It was through a wonderful moment of pure serendipity that Lionel Simons was reunited with the beautiful Denby Mayflower dinnerware set that had been kindly donated to our Hospice shop, Returned To Glory. Eighty-four year old Lionel happened to stumble across the rare set whilst he searched for much needed furniture for his flat having moved to Berkhamsted last August. He knew instantly what a rare and exciting find it was as Lionel had spent twenty years of his life involved with Denby Pottery and was in fact Managing Director of the company from 1970 to 1977.
With an MBA in International Business from Columbia University, serial entrepreneur Lionel has a broad background in a number of different industries including ceramics, technology, medical diagnostics, environmental engineering and, more recently, the movie making business.
Back in 1961, Lionel was an exclusive distributor and importer of Denby in America and Canada and was living in sunny California with his wife and two children. Responsible for consumer testing and product design, Lionel was incredibly passionate about the unique Great British handcrafted stoneware and was relentless in relaying this to the American people.
Many of the businesses he approached wanted to sell the 16 piece Denby dinner sets at 16.95 dollars in line with the current crockery they had on sale but as Lionel himself explained, “This was like selling a Ferrari at Volkswagen prices!”.
He managed to convince the retailers of Denby’s great quality and worth and the price was successfully increased to 21.95 dollars. His target market was the college educated bride aged between 18 to 23 years-old and he spent much of his time travelling around America visiting different universities and carrying out his unique brand of consumer testing at sorority houses.
The Denby Mayflower set was lovingly designed by Gill Pemberton, the talented ceramics designer whom Lionel worked very closely with during the 1970’s. The design was one of the company’s bestsellers and was produced from 1965 to 1982. Mayflower was originally produced by Langley Pottery but when Denby bought out the old Langley plant, they continued to produce this stunning pattern. Due to the nature of Denby dinnerware being hand crafted, Lionel worked within a very creative environment and at the time employed over fifteen potters at his factory in Derby to make the pottery by hand using potter’s wheels and over 150 ladies to individually hand paint the beautiful stoneware crockery. Lionel was over the moon to have found the fifteen piece Denby Mayflower dinner service at Returned To Glory, before Christmas last year, and paid £75 for the entire set. In pristine condition and one of Lionel’s favourite Denby designs, the set comprises of five cups and saucers, five bread plates, two casserole dishes, one teapot, a creamer and a sugar pot.
Lionel moved back to the UK with his family in 1970 and would commute from his home in Saint Albans, dividing his time between the London office two days a week and the Denby pottery factory in Derby for the other three. In 1971, Denby went public on the stock exchange and at the time, Lionel owned almost 50% of the company and had succeeded in creating a worldwide brand. During his time with Denby Pottery, he increased the number of employees from 200 in 1970 to a substantial 1,000 by 1977. Lionel very sadly lost his wife five years ago and he speaks fondly about their 52 years of marriage and the wonderful life they shared together. Reminiscing about the good old days, he affectionately said “I was amazed to find someone that was willing to put up with me for that long!” Lionel’s daughter Kimberley now resides permanently in California and he regularly travels back there to visit her.
"I discovered Return to Glory because my cousin, Joanna Robinson, took her daughter for ballet classes at a dance studio across the road. She told me about the store and while the kid was dancing, Joanna and I checked the store. I was moving into an empty bungalow and needed furniture.
The first thing that caught my eye was a group of Mayflower place settings and cookware sitting on a table not far from the door. And the pricing was very good as was the condition. It brought a lump to my throat to see it after over 50 years. The real definition of nostalgia.
I had not been before and have not been back since although I desperately need more things and wish to return. But I don’t drive and have no transportation. I spent around 30 minutes finding enough to basically furnish my new home at unbelievably reasonable prices for the quality and condition of the pieces. In addition my purchases were delivered a few days later for only GBP 20. This store is a gem and I would recommend it highly."
Our staff at Returned To Glory were delighted to have met the charming Lionel Simons and to learn all about his fascinating history with Denby. Without the amazing and kind donations that customers regularly donate to the shop, this wonderful and touching story would not have been possible. Thank you for giving us the chance to help make our precious lives be lived well. At the Hospice of Saint Francis we really love what we do and we love your support too.
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