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Wippells brought back to life by its old rivals

26 June 2024

WATTS & CO

The first shop frontage of J. Wippell & Company

The first shop frontage of J. Wippell & Company

THE historic church furnisher J. Wippell & Co has returned to the ecclesiastical market, thanks to its former neighbour and one-time rival, Watts & Co.

Wippells went into voluntary liquidation last year after significant financial losses sustained during the pandemic, and closed last year after more than two centuries in business (News, 26 May 2023). It has been bought by the fellow ecclesiastical outfitter and furnisher, Watts. For decades, the shops traded from adjacent shops in Tufton Street, Westminster.

“We are tremendously excited to be bringing Wippells back to the market,” the chief executive of Watts, Robert Hoare, told the Church Times this week. “It is also going from one family to another, and we feel that’s important.” Mr Hoare is the latest generation of his family to own and manage the business, and is descended from the architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, who was one of its founders.

The deal, for an undisclosed sum, and in cash, was announced by members of the Watts team attending the 81st General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Louisville, Kentucky, on Monday. Wippells had a significant commercial operation with US-based customers, with a turnover of more half a million a pounds a year, and the news was greeted with cheers from conference delegates.

The acquisition by Watts brings it the Wippells brands, all its intellectual property (including an archive of “2000 paper patterns, currently being digitalised”), and all liquidated stock such as cloths, fabrics, and trims. The comprehensive academic hire inventory of gowns, hoods, and hats has already been sold on.

The relaunched business will be online only, with its own dedicated website, Mr Hoare said, with a focus on keen pricing and “quick-ship” items that can be dispatched easily. The range will include clerical shirts, cassocks, surplices, stocks, choir robes, and communion silver, in addition to a planned collection of “ready-to-wear stock vestments”. Some items will “most likely” be available to view in the Watts showroom.

Mr Hoare was especially excited about the heritage elements. “Our acquisition includes all of the old Wippells images and portraits, among them an engraving of the first shop frontage, and a wonderful picture of the founding Mr Wippell in his frock coat and top hat.” These elements, he said, would be incorporated into the new branding.

Watts & Co has expanded in recent years from 17 to 35 staff, with an average age of under 30. The team specialises in mainly high-end, bespoke commissions and restorations. Mr Hoare’s grandmother, Elizabeth Hoare, established the firm’s US links in the 1970s with commissions for St Thomas’s, Fifth Avenue. 

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