This year marks the 150th anniversary of Craven Dunnill & Co, the UK’s longest-operating tile supplier and leading global specialist in the manufacture of traditionally styled, decorative ceramic tiles.

Its long history in the manufacturing of fine ceramic tiles began with the construction of Jackfield Tile Works in Ironbridge in 1872, where its tiles are still produced today. The factory is part of the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site and is now the oldest surviving purpose-built tile factory in the world.

Craven Dunnill’s longstanding commitment to its craft and its products is clear. Original production methods are often used, paired with secret glaze recipes and hand-decoration techniques to ensure true authenticity, provenance and individuality in the tiles. It is this long-held passion for quality that forms the foundations for its award-winning product collections on offer today.

Left to right: Gillian Crumpton, Head of Interpretation and Exhibitions at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, Adrian Blundell, Production Director at Craven Dunnill Jackfield, Peter Howells and his son Simon Howells, the former and current Managing Directors of Craven Dunnill & Co

Craven Dunnill’s decorative tiles can be found in historic locations such as the Palace of Westminster, London Underground, Harrods and Kew Gardens. In its 150th year, the company continues to combine modernity and tradition with its time-honoured production techniques to bring bespoke wall, floor, decorative art, casting and faience ceramics to life for commercial and residential clients through its Craven Dunnill Jackfield division.

By the late 19th-century, the construction demands of the British Empire had become major factors in the growth and success of the company, and by the turn of the century, Craven Dunnill had become renowned throughout the world for its floor and wall tiles in cathedrals, courthouses, banks, government buildings and hospitals.

The year 1916 marked the beginning of a new lineage for Craven Dunnill when FC Howells, a resident of Ironbridge, returned to take over the company as Managing Director. Howells had experienced notable success at Pilkington Tile & Pottery Co, personally designing the tiles used throughout the Victoria Baths in Manchester. The commencement of his position at the helm represented an evolution for the company; the role has subsequently been occupied by the Howells family for five consecutive generations. As the company’s 150th-anniversary dawns, the position is held by Simon Howells, FC Howells’ Great Great Grandson.

Left: Peter and Simon Howells, the former and current Managing Directors at Craven Dunnill & Co holding the original Certificate of Incorporation from 9th February 1872 in the factory hallway, decorated with original 1872 tiles

In the 1970s, under the direction of the fourth Howells generation, Craven Dunnill was a founding member of the Association of British Ceramic Distributors (ABCD) group, becoming one of the first UK companies to import and distribute wall and floor tiles from Europe. This also established the company’s strong international supply relationships that are still in place today.

Since the turn of the 21st century, Craven Dunnill has expanded into the architectural and interior design sector, supplying ceramic tiles and surfaces for specifiers with market-leading technical expertise and product knowledge.

Simon Howells, Managing Director, says: “It is an honour and a privilege for us to work each day with the provenance and the heritage of the company at the front and centre of every tile we sell and every project we take on. On this 150th year, I am proud of our passionate workforce, our unrivalled portfolio and our commitment to British craft. We have a responsibility to the preservation of hand skills, craft education and excellence in British design, and are working towards amplifying these stories of our history to inform the next 150 years.”

Gillian Crumpton, Head of Interpretation and Exhibitions at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, says: “The 150th anniversary is a great opportunity to highlight the partnership between the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust and Craven Dunnill Jackfield Ltd. This factory, now the home of Jackfield Tile Museum, was built in 1872 by Craven Dunnill & Co. and is the most complete remaining Victorian tile factory in the world. It was to their original factory that they returned in 2000 to produce traditionally styled, decorative tiles. We’re proud to partner with this organisation, in their original home, where they still manufacture high-quality products, are working with the next generation of artists and designers to keep skills alive, and run, on our behalf, education workshops for schools and groups.”

To celebrate its 150th year of trading, Craven Dunnill partnered with the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust to restore the historical signage on its original factory at Jackfield: Craven Dunnill & Co Ltd Jackfield Encaustic & Decorative Tile Works. The site represents the birthplace of the Company, and it has been over 75 years since the original factory sign was last painted in full.

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