This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.

Back to Search page

Dennis Bros Ltd Cycle & Motor Factory, Guildford

The first purpose-built motor vehicle factory in England.

Red Wheel Site:
Transport Mode(s):

The Rodboro Buildings, 1-10 Bridge Street, Guildford, Surrey GU1 4SB


Visitor Centre:

About Dennis Bros Ltd Cycle & Motor Factory, Guildford

John Dennis Coachbuilders is a major British coachbuilder of specialised commercial vehicles based in Guildford, England. Originally known as Dennis Brothers Ltd, the company was founded in 1895 by John and Raymond Dennis who initially manufactured bicycles, sold from their shop, the Universal Athletic Stores, in Guildford. 

Their first motor vehicle was assembled in 1899, a De Dion powered tricycle which was exhibited at the National Cycle Show but never offered for sale. In 1901 the first Dennis car was constructed, a De Dion powered four wheeler rated at 8 hp. Later that year, Dennis Bros found a site in the centre of Guildford and commissioned the first purpose-built motor vehicle factory in England, extended in 1904. A feature was the internal lift allowing assembled cars to be moved to the ground floor showroom. More powerful cars quickly followed, with a 35 hp model in 1906 powered by the White and Poppe engine on which subsequent models were based.

However, the company's expertise in commercial vehicle manufacture was also growing rapidly, with the first Dennis bus appearing in 1903 and their first fire engine in 1908. Dennis Bros opened a significantly larger factory at Woodbridge, on the outskirts of Guildford, in stages from 1905 to handle the escalating demand for larger motor vehicles – by 1919 this was one of the largest lorry-building facilities in Europe. Progressively, the company's focus moved away from cars and the original factory was vacated in 1912.  White and Poppe was purchased in 1919 and engine production transferred from Coventry to Guildford in 1933. Many of the workforce relocated to a new housing estate – Dennisville.

The old factory was home to the Rodboro Boot and Shoe Company between 1919 and 1928, then a confectionery wharehouse, but the premises have been known ever since as the Rodboro Buildings. Once threatened by demolition, this Grade II Listed Building has been a pub since 1998. 

By road: On A322, Bridge Street.

By rail: The building is less than 1km from Guildford Station.


Adeney, M.,The Motor Makers: The Turbulent History of Britain's Car Industry, Harper Collins, ISBN-10: 0002177870 (1988)

Church, R. A., The Rise and Decline of the British Motor Industry, Cambridge University Press, ISBN-10: 0521557704 (2008)

Culshaw, David, Complete Catalogue of British Cars 1895-1975, Veloce Publishing, ISBN-10: 1874105936 (1998)

Dunnett, P.J.S., The Decline of the British Motor Industry, Routledge, ISBN-10: 0709900120 (1980)

Hibbs, John, The History of British Bus Services, David & Charles, ISBN-10: 0715319388 (2004)

Judge, William Arthur, Modern Motor Cars and Commercial Vehicles : Their Principles, Construction, Maintenance, and Management, Caxton, ASIN: B0014NDOJ6 (1931)

Nicholson, T.R., The Birth of the British Motor Car, 1769-1897, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN-10: 0333327179 (1982)

Oliver, G., Motor Trials and Tribulations - A History of Scottish Vehicle Manufacture, HMSO, ISBN -10 01149 51713 (1993)

Richardson, K., The British Motor Industry 1896-1939, Macmillan, ISBN-10: 0333219252 (1977)

Rowley, Simon, British Fire Engines of the 1950's and 1960's, Trans-Pennine Publishing, ISBN-10: 0952107074 (1999)

Trussler, David, Early Commercial Vehicles, Hugh Evelyn, ASIN: B0029WBWF4 (1968)

Varey, Mike., 1000 Historic Automobile Sites, Elderberry Press, ISBN-10 19308 59500 (2003)

Wallington, Neil, 100 Years of the British Fire Engine, Jeremy Mills Publishing, ISBN-10: 1906600309 (2008)

Brown, Stewart J, Dennis - 100 Years of Innovation, Dennis Specialist Vehicles Ltd, ISBN-10: 0711023220 (1995) 

National Transport Trust, Old Bank House, 26 Station Approach, Hinchley Wood, Esher, Surrey KT10 0SR