Goviers of Sidmouth has been selling china and glass since 1904 when Ada Govier opened her doors for the first time. She probably had little idea that the shop her husband had converted from a few thatched cottages in Sidmouth High Street would still be selling china one hundred years later. As Goviers celebrated its centenary in 2004, the present proprietor, Alan Morgenroth, was keen to reflect on the shop’s heritage whilst continuing to develop product ranges to ensure a successful future.
By the turn of the twentieth century, the railway had arrived in Sidmouth, bringing holidaymakers, prosperity and, most importantly, a connection to industrialised Britain. New shops appeared catering for the growing number of visitors and Ada Govier took advantage of her husband’s building skills to open a small china shop. Originally from Stratford-upon-Avon, Ada was born in Anne Hathaway’s cottage, the family home, whilst her husband, William, was a Sidmouth born carpenter and builder. After inheriting three thatched cottages at the corner of Church Lane and the High Street in 1900, he converted them for his wife into her dream china shop.
During those early years the Goviers developed a good working relationship with china companies in Stoke-on-Trent using the railway line, that ran directly into the factories, to deliver their finished goods. As indoor plumbing and electric lights were almost unheard of, Govier’s windows were filled with functional hardwearing china and pottery such as jugs, washbasins, chamber pots and oil lamps.
After studying ceramics in Stoke-on-Trent, Ada’s son Norman joined the family firm and became a partner in 1929 leading to the name change of ‘Govier and Son’. Through the dark days of the Depression and beyond to Second World War rationing, Norman Govier continued to trade, though during these hard times there was little decoration on the pieces that arrived at Sidmouth station. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the cheap plain white ware of the war years was replaced with new brightly coloured tableware and Goviers once again looked forward to a more prosperous future. At the same time Norman decided to give the shop a face-lift, the interior was modernised, the shop frontage changed and the second floor turned into the ‘Hoteliers Department’. With an abundance of hotels on the doorstep, this was a shrewd move, and Goviers was soon selling and renting tableware, cutlery and glasses to many local establishments. Norman retired in the early 1970s having gained Goviers an unrivalled reputation as a stockist of quality tableware.
When Kurt and June Morgenroth bought the shop in 1978, the relationship with Royal Crown Derby was already well established though it wasn’t until 1987 when their son, Alan, who had taken over the business in 1983, commissioned the first exclusive piece: The Margaret Thatcher Loving Cup. Media interest ensured the edition of 650 was a sell out, establishing Govier’s database of Royal Crown Derby collectors and heralding its unique relationship with the factory. Since that time, Goviers has worked closely with Royal Crown Derby, developing royal and commemorative pieces and the paperweight range, which in the early 1990s was still in its infancy. In just a short time, the direction of the china shop by the sea had changed, transforming itself from a tableware specialist to a centre for quality gifts and collectables. The worldwide mail order operation had outgrown Govier’s second floor and was moved to neighbouring offices next door.
Together with the Royal Crown Derby design department, Goviers has introduced some innovative paperweights in recent years. Its Millennium Unicorn was the first piece to incorporate metal in the design and the Royal Crown Series combined collectable commemorative qualities with those of the paperweight.
Even though the original miniature China Shop was not modelled on Goviers, there is no doubt of the connection with Govier's version as the windows are filled with Govier’s special commissions: Crown paperweights, commemoratives, Govier’s famous Red Bow Tie Teddy and a Royal Crown Derby poster on the side wall advertising the White Hart.
During its hundred years of trading, Goviers has seen many china shops close as modern times have dictated different ways of living. But survival means moving with those times and that is exactly what Goviers has had to do. Had Ada Govier still stocked chamber pots when the luxury of indoor sanitation arrived, the shop might now be selling something quite different. It was her foresight and that of the others that followed that has ensured Goviers a secure place in Sidmouth High Street, hopefully for another 100 years!