Founded by Frank Ralph Gray in 1922 at the age of just 17, F.R.Gray’s was born, now known as Gray’s Country Gifts. Frank began by selling domestic hardware, light agricultural equipment and china at markets in and around the Staffordshire area.
In 1956 Peter & Antony Gray finished Military Service & went to work at Gray’s full time. In 1957 Gray’s began to open retail shops. In August 1957 they attended their first out door show at
Canwell. In 1958 F.R.Gray & Son’s Ltd was established and the firm went out to their first County Show, Shropshire and West Midlands Show in Shrewsbury. There they sold Beswick, floral vases, flower holders, and china tableware. The outdoor shows were very small and only a few trade stands would attend as shows mainly consisted of livestock. Antony recalls how they would sleep in the stand overnight with the only luxury being a camp bed. The first Gray’s stand was put at the end of the show ground by the pigs, here the brothers were kept up most of the night with the sound of the pigs being washed by the owners, ready for showing the next day!
By the 60’s the Gray brothers had begun travelling around the UK selling and supplying china into shops. The brothers would sell tableware along with a seaside favourite at the time called Devonmore which was very popular and proved to be a favourite for holiday makers to buy as a momento.
In 1961 a great friend of Peter and Antony Gray, Sir Mike Ansall (a War Hero, who unfortunately was blinded in the War), invited them to Badminton Horse Trials with their stand. F.R.Gray & Son’s Ltd sold a large selection of Beswick, Royal Worcester and equine figurines. At the time Badminton Horse Trials was a very small show and only a few companies would be selected to attend with a trade stand.
In this same year, at the very same show, the Duke of Bedford invited Queen Elizabeth II and her family for a private holiday. She would attend the show on a number of occasions and would also visit F.R.Gray & Son’s Stand. We have it on very good authority that the Queen liked her Beswick horses, having purchased some Gray’s Beswick including the “Trooping The Colour” Figurine.
In 1965 F.R.Gray & Sons attended the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh for the first time; a long journey in those days. We still attend the show to this very day with our Trade stand, now under the name of Gray’s Country Gifts, and it remains one of our best shows. By now some 30 odd shows were being attended with Gray’s unique stand of country related gifts.
In 1974 Border Fine Arts was founded by John Hammond. That same year Peter and Antony attended the Gift Fayre at the N.E.C in Birmingham, it was there that they met John Hammond for the first time. Mr Hammond’s stand consisted of a 6ft trestle table with only four pieces of Border Fine Arts displayed on it, a far cry from the thousands of figurines they have produced to this day. Peter and Antony rather liked Mr Hammonds figurines, and believed they would be able to sell his figurines to their customers. It was here that they struck up a great friendship, and the following year John Hammond stayed at Peter Gray’s house while he attended the N.E.C’s Spring Fair in 1975. It was in Peter Gray’s kitchen in 1975 that John Hammond and Peter Gray developed the idea for a model called “Coming Home”, which later went into production and on to sell out within just 6 months. Gray’s Country Gifts has now become Border Fine Arts largest stockist.
The oldest Son of Peter Gray, (Nick) joined the business straight from school becoming the third Generation of the Gray’s to join the company
This was not only a long hot summer it also marked the beginning of a decade of growth on the trade side of the company. Horse riding was seeing a surge in new riders and new tack shops were opening too. The birth of a dedicated equestrian trade fair also helped establish new contracts and orders. Even the export market began to open up at that time particularly in North America and Europe. It was during this time that the retail shops in Aldridge, Walsall and finally Lichfield were closed enabling the business to focus on the expanding sides of mail order and trade.
Peter Gray’s youngest child and son Jonathan joined the business
The 90’s saw further cementing of mail order, trade and export. In 1994 our first journey into importing from the Far East began with stationary from Taiwan. Within just three years we were importing from Hong Kong, Mainland China, the Philippines and Korea.
Following a successful campaign on the incoming new Millennium and ever growing importing and Trade Turnover, Gray’s were encouraged to move from the modest Aldridge warehouse to Shenstone, a Village in the next borough near Lichfield. The new 20,000 sq-ft building far exceeded Gray’s needs but was perfectly placed to take advantage of close main road networks and the proposed Toll road.
Anthony retired leaving his brother Peter and two nephews (Peter’s sons) Nick and Jonathan to continue.
Peter Gray retired.
In 2006 Jonathan left the company to start a new life in Devon with his young family. Nick’s wife, Kate took on a more active role in the company. Over this period Gray’s Country Gifts mail-order has continued to go from strength to strength selling gifts, accessories homeware and sculptures, many of which are made in the UK. Gray’s Country Gifts have continued the tradition of travelling all over the UK, attending outdoor agricultural and equestrian shows thoughout the year plus setting up their own exclusive shopping events in village halls and schools throughout the Spring and Winter months.
Going forward Gray’s Country Gifts look forward to the next 94 years!