For the first time since the 1990s a mass gathering of Dennis products was arranged and this took place at the Tilford Rural Life Museum on 17th and 18th June 2023. Almost 50 exhibits were on display over the two days and these included Dennis Fire Engines, Buses, Commercial Vehicles, Lawn Mowers and Cars. The oldest vehicle present was a 1901 Dennis Tricycle and the newest a dead heat between a 2023 hydrogen fuel cell bus and a 2023 electric lawn mower!
The vehicles present covered almost the whole of the extensive traditional product range and the full list is given at the foot of this report. We were delighted to have support of the present day manufacturers of 'Dennis' products, namely ADL, makers of buses, Dennis Eagle, makers of refuse collection vehicles and Howardsons of Derby, who currently build Dennis lawn mowers. All three provided exhibits for display, and these comprised their latest products, prototypes, demonstration vehicles and vehicles with the latest power technology, hydrogen fuel cell and battery powered.
Not surprisingly, there was an excellent turn-out of Dennis fire engines. The Fire Engine contingent were able to present a modern as well as a historic perspective with Rapier and Sabre types on display and a Dagger development chassis, now bodied as a complete fire engine. Earlier fire engines ranged from a whole bevy of 1914 - 1916 'N' types, and a couple of 'Aces'. There were also some later vehicles such as a F106, and SS133, and a brace of three trailer pumps ranging in age from 1921 to 1954, at one time a significant production volume in the Dennis factory. All were looking immaculate and several engines present had uniformed firemen.
Representing the early days of vehicle production, John Dennis brought along his collection of the preserved 1901 tricycle and a trio of Dennis cars from 1902, 1909 and 1915. Apart from a 1898 bicycle, these are believed to be the oldest Dennis products in existence and it was very nice to have them on display. The Ripley Vintage Cycle club turned out in force and shared their knowledge of the few Dennis bicycles still surviving. Here we make an appeal to all readers to let us know if you discover a Dennis bicycle anywhere. Rare machines indeed.
Commercial vehicles present were few in numbers but high in quality. The earliest commercial vehicle on display was the 1916 N type Fruit Van brought along by Ben Hawkins. This created a lot of interest, parked as it was alongside several of the early N type fire appliances. Pete Lyons presented a beautifully restored Ace flatbed and a surprise entry was a 1961 Pax dropside. We were grateful to Dennis Eagle for providing an all-electric refuse collection vehicle for display, this being their demonstrator currently touring potential future operators. One other vehicle in the 'commercial' listing is a converted Sabre fire engine chassis, now used by ADL and fitted out to perform the function of a towed dynamometer.
Buses on display ranged from 1925 to 2023. London Bus Preservation Group entered their 4-ton London open topper, now presented in 'Public' blue livery. Six ex-Aldershot & District buses came along, Lance, Lancet, Falcon and Loline types, the Falcon P5 being used to provide rides on a short internal site tour. There was also a Falcon and Lancet from East Kent, 'old' (1936) and 'new' (2008) Darts and, of course, the three new ADL products, Enviros of the 200, 400 and 500 models. The latter, a magnificent three axle vehicle for export, was shown coupled to the 'Sabre' dynamometer test vehicle and this created a great deal of interest.
Ian Howard the Managing Director of Howardsons, brought with him three new mowers from their product range. They continue to build lawn mowers for the commercial market and work to the same values as Dennis had traditionally done in the past, innovative designs, high quality products at a competitive price. The new Dennis mowers from Howardsons comprised a 34 inch type 860 and two all-electric machines, a FT and a Premier, the latter design deriving directly from a 'traditional' Dennis type. Four of the older mowers present are normal residents at the Rural Life Museum, three of which formerly occupied the small museum at the Dennis factory at Guildford until the site closed. An excellent cross-section of earlier machines was displayed courtesy of Alec Hillyar, an avid Dennis collector. These included a 1922 mower with a Bradbury engine and so the mowers on display covered over 100 years of production.
The weather remained favourable throughout the weekend and a steady flow of spectators visited the displays giving rise to some interesting questions and lots of reminiscences! The 'Dennis Society' gazebo did a roaring trade in sale of second-hand transport books and other artefacts and several visitors took the opportunity to become members of the Society.