Thursday, 9 July 2015

H G Dunn and Sons Limited Market Square Bromley

Image Courtesy of Bromley Archives and Local Studies
To attempt a history of the Dunn family would require a book but Dunns of Market Square Bromley in the twentieth century represented the largest business of the town and as will be seen shortly brought customers from far and wide.
The Dunn family had traded from premises in Market Square since at least 1710 and possibly earlier. Furthermore they had been long serving Bromley parish clerks and sextons and had been benefactors to the poor of the town. Thier business developed from drapery furniture and cabinet makers upholsterers and undertakers.
Herbert George Dunn took over the business from his father Edward and followed his great grandfather John and great great grandfather William. The funeral accounts which date from 1803 record John's trade and later Edward's.
The Dunn's premises in Market Square on the north side of the square had both a shop and behind it in Coopers Yard a furniture store. Herbert George had developed a large furniture Depository which opened in Widmore Road in 1876 and from there the large fleet of vans operated. Herbert George Dunn had brought the first pantechnicon van to Bromley in 1880 and had also housed the funeral business in the depository building which had wooden partitioned secure rooms on each floor. This gave the funeral business a flexibility to accommodate a mortuary and those awaiting burial overnight with an Attendant as well as the construction  and treatment of coffins and housing the funeral vehicles.
In 1909 " The Great Fire of Bromley" as it was described by The District Times in the 25 June 1909 edition destroyed many of the buildings on the north side of the square and scorched other buildings including the Congragational church in Widmore Road. A year later H G Wells "History of Mister Polly" includes a great fire also.
W Baxter in his itinereary of Bromley 1929 records the 300 year old buildings of this part of the town. The 1909 fire broke out it is thought as a result of failure to extinguish a match in the Granary of Cooper Brothers and rapidly spread through Cooper's Yard. The fire brigade attended but their pump was steam powered and took time to reach operating pressure. The water mains were insufficient alone to extiguish the fire and many fire pumps were called to assist. The Dunn's shop at 20 Market Square was burnt out with the roof off and the furniture store at the rear was destroyed. Remarkably although water damaged the Funeral account books with one or two losses largely survived the fire and do so until this day.
H G Dunn traded from the Widmore Road Depository building until in 1922 they were able to return to 20 Market Square which can be seen to the left hand of the above image. Dunn's offer to buy the remaining buildings at 21-24 Market Square was accepted and the 300 year old buildings were demolished and in 1928/29 Dunns erected a modern Arts and Craft style three story department store at a cost of £16,000 which is shown in the image circa 1930. This building was to serve the town until destroyed by high explosive and inendiary bombing in 1941. Dunn's premises in Widmore Road were also lost on the same night due to incendiary bombs.
Affectionately known as the Governor H G Dunn lead a large staff. Bromley Archives and Local Studies hold amongst the materials deposited by his grandson Geoffrey Dunn an image of a staff outing to Lullingstone in 1900 and Geoffrey left his recollection of those involved. The Lullingstone image includes a group of men who cycled to Lullingstone another image shows H G surrounded by staff on the platform at Bromley Station before embarking by train. In 1925 when H G and his wife celebrated their golden anniversary 80 staff dined with them as reported in the Bromley and District times.
His son Edward managed in the business in the 1930's along with his son Geoffrey. Geoffrey Dunn had introduced modern designs to the shop and in 1937 was eleceted to the council of the Council of Industrial design and in 1951 to the council of the Royal College of Art. In a 1952 article in "Future" magazine entitled Dunns and essay in design (Future Vol vII number1 pp50-54) the company's clientele are identified as including those who took the company offer of overnight accommodation on production of a rail ticket. The article mentions customers from Edinburgh and Glasgow. The attraction of modern design furniture at low prices by a company outside London and able to deliver brought a great deal of business to the town which had plenty of accommodation.
Each male member of the Dunn family served their time in organising funerals and the funeral accounts also record the participation of their wives in this aspect of serving the bereaved,either assisting in female burials in furnishing the coffin or preparing the corpse for burial and identifying burial plots in relevant records. As an experienced undertaker Geoffrey Dunn served in the Fatal Casualty Service Civil Defence at the outbreak of war before serving in the forces later in the War.
Following the bombing Geoffrey Dunn traded on the bomb site using a temporary building for furniture sales before commissioning the architect Bertram Carter to rebuild on the site the award winning three storey post war building which is locally listed and houses Argos,Lakeland, Wallis and Starbucks on the ground floor the remaining floors now providing office space. Geoffrey Dunn retired and sold the premises in 1967 to Heals.
 © Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2015