A gilt livery button, 28 mm (1 inch!) in diameter, with a buck’s head and banner motto ‘TOUT EN BONHEUR’ (Figure 1) has been found in garden soil in Nupend. The back surface (Figure 2) has FIRMIN & Co. in the name field and STRAND LONDON in the address field.
A search of the National Archives (https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/ecb1c423-95d9-4799-86c9-a52a4ec52e1e) and the UK Detector Finds Database (https://www.ukdfd.co.uk/pages/button-makers.html) confirms the manufacture date as early 19th century, circa 1800-1811. This fits well with the crest being similar in design to those of the Hicks family who lived in Eastington from around 1785, according to an article by Stephen Mills published in ECN 117, Sep/Oct 2009 (see https://ecnarchive.eastington.website/history/hicksfamily.html).
The family lived in Millend House but then Henry Hicks, a wealthy clothier, bought the estate of Henry Stephens, along with the manorial rights and thus he became Lord of the Manor. Around 1815 he built The Leaze which we now know as Eastington Park.
It would be fascinating to know if anyone else has found similar buttons, and particularly if there are any records of Hicks family staff living in Nupend.
Dr Peter Spencer-Phillips
The deeds for the plot in Nupend on which this was found go back to the ’17th year of the reign of Queen Eizabeth’, i.e. around 1570 – the present day cottage however is a mere 200 years old, which fits well with the date of the button.
More on Henry Hicks and buttons
– by Stephen Mills –
What an interesting thing to emerge from the soil, one that takes us straight back to the days when Henry Hicks and his family were Lords of the Manor, important land and property holders, and kings of the village cloth trade.
Variants of the family crest were used by different branches of the Hicks family, some of which had illustrious backgrounds. For example, there were family connections with Beverstone Castle, and ‘our’ Hicks were also related to the notable Hicks-Beach and Hicks-Austin branches.
It seems that our Henry Hicks may have been quite a flamboyant character, so the adoption of buttons carrying the family crest doesn’t appear that surprising. He seemed to like making a bit of a splash.
For example, according to a book of 1909, Henry’s carriage had “somewhat startling liveries of sky-blue and scarlet facings”. It’s possible that this combination of colours reflected some of the products he produced in his cloth mills. The red could be a reference to the ‘Stroudwater scarlets’ manufactured in the area and used widely for military uniforms in the 18th and 19th centuries – there are references to Hicks buying imported cochineal, used to produce the characteristic red dyestuffs. And the blue may be a nod to ‘Uley blues’. As its name suggests, this blue cloth was a speciality of the mills of nearby Uley. Hicks also had a connection with this through a partnership with mill owner Edward Sheppard, as for some years, they operated Millend Mill in Eastington in conjunction with Sheppards Mill in Uley. Whatever the origin, there seems little doubt that the Hicks carriage would have been visible from a mile away!
Hicks’ also made something of a fashion statement in his private life. During the early part of the 19th century, there was widespread panic that Napoleon and his army intended to invade Britain. This led to the formation of numerous local militias, one of which was based in Frampton-on-Severn. Hicks became a 1st lieutenant in the ‘Frampton Volunteers’. Members were supplied with weapons and ammunition by the government, but had to provide their own uniforms. Hicks and his compatriots must have looked striking, as their uniforms consisted of a “round hat with cockade and scarlet feather; scarlet jacket, faced blue, lined and edged white, turnback blue; white waistcoat and breeches; gilt buttons with the letters F.V. surmounted by a crown; stockings of white cotton, black velvet hose, and half gaiters of black cloth”. This getup would have been expensive – for example, the officers hat cost £1 16s 0d, and a sword belt 12s.
Like his carriage, you would certainly have seen Hicks coming.
I wonder if anyone will ever dig up an ‘F.V.’ button?