Dennis Specialist Vehicles

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  • Dennis Brothers Limited
  • Dennis Motors Limited
  • to
  • Transbus International Limited
Industry Automotive
Fate Merged with Alexander and Plaxton
Successor Alexander Dennis Limited (Chassis Group)
John Dennis Coachbuilders
Dennis Eagle Limited
Founded 1895 (1895)
Founder John and Raymond Dennis
Defunct 2001
Headquarters Guildford, England
Parent Hestair Group (1972-1989)
Trinity Holdings (1989-1998)
Mayflower Corporation (1998-2004)
Website www.alexander-dennis.com
By appointment
1939 Big Four radiator

Dennis Brothers Limited was a British manufacturer of commercial vehicles in Guildford, England. It is best remembered as a manufacturer of buses, fire engines and lorries (trucks) and municipal vehicles such as dustcarts. All vehicles were made to order to the customer's requirements and more strongly built than mass production equivalents. For most of the 20th century Dennis Brothers was Guildford's main employer.

The Dennis brand remains in use but after 1972 following a decade of financial difficulties the first shareholders sold out and Dennis's ownership passed through a number of hands. The Woodbridge site was sold and a new small factory built in Slyfield. The Dennis brand is currently controlled through Alexander Dennis by the major shareholders of Stagecoach Group

Independent since 1987 John Dennis Coachworks builds fire appliance bodies in Guildford using chassis and cabs from Volvo, MAN, Scania, Mitsubishi and Mercedes rather than purpose-built chassis and cabs.[1][2]

The first purpose-built motor vehicle factory in Britain — 2007
Dennis rear entrance tonneau. This 1902 car belongs to John Dennis, grandson of founder Raymond Dennis

Dennis Brothers 1895 to 1901[edit]

Dennis Brothers was founded in 1895 by brothers John Cawsey Dennis (1871–1939) and (Herbert) Raymond Dennis (1878–1939) who made Speed King bicycles.[3] They built the bicycles from bought-in parts and sold them from their shop, The Universal Athletic Stores, in High Street, Guildford. They made their first motor vehicle in 1898, and in 1899, their first car, The Dennis Light Doctor's Car. Though shown at the National Cycle Show this car was never put into production.[4]

Dennis Brothers Limited 1901 to 1972[edit]

After incorporating Dennis Brothers Limited the brothers began car production around 1901.[5] John Dennis built the 30,000 square foot three storey plus basement building in Onslow Street in the centre of Guildford with a lift between floors later known as the Rodboro Buildings. This was the first purpose-built motor vehicle factory in Britain.[6]

Worm drive back axle[edit]

The back wheels of most vehicles were driven by a chain from each side of a differential fixed to the chassis frame. Dennis Brothers developed and patented a reliable worm drive into a differential mounted on the back axle.[7]

Larger models followed their first light cars. A 35 hp model in 1906 was powered by a White and Poppe engine. This power unit was soon fitted to all their vehicles.

Commercial vehicles[edit]

1910 van replica
1906 2-ton van
1912 motor-fire-engine for Swindon's GWR works

Commercial vehicle activity increased. Their first was a van for London's Harrod's. They made their first bus in 1903 and their first fire engine in 1908 — for Bradford Council Fire Department.[8] The last car was made in 1913 after the Dennis brothers saw there was less competition in the commercial vehicle market.[9]

The rate of growth of the business may be gauged from the regular expansions on their new site at Woodbridge Hill on the outskirts of Guildford — in 1907, 1910, 1912 and 1913. In 1913 Dennis Brothers moved their main operations to a new much larger building of almost four acres on the twelve-acre site at Woodbridge leaving their purpose-built Onslow Street premises solely for repairs.[10] In March 1913 the investing public learnt that Dennis Brothers was a manufacturer of motor-vans, motor-lorries, motor-fire-engines, motor-cars etc. The brothers' offer of shares to the public was substantially over-subscribed and Dennis Brothers Limited became a public listed company.[11][12] Rising international tensions precipitated a major contract for supply of 1,000 3-ton "subsidy" lorries to private buyers on terms set by the War Office. Taking the subsidy obliged the buyer to release the vehicle to the War Office in time of war. Materials had been ordered but no subvention lorries completed when the situation changed.[citation needed]

War[edit]

Motor mower

After August 1914's outbreak of hostilities production was reduced to the subvention type 3-ton military lorries, now supplied directly to the War Office, and the Dennis turbine fire engine.[note 1][13] The Ministry of Munitions took complete control of the whole business in 1915. New buildings were added to contain the manufacture of munitions.[14]

Between wars[edit]

1920s[edit]

Following 1918's armistice there was a severe glut of war surplus vehicles and a consequent collapse in demand for new trucks.[9] To compensate the Dennis product range was expanded into municipal vehicles — dustcarts (refuse collection), street cleaning vehicles, sewage tankers and pumps etc. Municipal vehicles do not suffer from the fluctuations of demand experienced by the overall economy. Buyers tend to replace them at fixed periods so there is an element of longer term planning. While it is a relatively small market it is stable. Motor mowers were added in 1922.[8]

1933 Dart with Duple body

White and Poppe in Coventry had always supplied engines for Dennis Brothers motor vehicles. A takeover had been under consideration before the war but it was not until April 1919 that it was made public Dennis Brothers and White and Poppe had agreed to an exchange of shares in each other's business.[15] The swap gave Dennis Brothers the controlling interest in White and Poppe. Alfred White and Peter Poppe joined the Dennis Brothers board[16]but it was not until March 1933 in the midst of the 1930s depression that engine production was transferred from Coventry to Guildford.

One chassis was used for both lorries and buses. In the 1920s Dennis began to design and build separate chassis for their public service vehicles with a lower ride height.[17] Pneumatic tyres were introduced. Forward control buses were added to their catalogue in the same decade.[9] Export markets were developed between the wars, particularly transport vehicles for Hong Kong.[8]

Dennisville on the left below
Guildford Cathedral

The 1930s[edit]

The decade began with the Great Depression. Diesel engines were in demand for larger commercial vehicles. New Dennis buses were a double-deck Lance and single-deck Lancet. The Dennis Ace, a smaller twenty-seater bus was brought into production in 1933 using the chassis of Dennis's small lorry. The Arrow Minor followed in 1935 and a new Falcon chassis in 1938.[9]

John and Raymond Dennis built 223 houses for their workers, 102 of them on a 20 acres estate in Woodbridge Hill for their Coventry motor workers who brought production of White & Poppe engines to Guildford in 1933. The area took on the name Dennisville.[18] Both brothers died in 1939 and they are commemorated in the names of Dennisville's St John's Road and Raymond Crescent.

Wartime fire pump

Second war[edit]

During the Second World War the Ministry of Supply restricted Dennis to lorries and allocated bus production to Daimler and Guy.[9] Over that period Dennis built some 3,000 6/8 ton capacity lorries together with 700 Churchill tanks, 17,000 engines for landing craft, fire pumps, 750,000 bombs[19] and infantry carriers . The plant operated around the clock and the number of workers doubled to 4,000.[8]

The 1950s[edit]

Middlesex ambulance

After the war bus production began again. 1950 introductions were a passenger chassis named Dominant with a semi-automatic transmission and a horizontally mounted diesel engine and Paxit all-enclosed mechanical rear-loading refuse-collection vehicles.[20] Rolls-Royce diesel engines replaced Dennis petrol engines in the fire engines during 1951.[21] New show vehicles in 1952 included a 5½ litre Centaur chassis with platform body, a Pax chassis with tipping gear and a lightweight body and the Stork chassis.[22]

A.V.1, a new diesel ambulance chassis, returned ambulances to the Dennis product line-up during 1954. The next year an updated heavy fire engine chassis received Rolls-Royce fully automatic gearboxes.[23]

They were not yet in production but Dennis revealed their plans for new Loline model doubledeck buses at the end of 1956. Built with Dennis components they used a patent Lodekka chassis design developed by nationalised Bristol Commercial Vehicles. The Dennis version was for the independent section of the market Bristol was unable to supply.[24] During 1957 sales in both home and export markets fell.[25] Demand for commercial vehicles did not recover after the Suez Crisis. The new Loline buses were in service and a variant new chassis was now available with front entry providing driver control of the door.[26]

The 1940s and 1950s were Dennis's best years. The 1950s saw the introduction of diesel engines and automatic transmissions and engines were moved below bus floors to increase carrying capacity.[8]

The 1960s[edit]

1961 Pax flatbed
1971 Dominant tipper

In the 1960s engines moved to the back of the buses.[9]

  • Acquisitions:
Dennis bought the fire appliance division of Hawker Siddeley Group's Alfred Miles in May 1962 "to widen their service" to customers.[27]
In April 1964 Dennis bought Mercury Truck and Tractor Company tractors and Mercury Airfield Equipment[8] — air tugs to pull military and civil aircraft about on the ground later baggage trailers and ground units - and Mercury Snow Control.[28]

Potential customers preferred their new vehicles front-entrance and rear-engined and Dennis had no bus in production to meet those requirements. Dennis chose to end bus manufacture in 1965 and concentrate on lorries which also faced declining demand.[9]

In late 1965 a significant block of shareholders dissatisfied with the performance of their business asked that Dennis Brothers cease production and liquidate its assets.[29] The disputes ended when the rebels were unable to find a buyer for the Dennis business at an acceptable price. Major changes were made to management and to the directorate. The following year turnover grew again and profits seemed to have made improvement.[30] New capital was found[31] for an expansion and modernisation programme and twelve months later the new chairman reported activities had been split into six clear-cut divisions and claimed they were "poised for recovery".[32]

The shareholders were faced with continuing losses. Responding to their invitation John King of Pollard Ball took up the challenge and accepted the position of chairman of the board.[33] Julian Amery, a former Minister of Aviation, joined the board as did a new CEO and a new finance director.[34] The workforce of 1300 was cut by 150, mostly white-collar workers.[35] A banker was added to the directorate.

At King's suggestion a holding company was set up on 15 January 1970, Dennis Motor Holdings,[36] with all part-time directors. In June the chairman announced much greater losses in the subsequent half year but he remained optimistic.[37] They listed their products as: commercial vehicles, fire engines, refuse collection vehicles and aircraft tractors.

Sale[edit]

Almost two years later —during which they remained out of the public eye— for some reason Dennis suddenly announced they had sold 101 houses over the past twelve months located in Slyfield's Woking Road and in Midleton Road, Dennisville.[38] Nine days later on 27th March they received "the long awaited bid" from Hestair.[39]

Hestair[edit]

Dennis Motors Limited 1972 to 1977[edit]

1982 Dominator with Alexander body

In March 1972 Hestair made a successful take-over bid for Dennis Motor Holdings at that time described by the press as "the dust-cart and fire engine maker". It took effect in May 1972. With Dennis came 35 acres of sprawling red brick factory on the Guildford by-pass. Hestair announced they intended to hive off surplus land.[40]

Hestair was a new industrial investment vehicle managed by David Hargreaves. It had bought Yorkshire Vehicles and Eagle Engineering in the spring of 1971. Yorkshire Vehicles made road sweeper bodies and Eagle Engineering made refuse bodies. Both businesses made bodies for effluent tankers. Hestair's other interests were agricultural engineering, toys and employment bureaux. Dennis Motor Holdings was renamed Dennis Motors Limited[36] and managed as the Vehicle Division of Hestair Engineering.

Hestair's Hargreaves set to work. June 1972 saw the end of the manufacture of trucks for haulage.[9] In September Hestair dispensed with Dennis's Mercury towing tractors and motor mowers to Marshalls (Halifax)[41][8] and new plant was bought. envec —Environmental Vehicles[42]— was chosen as the new brand name for marketing the municipal vehicles built by Dennis Motors Limited, Eagle Engineering Co Limited and Yorkshire Vehicles Limited.[43]

Haulage trucks and buses again[edit]

Non-specialist truck production for general haulage resumed in 1974 after a break of two years.[44] New rear-engined single-decker and double-decker buses were announced in August 1977 after a bus-building break of eleven years. At the time of the announcement the workforce was 875 and Dennis Motors remained Guildford's largest employer.[45] The first new bus was the Dominator with a double-deck body followed by more new buses named Dorchester, Lancet and Falcon. The Falcon chassis took either single or double-deck bodies. All names belonged to previous successful Dennis models.[9] A new range of fire appliances, the R series, went into production in 1976. A single specialist fire engine chassis on which modular body units could be mounted it was complementary to the existing range.[46]

On the last day of 1977 Dennis Motors Limited was renamed Hestair Dennis Limited.[36]

Hestair Dennis Limited 1977 to 1985[edit]

1981 dustcart

From late August 1977 the former Dennis Motors business is referred to as Hestair Dennis.[47] 1978 revealed a Queens Award for Exports.[48] In February 1980 John Smith, the managing director of Hestair Dennis, was jailed for life in Baghdad for paying "huge amounts for commercial deals and secret information".[49] Four of the Iraqis with him were hanged.[50] He was not released until February 1988.[51]

Dennis launched the Delta 1600 series, middleweight 16 tonne vehicles for tipper and haulage applications.[52] In the 1980s bus engines stayed beneath the floor but were moved as far back as possible to release luggage space. Dennis introduced their Javelin design using a 6-cylinder Cummins engine. Previous models had used Gardner engines.[9]

After Duple reported losses for the year of £1.4 million Hestair Dennis bought Duple Coachbuilders Limited of Cradley Heath in June 1983. Duple owned Duple Metsec at Tipton, West Midlands, suppliers of bus body kits for assembly overseas. Between the two subsidiaries Hestair could produce complete vehicles with integrated body-chassis units.[53]


In 1972 the company was acquired by Hestair Group and renamed Hestair Dennis after a few years of financial difficulties. It was sold to Trinity Holdings (formed from a management buyout from Hestair Group) in 1989 and then to Mayflower Corporation in October 1998.

As of the 1990s, the company was no longer a single integrated whole, but was three independent businesses which their parent company is Dennis Group plc, namely:

  • Dennis Fire - manufacturer of fire appliances.
  • Dennis Bus - manufacturer of buses and other public transport vehicles
  • Dennis Eagle - manufacturer of dustcarts/refuse lorries (municipal vehicles). This company also incorporated the remains of the Eagle Engineering and Shelvoke and Drewry concerns.

Dennis Group plc also owned Duple Metsec, the bus bodywork builder which usually supplied body kits for assembly overseas.

Mayflower Corporation sold Dennis Eagle in July 1999 and purchased by Ros Roca in 2006. Dennis Bus and Dennis Fire were incorporated into Transbus International (now Alexander Dennis) in 2001.

Products[edit]

Fire engines[edit]

N-Type fire engine
1953 F8 Fire Water Tender

Dennis fire engines were noted, from the outset, for their use of a centrifugal pump or 'turbine' as a water pump, rather than the piston pumps used by other makers. This was more complex to build than the long-established piston pumps, but had advantages in operation. Where water was supplied under pressure from a hydrant, rather than by suction from a pond, this additional pressure was boosted through the centrifugal pump, whereas a piston pump would have throttled it. Piston pumps also gave a pulsating outlet pressure which required an air-filled receiver to even this out.[54]

Military vehicles of the First World War[edit]

Over 7,000 Dennis 3-Ton lorries were built for the War Department during the First World War. These 3-Ton lorries could reach 55 miles per hour and climb gradients as steep as 1 in 6.

Buses[edit]

Dennis Lance bus in Aldershot and District Traction Company livery
Dennis Lancet bus in Aldershot & District livery
Dennis Loline III bus
1926–1967
  • E/EV (front-engined single decker)
  • F/FS (bonneted single decker)
  • G/GL (bonneted small capacity bus)
  • H/HS/HV (front-engined double decker)
  • Dart (bonneted small capacity bus)
  • Arrow (front-engined single decker)
  • Lancet/Lancet 2/Lancet 3/Lancet 4 (front-engined single decker)
  • Lance/Lance 2/Lance 3 (front-engined double decker)
  • Ace (front-engined small capacity bus)
  • Mace (front-engined small capacity bus)
  • Falcon (front-engined small capacity bus)
  • Pike
  • Dominant (underfloor-engined single decker)
  • Lancet UF (underfloor-engined single decker)
  • Pelican (underfloor-engined light-weight single decker)
  • Loline
1977–2000

Trucks[edit]

1931 Dennis 30 cwt
1956 Dennis Pax
Between wars
  • Ace
  • Max
  • Max Major
Post war
  • Pax
  • Horia
  • Centaur
  • Jubilant
  • Stork
  • Hefty
  • Condor
  • Heron
  • Paravan
  • Maxim
  • Delta

Refuse trucks[edit]

2011 Dennis Elite 2 refuse truck

Dennis were noted as specialist makers of refuse collection trucks, with compactors, bin lifters, tipper-body emptying and other specialised features for this market.

Military vehicles of the Second World War[edit]

  • Loyd Carrier
  • Churchill Tank[55]
  • Light Artillery Tractor 6 x 6 'Octolat' (a misnomer, standing for 'eight wheel light artillery tractor, retained when the design was abbreviated by one axle to reduce length and weight, and improve handling).

Conceived to meet a requirement for a simple easily produced and maintained alternative to the effective but costly and complicated Quad 4 x 4 tractor, the Dennis design steered on the first pair of wheels but dispensed with springs, substituting six oversized tyres for conventional suspension.

A centre-control driving position in a shallow lightly armoured body provided with ammunition lockers and sheltered under an overall canvas tilt resulted in a vehicle not instantly recognisable as truck. (Prototypes used a box body in place of the simple platform and conventional cab). Early models were powered by twin coupled Bedford engines but the final design was powered by a powerful Leyland 9.8 litre engine. Length was 20 feet (6 metres), height 7ft 6 inches (2.3 metres) high.

Despite promising test results no production order was forthcoming.[56]

Joint ventures[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Pumper with a 50 gallon tank fitted with a new high efficiency Gwynne centrifugal pump. The Dennis Turbine Fire Engine. Commercial Motor, 23rd July 1908

References[edit]

  1. ^ "John Dennis Coachworks". Retrieved 25 June 2018. 
  2. ^ "Whatever Happened to Dennis Fire Engines?". Autonews. 6 October 2013. 
  3. ^ Wise, David Burgess. "Dennis: Bicycles, Motor Cycles, and Fire Engines", in Ward, Ian, executive editor. World of Automobiles (London: Orbis, 1974), Volume 5, p.527.
  4. ^ Wise, p.527.
  5. ^ Wise, p.527.
  6. ^ History
  7. ^ An All-British Motor Omnibus. Commercial Motor, 20th April 1905, Page 6
  8. ^ a b c d e f g John Dennis, Roger Heard. Address to Surrey Industrial Heritage Group, 25 February 2014. Accessed 4 August 2018
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Michael Hymans. British Coaching: Chassis Manufacturers, Coachbuilders and Operators Amberley Publishing, 2016 ISBN 9781445661803
  10. ^ The Times, Friday, Mar 07, 1913; pg. 13; Issue 40153
  11. ^ New Capital Issues. The Times, Monday, Mar 10, 1913; pg. 16; Issue 40155
  12. ^ Dennis Brothers (1913) Limited. The Times, Monday, Mar 10, 1913; pg. 17; Issue 40155.
  13. ^ Dennis Brothers (1913) (Limited). The Times, Tuesday, Nov 23, 1915; pg. 13; Issue 41019
  14. ^ Dennis Brothers (1913) (Limited). The Times, Friday, Nov 24, 1916; pg. 15; Issue 41333.
  15. ^ City News in Brief. The Times, Wednesday, Apr 09, 1919; pg. 21; Issue 42070
  16. ^ Company Meeting. The Times, Tuesday, Apr 22, 1919; pg. 18; Issue 42080
  17. ^ A New Low Load-line Dennis Chassis. Commercial Motor, 27th October 1925, Page 44
  18. ^ Michael Stratton, Barrie Trinder, Twentieth Century Industrial Archaeology. Taylor & Francis, 2014 ISBN 1136748083
  19. ^ Supply Minister On Controls. The Times, Friday, Nov 16, 1945; pg. 8; Issue 50301
  20. ^ Dennis Brothers Limited. The Times, Friday, Dec 22, 1950; pg. 8; Issue 51881
  21. ^ Dennis Brothers Limited. The Times, Thursday, Dec 20, 1951; pg. 8; Issue 52189
  22. ^ Dennis Brothers Limited. The Times, Saturday, Dec 19, 1953; pg. 11; Issue 52809
  23. ^ Dennis Brothers Limited (Motor and mechanical engineers). The Times, Tuesday, Dec 20, 1955; pg. 12; Issue 53408
  24. ^ Dennis Brothers Limited. The Times, Thursday, Dec 20, 1956; pg. 16; Issue 53719
  25. ^ Dennis Bros Limited. The Times, Friday, Dec 20, 1957; pg. 17; Issue 54029
  26. ^ Dennis Bros. Ltd. The Times, Friday, Dec 19, 1958; pg. 18; Issue 54338
  27. ^ Dennis Bros. The Times, Thursday, May 17, 1962; pg. 21; Issue 55393
  28. ^ Dennis Bros. The Times, Wednesday, Apr 08, 1964; pg. 23; Issue 55980
  29. ^ Dennis Rebels Join Board. The Times, Friday, Jan 21, 1966; pg. 17; Issue 56535
  30. ^ Dennis Recovers Smartly. The Times, Thursday, May 25, 1967; pg. 22; Issue 56950
  31. ^ Rights Issue. The Times, Wednesday, Jan 31, 1968; pg. 24; Issue 57163
  32. ^ Dennis aims to lift turnover to £8m. The Times, Wednesday, May 07, 1969; pg. 25; Issue 57553
  33. ^ Mr King goes to Dennis. The Times, Thursday, Sep 11, 1969; pg. 25; Issue 57662
  34. ^ Business Appointments. The Times, Friday, Jan 09, 1970; pg. 18; Issue 57763
  35. ^ Dennis Bros to cut work force. The Times, Saturday, Jan 10, 1970; pg. 12; Issue 57764
  36. ^ a b c Transbus International Limited, company no. 00970239, Companies House
  37. ^ company News. The Times, Friday, Jun 05, 1970; pg. 25; Issue 57888
  38. ^ Bids and Deals. The Times, Saturday, Mar 18, 1972; pg. 22; Issue 58430
  39. ^ Hestair offers £3.4m for Dennis Motors. The Times, Tuesday, Mar 28, 1972; pg. 19; Issue 58438
  40. ^ Hestair's two year potential. The Times, Wednesday, Aug 02, 1972; pg. 20; Issue 58542
  41. ^ Marshalls-Hestair. The Times, Monday, Sep 18, 1972; pg. 21; Issue 58582
  42. ^ Municipal Journal, Volume 81, Issues 14-26, Page 603
  43. ^ Torbay Conference. Commercial Motor, 8th June 1973, Page 57
  44. ^ Dennis Motors. The Times, Wednesday, Feb 27, 1974; pg. 26; Issue 59025
  45. ^ Success for manufacture centrepiece of Guildford. The Times, Monday, Aug 15, 1977; pg. 16; Issue 60082
  46. ^ Design. Commercial Motor, 4th June 1976, Page 57
  47. ^ The Times (London, England), Friday, Aug 26, 1977; pg. 14; Issue 60092
  48. ^ Hestair in £3m cash call to prime next phase of growth. The Times, Wednesday, May 17, 1978; pg. 23; Issue 60303
  49. ^ Briton jailed for life in Baghdad. The Times, Friday, Feb 29, 1980; pg. 1; Issue 60563
  50. ^ UK pledges £250m credit to Iraq. The Times, Friday, Oct 07, 1983; pg. 6; Issue 61657
  51. ^ Iraqi Pardon for Jailed Director. The Times (London, England), Friday, February 26, 1988; pg. 10; Issue 63013
  52. ^ Britain faces concerted pressure from abroad. The Times, Friday, Oct 17, 1980; pg. II; Issue 60752
  53. ^ Special Vehicles. The Times, Friday, Jun 24, 1983; pg. 18; Issue 61567
  54. ^ "The Dennis Turbine Fire Engine". Commercial Motor. 23 July 1908. 
  55. ^ https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01q04ry/Great_British_Railway_Journeys_Series_4_Portsmouth_to_Gomshall/
  56. ^ Ellis, Chris; Bishop, Denis (1971). Military Transport of World War II. 167 High Holborn, London WC1V 6PH: Blandford Press. pp. 34, 124. ISBN 0-7137-0702-X. 

External links[edit]