal farm, Biggin Hill.  Later she became secretary and trustee for the charity.  She was obviously my kind of gal!!

Her son Martyn carried forward “The Button Queen” business, moving it to new premises, just across the road from the triangular site at 76 Marylebone Lane, which is now being re-developed.

It is a very friendly shop - not at all intimidating.  There is not a lot of floor space so the buttons are ‘displayed’ in turquoise velvet covered folders and when you have selected the button of choice it is fetched from the stock at the back of the shop.
I was on a mission, so did not have time to browse at leisure.  I had to buy some beautiful shell buttons for shirts.  But if you are ever in the area it is worth popping in and having a browse and I suspect you will not come away empty handed!

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