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Post War Growth - From China Tea Services To Lladro, The Blossoming Of The UK's Oldest China And Glass Retail Business

Jun 6, 2008
Church's China, now equally well known by its online identity, The UK Gift Company, began life in Devizes in Wiltshire in 1858. During most of the twentieth century, it occupied various premises on Northampton's Market Square. This has always been the very heartbeat of the town. Life on the Market Square was rarely dull. For example, on occasions, it would be enhanced by the visit of the circus.

Advertisements were now becoming more sophisticated, with old images from them giving us a rare insight into the interior. Also a bill offers a suggestion of the kind of goods on offer some eighty years ago. As well as tea cups and saucers, Church's sold such obscure artefacts as slop basins - a far cry from today's collectable ranges, such as Lladro.

Between the two World Wars, Wilfrid and his wife Naomi raised four children, the youngest of whom, Vivian, joined the business in 1954. The war years were naturally difficult. Money was short and trade suffered. During the Second World War, Wilfrid 'did his bit' as part of the local Air Raid Protection unit. In this capacity, he spent many a long night at the shop 'keeping watch'. To make the time pass, he used his considerable skills of craftsmanship to construct display shelving out of old tea chests. Today, such thrifty ingenuity would doubtless earn him an environmental award!

Crucial to the success of the business from the early 1950's until his retirement in 1992 was the manager, Peter Andrews. Peter began with Church's after serving in the R.A.F. and spending a brief time in the leather trade. He soon developed a deep knowledge of the product and a tremendous gift for getting on with customers. Peter had a tremendous ability to get inside the mind of Church's customers, and had the invariable knack of knowing what they wanted before they even knew it themselves. He was instrumental in the building up the prosperous 'customer base' that sustained Church's during the post war period. Peter was also crucial in the decision making regarding the direction of the business. The introduction of collection such as Lladro wouldn't have happened without Peter's invaluable input, and the Lladro collection certainly has been popular.

In 1965, Wilfrid's son Vivian, now heading the business, took the bold step of taking on the other side of the front of the Arcade. This gave the business and imposing frontage, and several thousand square feet of showrooms on three floors.

The shop featured a very early Express lift. Vivian's sons Philip, Richard and Stephen, today all involved in the business, have vivid memories of the clanking old lift, with its 'concertina' iron gates, a potentially lethal trap for idly wandering fingers. It is extraordinary to think in these days where customer access is so important to retail success, and where Fire Regulations are so strict, that with no staircase, the sole means of passage between floors was in a rickety old lift.

The Lladro collection has certainly helped this business to thrive, and hopefully will continue to do so or many years. But how many more businesses have found that Lladro has been one of their best selling collections? The Lladro sales just continue to grow, and with them old and new businesses alike.
About the Author
To explore our range of Lladro collectibles further, please visit our website at http://www.theukgiftcompany.co.uk
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