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Church's China - The Modern Era Aided And Abetted By Willow Tree

Jun 6, 2008
The collection of Willow Tree has made a massive impact on collectible retailers ever since it's beginnings in 2000. One such company, Church's China, has found Willow Tree to be their best selling brand, and helping them to build upon the successes found in their past.

Church's China began life as a little china and crystal retailer in Devizes in Wiltshire. Before long it moved to Northampton and, as the twentieth century progressed, it grew to become the UK's premier retailer of collectable brands, such as Willow Tree

The fourth generation of the family business was represented by Wilfrid Church, known by his middle name of Vivian. Having inherited his mother's outgoing temperament; Vivian played an altogether different role in the business from his father, the shy Wilfrid. Vivian was (and still is!) masterful at employing his tremendous sense of humour in selling to customers. There are literally hundreds who can vividly recall him demonstrating the strength of fine bone china by hurling plates to the floor or pirouetting on upturned tea cups, admittedly not a trick that would be attempted with something from a collection such as Willow Tree

Vivian was also been innovative in his business planning. In his design of the Emporium Arcade expansion in the mid sixties and the move into Welsh House in the seventies, he showed tremendous imagination. Furthermore, his concept of developing a cookshop side to the business in 1965 was years ahead of its time. Customer care had always been a fundamental consideration. To this end, his introduction of free gift wrapping (hitherto unheard of) was a major innovation.

In the early 1970's, in an almost eerie repetition of what occurred at the turn of the century, Church's China were informed that they had to vacate their position on the Market Square. Again, they were forced to make way for a new shopping development, and again they took temporary refuge in Sheep Street. In fact, during this second period of exile from the Market Square, Church's occupied two shops; one in Sheep Street in a converted garage showroom currently occupied by Durham Pine. The other shop was at the top of the Drapery from where Thomas Cook now operates.

1975 witnessed another exciting move for Church's, as for the third time in 105 years the business took occupancy in Northampton's Market Square. The town centre had developed beyond all recognition; the entire area known as Newland had been replaced by an extensive two storey shopping mall, the Grosvenor Centre. The Market Square entrance to the centre was overlooked by the recently restored Jacobean frontage of Welsh House, a building that has a colourful history. It was built towards the end of the sixteenth century for a firm of lawyers, and in 1675 featured in the Great Fire of Northampton. The town centre was destroyed and one of the few escape routes for the inhabitants of the Market Square was through Welsh House into the fields beyond.

Welsh House stands as a reminder of Northampton's historic links with Wales. There is more than one theory as to the origin of the name, Welsh House. One is that the firm of lawyers for whom it was built were of Gaellic extraction. An alternative idea is more agricultural. In the sixteenth century, Welsh drovers would herd sheep, cattle and even geese down the old Roman road of Watling Street (the A5), to sell them on Northampton's Market Square. On occasions, these drovers would stay overnight in the building. Whatever the reason for its name, the welsh link is indisputable, for even today, if you look at the crest on the front of the building, you will see the Welsh Dragon, the crest of Llewelyn, Prince of Wales and the Welsh Motto "Heb Dyw Heb Dim, Dyw y Digon" (Without God Without anything, God is Enough).

One of the key roles played by Welsh House was that, for many years in the eighteenth century, it housed the original offices of the Northampton Mercury (now part of the Chronicle & Echo). This newspaper proudly holds the record of the longest surviving provincial newspaper in Britain.

Church's not only occupied three floors of Welsh House, but had also taken a unit on the first floor of the Grosvenor Centre, offering the unique opportunity to present alternative faces to the buying public; one a contemporary, modern feel displaying the likes of Willow Tree, the other having a more traditional feel.

This window display of Willow Tree certainly helps to boost it's sales, but this may not be necessary, as the Willow Tree collection has captured the heart of the nation. As Stephen Church, current MD of Church's China, puts it, "one reason for the success of Willow Tree is their versatility as a gift. You can give flowers or chocolates for almost any occasion, but Willow tree figurines don't fade and they don't melt. They're a gift that expresses an emotion that simply lasts forever."
About the Author
To explore our range of Willow Tree collectibles further, please visit our website at http://www.theukgiftcompany.co.uk
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