Dennis N-Type

Dennis N-Type

John Dennis was born in 1871. He moved away from his West Country family to take up a position with Filmer and Mason of Guildford in 1894. In January 1895 he moved on to establish a cycle shop in Guildford, the Universal Athletic Stores. He invited his younger brother Raymond to join him in this venture as a junior director. The Dennis brothers probably made their first motor vehicles in this year, possibly including a car. Production continued and in 1898 the popular proprietary de Dion engine was adopted for their motor tricycles.

On the 13th July (1899) John Dennis was trying out a motorised tricycle. From the direction of the river, he tackled the slope of Guildford High Street, passing, at the foot, the end of Friary Street. In Friary Street was Sergeant William Hall, of the Borough Police, who saw the machine flash past; when he reached the main thoroughfare, it had disappeared up the hill, but the worthy sergeant had, he believed, all the evidence he needed. When the case came before the magistrates, he stated on oath that the machine had been driven at a furious pace, at least 16mph. In vain the defendant protested that the engine was incapable of giving the power required for such a performance on the hill; the magistrates were convinced that there was an offence. They came to the conclusion that the 16mph was not proved, but, for furious driving, twenty shillings was the penalty imposed. And the upshot? To turn adversity into advantage has always marked the genius. Next weeks Dennis advertisements triumphantly declared that their machines could climb Guildford High Street (for those who don’t know it, the maximum gradient is one in eleven) “at 16mph, on the sworn testimony of a constable”. Autocar, 1899

In 1901, with motor vehicles outstripping bicycles, Dennis Bros was founded.

John Reginald Downing served his apprenticeship with John Fowler and Co. of Leeds, who primarily made traction engines. This gave him an excellent grounding in general engineering, and in 1902 he applied to Dennis Bros for employment on approval. He rapidly became a key figure in many aspects of life at Dennis Bros. He was a successful driver for Dennis in races and trials, and was also their principle draughtsman. Alongside John and Raymond Dennis, Downing played a key role in the development and manufacture of the Dennis Turbine Motor Fire Engine in 1908 by fitting a Gwynne pump to their already proven commercial vehicle chassis (N Type).

During World War I over 7000 staff (including many women) were employed by Dennis Bros, keeping the factory working 24 hours per day.

Further Reading