AROUND 20 workers face a bleak Christmas after the shock news they are losing their jobs with the sudden closure of the UK’s biggest button manufacturer based in Halesowen.

Workers at James Grove and Sons were handed redundancy letters at the end of their shift at the Stourbridge Road factory yesterday.

One stunned employee, who had worked there for more than 20 years, said they had not realised the 155-year-old firm was in serious trouble and had been given no information about severance pay.

“The way we have been treated is absolutely terrible. There was no discussion yesterday and nobody is answering the phones today.

“I have a week’s money left and it’s Christmas - it couldn’t have come at a worse time,” he said.

The worker, who did not wish to be named for fear of repercussions, said the letter indicated they would be given more information in the new year.

“We realised they were in a bit of trouble, but didn’t think it was anything serious,” he added.

The letter given to workers did not state the reasons for the firm’s liquidation, but verbally they were told there had been cash flow problems.

James Grove and Sons was one of the world’s largest horn button producers, making more than 45 million buttons a year.

It was established in 1857 by James Grove and his wife Ann Elizabeth, who sold buttons from his hotel room as he travelled across Europe.

They began in premises at the junction of Birmingham Road and Cornbow and built up markets supplying uniform buttons for the military, railways and the General Post Office.

At its peak in 1917, the firm employed 600 men and women, making and polishing buttons by hand.

The company moved to Stourbridge Road in 1965 where it had introduced modern materials including polyester, corozo and casein using state-of-the-art machinery and remained in the ownership of the Grove family.

In August, the company reported it was attracting business from top names in fashion including Barbour and Burberry.

Nobody from James Grove and Sons could be contacted today.