SHC Reference1463
TitleDENNIS SPECIALIST VEHICLES LTD AND PREDECESSOR COMPANIES, GUILDFORD: RECORDS
DescriptionThe principal series of records deposited include directors' minute books, annual reports and accounts, 1901-1974; financial records, 1901-1967; property records, 1905-1954; royal warrants, patents and trademarks, 1895-1972; personnel records, 1902-2001; sales records, c.1915-2000; customer order books, 1905-1984; vehicle production registers, 1908-1995; chassis books, 1921-1966; engine books, 1920-1974; works production orders, 1910-1995; vehicle handbooks and brochures, 1902-2001; press reports, 1907-2002; engineering drawings, 1903-2001; photographs and films, 1908-1970s.

The easiest way to trace a Dennis vehicle is by its chassis number. It is also possible to trace a vehicle by its engine number, although this depends on knowing the type of engine the vehicle was fitted with. The chassis books (1463/CB/1-6) and engine books (1463/EB/1-7) should be consulted first. The chassis book gives type of vehicle, chassis number, date vehicle left works, engine number, customer name, and order number. The engine book gives engine details, chassis number, customer, order number, and date vehicle left works. The order number can be used to find further information in the customer order books, which gives brief details of the vehicle(s), including price and the number of vehicles ordered. Works production orders give details of the vehicle and equipment fitted. After c.1945 there were two forms of WPOs, one covering the chassis, the other the work from the body shop. Further information relating to individual vehicles or vehicle types may be found in the photographs, drawings, brochures and handbooks.
Date1895-2002
LevelCollection
ProvenanceDeposited by Hestair Dennis and Dennis Specialist Vehicles Ltd, between April 1983 and December 2002.
IntroductionJohn Dennis (1871-1939) opened his 'little cycle shop', otherwise known as the Universal Athletic Stores, near Guildford Bridge, in 1895. Soon he was joined by his brother Raymond Dennis (1878-1939), and the partners progressed from 'Speed King' bicycles, through motor tricycles (1899), and a motor quadricycle (1900), to Dennis cars (1901-1902). In 1900 the business expanded into the old barracks in Friary Street, and in 1901 a factory was built at the corner of Onslow Street and Bridge Street, later known as Rodboro Buildings. Though enlarged in 1903 and 1905, it was still too small for the company's needs, so in August 1905 the first workshop was built on a site at Woodbridge Hill. A further 10 workshops were built between 1910 and 1936 on what became a 31 acre site. In 1911 the entire factory moved to Woodbridge Hill leaving the offices in Onslow Street until 1919 when the building was sold to the Rodboro Boot and Shoe Company. The company remained at Woodbridge Hill until 1990 when it moved to Slyfield Industrial Estate, Guildford.

Dennis Brothers Limited, a private company, was formed in July 1901 with 4 directors, 7 subscribers, and a capital of £7500, increased to £100,000 in 1906. Dennis Brothers (1913) Ltd was floated as a public company with £300,000 of share capital in March 1913. In 1918 the company returned to its original name of Dennis Brothers Ltd. John and Raymond Dennis were joint managing directors. Raymond, who was knighted in 1920, was an inspired sales director, making Dennis vehicles known throughout the world.

In 1919 a 'fusion of interests' amalgamated Dennis with White and Poppe, the Coventry based engine manufacturers, much of whose output of engines had been used in Dennis vehicles since at least 1909. A J White and P A Poppe joined the Dennis board and the Dennis capital was increased to £600,000.

In 1920 a subsidiary company, Dennis Portland, was floated to market the 2/2½ ton chassis, and in 1929 another subsidiary, Dennis Contracts, was created to operate a hire-purchase scheme. In 1933 White and Poppe engine manufacturing was moved from Coventry to Guildford. In 1934 land was acquired for Dennisville, just west of the factory, with the aim of providing housing for workers. In 1962 the Fire Appliance section of Alfred Miles was acquired and in 1964 the Mercury Truck and Tractor Company. Between 1969 and 1972 company rearrangements failed to keep the business in profit, despite continuing large orders, and this ended with a takeover by Hestair in 1972. The Hestair Company had been formed in 1970 by the takeover of the former Heston Airport Company by David Hargreaves, backed by Bankers Trust International. Hestair had previously acquired Yorkshire Vehicles Ltd, makers of tankers and road sweeper bodies, and Eagle Engineering, manufacturers of tankers and refuse bodies.

In 1973 the firm was called Dennis Motors Ltd and from 1977 to 1985 Hestair Dennis. In 1984 Hestair Dennis decided to concentrate on building just chassis, relying on other firms to build the bodies of the vehicles. The following year the company was renamed Dennis Specialist Vehicles. Also in 1985, John Dennis, grandson of the founder, started his own works in Guildford, known as John Dennis Coachbuilders.

In 1989 Hestair's vehicle building business was bought by a new company, Trinity Holdings. In 1990 Dennis Specialist Vehicles moved to new premises on the Slyfield Industrial Estate, in Guildford. The company was subsequently acquired by the Mayflower Corporation. The Mayflower Corporation formed TransBus International in January 2001, comprising Walter Alexander Coachbuilders, Plaxton and Dennis. The Mayflower group went into administration on 31 March 2004. Plaxton returned to independent ownership, and the remainder of the company was bought by a group of independent businessmen in May 2004, and was henceforth known as Alexander Dennis.

The company has produced many types of vehicles during its history. Cars were produced from 1901 to c.1913, buses from 1903, vans and lorries from 1904, fire engines from 1908 (the first one being supplied to the city of Bradford), ambulances from 1909, cesspool and gully emptiers and refuse vehicles from 1921, lawn mowers and trailer fire pumps from 1922.

New models in all these fields appeared frequently and there were many variants with for example different wheelbase lengths and engines. During both world wars production was devoted to the war effort, including 7000 subsidy vehicles supplied to the War Office in 1914-1918, and lorries, agricultural vehicles and Churchill tanks in World War II.

A pattern of experiments and development went on continually. A worm-driven rear axle was patented in 1904, ensuring a long-lasting and smooth transmission. New models appeared almost every year, including for example the E type low line bus chassis (1925); the 12 ton 6 cyclinder chassis for big buses (1929); Lancet bus chassis (1931); diesel engine (1931); F1 and F3 fire engines (1946); Paxit Major refuse collector (1952); forward entrance Loline double deck bus (1958); dust-less refuse collecting vehicle (1959); F26 fire engine and the Delta chassis (1961); F117 'Snorkel' fire engine (1963); R series fire engines (1976); Dart bus (1989) and Rapier fire engine (1991).

An important feature of Dennis production was the making of all vehicles to order. The company established a reputation as 'a highly specialised producer of quality vehicles to specific requirements'. Each vehicle had its own individual features as specified by the customer, as the works production orders make clear.
ArrangementThe records have been arranged in a number of overall series, comprising official records of the company and its subsidiaries, finance, property, personnel, vehicle production, handbooks, sales, brochures, press reports, photographs and films, and company history. An alphanumeric numbering scheme was devised relevant to individual series of records.
Related RecordsFor Dennis Brothers Ltd publicity photographs and press cuttings, 1919-1940, see 5016; for vehicle advertisements, brochures and leaflets, 1961-1966, see 1722; for vehicle handbooks and photographs, 1920-1930, see 5011 and 5030; for technical drawings, 1930-1961, see Zg/30 and Zg/81; for passenger service vehicle chassis lists, 1946-1968, see 5012; for newspaper cuttings books, 1923-1951, and photograph albums, 1920s-1939, see 7180; for a product catalogue, c.1905, see Zg/98; for employees' papers, reminiscences and photographs, 20th cent, see 5028, 5108, 5252 and 5392; for records of Dennis Foster, sales director (1960-1970), 1963-1973, see 1720; for a film entitled 'The Dennis Factory and their Products', nd [c.1968], see F11.
Access restrictionsRecords less than 30 years old are closed to public inspection.
BibliographyR Twelvetrees and P Squire, Why Dennis - And How, (Guildford, 1945);
P Kennett, Dennis, World Trucks No. 6 (P Stephens, Cambridge, 1979);
R N Hannay, Dennis Buses in Camera (Ian Allan, London, 1980);
Autobus Review, '75 years of Dennis Buses and Coaches', (1980);
S Corke, 'Dennis of Guildford: an introduction to the firm and its records', Surrey History, vol III, no.3 (1986);
N Baldwin, The illustrated history of Dennis buses and trucks (Haynes, Yeovil, 1987);
S Brown, Dennis – 100 years of innovation (Ian Allan, Shepperton, 1995);
S Morris, 'Dennis at 100: Britain's leading bus manufacturer in its centenary year', in Buses Focus (Ian Allan, Autumn 1995)

For recent company history see the following websites: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Dennis (visited 18 Nov 2005), www.alexander-dennis.com/homepage.htm (visited 18 Nov 2005)
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