Dennis Specialist Vehicles Limited was a major British manufacturer of specialised commercial vehicles based in Guildford, England. The company was best known as the manufacturer of fire engines, although its other major product lines were buses, dustcarts and airport service vehicles.
Originally known as Dennis Brothers Ltd, the company was founded in 1895 by brothers John Cawsey (1871–1939) and (Herbert) Raymond (1878–1939) Dennis who made Speed King bicycles which they sold from their shop, the Universal Athletic Stores, in Guildford. They made their first motor vehicle in 1898, and in 1899, their first car; though shown at the National Cycle Show, it was never produced or sold.They entered car production around 1900. About this time John Dennis built the 30,000 square foot three storey building with lift between floors later known as the Rodboro Buildings, the first purpose-built motor vehicle factory in Britain, to manufacture motor vehicles in Onslow Street in the centre of Guildford. Larger models followed with a 35 hp (26 kW; 35 PS) model in 1906 powered by a White and Poppeengine; this power unit was soon fitted to all their models.
Commercial vehicle activity was increasing with the first bus being made in 1903 and fire engine in 1908. Cars soon took second place and it is doubtful if any were made after about 1915.
In 1913 Dennis Brothers moved to a new much larger building of almost four acres on a twelve acre site at Woodbridge on the outskirts of Guildford leaving Onslow Street solely for repairs. The rate of expansion of the business may be gauged from the following expansions at Woodbridge in 1907, 1910, 1912and 1913. In mid-1913 an offer of shares to the public made the business owner a public listed company. At that time the business was described as manufacturers of motor-vans, motor-lorries, motor-fire-engines, motor-cars etc.
Wartime production was reduced to military lorries for the War Office and the Dennis turbine fire engine. New buildings were added to contain the manufacture of munitions.
White and Poppe in Coventry has always supplied engines for Dennis Brothers motor vehicles. It had been under consideration from before the war and it was announced in April 1919 that Dennis Brothers andWhite and Poppe had agreed to an exchange of shares in each other's business. the fact being to give Dennis Brothers a controlling interest in the other company. Mr White and Mr Poppe joined the Dennis Brothers board.and transferred engine production from Coventry to Guildford.
The Karnataka Fire and Emergency Services owns a pumper that was built by Dennis Brothers and delivered to the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore in 1925 from England.
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.
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.
Dennis Lancet bus in Aldershot & District livery
Kowloon Motor Bus's Dennis Trident 3 with Duple Metsec