Celebrating 50 years of manufacturing Learn more about our company history
The Seeds of an Idea
Inspired by his children, Brian Dunham developed an interest and skill in carpentry, crafting toy boxes and even a garden slide to keep them amused. This keen interest led him to pursue and experiment with different forms of woodwork and creating fitted cupboards.
Brian’s older brother was an architect and one of his projects required the fabrication of cubicles. Brian worked alongside his brother to design and manufacture the required washrooms. The project was a great success and inspired him to pursue this niche industry. Washroom design offered the ideal window of opportunity and Brian began working alongside architects and specifiers to create bespoke solutions.
He generated custom by cold calling, working from his garage to then deliver the finished product, strapped to the roof of his Morris Traveller. Chipboard with a spray Portaflec finish was hand cut to size and sealed with a T Barb PVC edging. All materials were bought from local merchants and Dunham’s name soon became synonymous with a trusted product, promising both quality and value.
B H Dunham & Sons Take Root
1968 saw the real start-up of B H Dunham & Sons in Porterfield Road in Norwich. Initially, the firm mainly worked within the education sector and particularly so for local schools. The new firm’s first job was for a Victorian School in Angel Road in Norwich. Two product ranges were available at the time. The melamine, Economy Range and the chipboard, Classic, which is still available today and offers a popular, spray Portaflec finish.
As business grew, the company invested in a sliding table saw for cutting chipboard. Brian also began investigating different material options as it became evident that a more waterproof solution was required. He discovered High Pressure Laminate (HPL) and built his own press to create panels with a HPL finish. HPL became the foundation for a new and improved Classic range and still remains so today. In the early days, everything, even pedestals were made by hand at the firm’s first premises.
Business Begins to Grow
B H Dunham & Sons needed to move to new premises in 1976. Meteor Close in Norwich provided plenty of space to house the ever expanding business. In addition, the purchase of a hydraulic press for laminating, enabled expansion into the exciting new market sector of boat building.
The firm also began offering additional products, such as cloakroom benching, to clients in the education sector. The first benching designs sported shoe racks, fitted alongside coat pegs that were made by the Norfolk & Norwich Association for the Blind.
B H Dunham & Sons also began designing and creating their own brochures, providing actual laminate materials for colour selectors. Choosing the right washroom colour scheme is an important part of any washroom or toilet refurbishment. Having listened to clients’ feedback, B H Dunham & Sons recognised the importance of providing detailed brochures with examples of all the colour options and finishes available.
Growing from Strength to Strength
1980 saw another move for the blossoming business with new premises in Heigham Street in Norwich. Straight from school, Brian’s first son, Mark, also joined the family firm and still works there today alongside his brother-in-law and further generations of the Dunham family.
Work performed on caravan projects inspired the company’s first type of duct panelling. Charter panels were created as a solution to the need for wall panelling. Initial innovation didn’t include removable panels but it quickly paved the way for today’s modern duct panelling.
Brian always led the way in innovation, keen to embrace new equipment and products that could improve efficiency and enhance customer service. The 1980s heralded the company’s first computerised saw, helping to forge ahead to a future of further growth.
1986 saw an additional move of premises to Hellesdon Park Road in Norwich and further development of the company’s duct panelling solutions. Duct panels and vanity units became an integral part of washroom design and particularly so, for projects within the education sector. Duct panels not only conceal unsightly pipework and services but importantly, also provide protection from hot pipes.
Advances in sanitary ware also contributed to the overall improvement in washroom system designs. B H Dunham & Sons expanded their product range to meet expectations and provide a cleaner and more attractive finish for their projects. Washrooms were beginning to exert an influence on overall building design.
Business Begins to Blossom
A new era began for B H Dunham & Sons with an exciting product rebrand. The three Cs showcased the Challenger, the HPL Classic and the melamine Concord ranges. The Challenger range was launched as the ideal waterproof solution for washroom systems, employing Solid Grade Laminate (SGL) as the ultimate in water resistance and impact protection. In fact, the Challenger and Classic ranges are still going strong today.
Importantly, B H Dunham & Sons also changed their company name, becoming Dunhams of Norwich.
1999 saw the company making important advances in children’s washroom solutions. While washroom panels had always been bespoke for projects within the education sector, standard, adult-height cubicles were usually installed. However, Dunhams glimpsed a gap in the market and recognised the need for a washroom range, specifically for children.
The Classic Junior was created with lower washroom facilities for younger children. Bright, clean and age-appropriate washrooms encourage children to take pride in their facilities. This, in turn, can help to reduce the traditional, school toilet issues of vandalism and bullying.
In 2000, Dunhams of Norwich became Dunhams Washroom Systems and the company began to supply children’s washroom systems to a variety of sectors, in addition to education. The Junior range expanded to include Kinder, a vibrant cubicle range, featuring low level panels for adult supervision. Available in a variety of finishes and employing robust HPL and SGL panelling, the range offers a welcoming washroom environment.
Further introductions to Dunhams’ product portfolio included the innovative Aspect range, offering a stylish, high-strength solution for busy washrooms and the floor-to-ceiling Altitude system, delivering the perfect mix of total privacy, stunning aesthetics and robust construction.
In addition, the Vista range was created to meet the needs of prestigious projects, where there is a requirement for uncompromising quality, visual distinction and enhanced privacy.
In 2013, Dunhams of Norwich moved to their current location in Neatishead in Norfolk. The premises provided the perfect choice and continue to offer increased manufacturing capacity to keep up with demand.
Throughout their history, an integral element of Dunhams’ service has been bespoke solutions. Every project is treated as bespoke, thereby ensuring maximum focus and care. Today, the company continues to create innovative designs, whether Corian wash troughs or full height cubicles. From the early days and the first, hand-cut panels to today’s modern manufacturing equipment and contemporary washroom systems, products have always been made to suit any customer request.
In May 2018, Dunhams were delighted to become a Limited Company, trading under the name Dunhams Washroom Systems Ltd. This organisational change coincides with their 50th year of trading, as they continue to build on the solid foundations established by BH Dunham & Sons in 1968.
A state-of-the-art panel storage system is due to be installed late 2018 which will bring further efficiencies to the factory and with Dunhams’ commitment to manufacturing excellence we can expect further exciting investments in the future.
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