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From China Tea Services To Willow Tree

Jun 6, 2008
Although The UK Gift Company can now rightly boast of its position as the UK's No.1 website for gifts and collectables, theirs is no fly-by-night story. It's true that their most successful brand is the ever-popular Willow Tree, but there are not many customers who are aware of the tremendously rich history that lies behind this successful online company.

As Willow Tree has been their biggest selling collection for years past, and hopefully years to come, it plays a rightful part on the story of their later years. However, the company has not always been the modern trading place it is today.

Church's China, one of Northampton's longest established retail businesses has been a central feature of Northampton business for over 120 years. For most of those years the company has been situated in the towns huge and impressive Market square, generally recognised as one of the largest in Great Britain. If a family business could write history, Church's China could uniquely claim to have observed the passing of more than a century of life outside its doors; violent demonstrations, military parades, numerous royal visits, carnivals, circuses and parades. From quaint Victorian bonnets to punk headgear. Form penny farthings to Porches. All this and so much more has come and gone - all quietly witnessed by a family China shop. Church's China was founded in the middle of the nineteenth centaury. Thomas Church, who had been a wheel right and joiner, set up the company in 1858, taking over the premises at 16 Maryport Street, Devizes. It would never have occurred to Thomas how his fledgling company would evolve over the years, selling top brand collectables, such as Willow Tree, throughout the world.

Thomas was aided in his venture by his son, Wesley, who, in the early 1870's brought the business to Northampton. Wesley soon married Sarah Spencer, from a Northampton family of shoemakers. They set up home and shop in Parade House, a former hotel on the north face of Northampton's Market Square; the site is currently occupied by Boots.

Soon after moving to Northampton, Church's were unwittingly involved in violent scenes of political unrest. The year was 1874. A Westminster by - election was held in the town and Charles Bradlaugh won the seat for the Liberal Party. A renowned atheist and radical, Bradlaugh was not allowed to take the oath on the Bible in the House of Commons. Consequently, his election was declared void and a second vote was held. He won again, and fearing that their man was once more to be refused entry into the parliament, the locals rioted in the Market Square, smashing windows of both the newspaper offices and the china shop next door. It was only on the arrival of the local militia that the crowd dispersed.

It was in Parade House in 1882 that the Wilfrid Church, the third generation member of the business, was born. Years later, Wilfrid described, in his memoirs, life on the Market Square at the end of the century:

"The rooms in these old premises were large and spread out. The different floors were approached by a balustraded and wide staircase which reached up to the top storey. The ground levels were occupied by the showrooms and general stock, except for a capacious kitchen and a terrifying 'coal hole.' This culinary department was stone flagged and was a happy playground for cockroaches. The beetle trap was constantly in requisition and a kettle of boiling water was served out to them in the mornings. At the rear of the building was a patch of pasture on which a Mr Ambridge, a butcher, would graze a few sheep, which were evidently en route for slaughter."

Little did Wilfrid know of the changes that would take place in the years to come, and the collection of Willow Tree that would make such a difference to their sales. Willow Tree has been hugely popular the world over, and The UK Gift Company owe a lot of their success to this brand.
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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