E.T.W. Dennis & Sons Ltd was a printing & publishing company based in Scarborough that was around for more than 100 years. Dennis opened his business in 1870. He’s famous for producing the first commercial privately published postcard in 1894, just weeks after the Post Office regulations changed to allow the publishing of such.
The image to the right shows that very first postcard. It’s image is of Scarborough’s North Bay. The earliest dated for Scarborough’s South Bay is 1897, unused and is owned by a Mr Brian Lund.
Dennis made picture postcards for thousands of UK locations and even had tours in Sudan and South Africa. Another notable fact is that they bought the stock of Bamforth’s famous saucy seaside postcards in the 1980’s. It’s operation closed for good in the year 2000.
Edward Thomas West Dennis was born September 4th 1847 in Stoke Newington, London. His parents were Jeffrey and Jemima Dennis. His father had married three times and his third wife (ETW’s mother) bore four children:
- Ebenezer Henry West Dennis (1841-1898)
- Jemima Ellen West Dennis (1844-unknown)
- Edward Thomas West Dennis (1847-1923)
- Frederick Gregory West Dennis (1850-unknown)
E.T.W.D.’s father died in March 1850, in Hackney. Edward was just 2 years old at the time. He had been a manager at Nories for 50 years. Nories was a London based firm famous for supplying books, charts and instruments for navigation.
Edward’s brother Frederick, was a stationer in Scarborough, with his own firm Dennis & Holloway. They made court sized postcards of Scarborough between 1898 and 1900. E.T.W.D printed these cards.
Edward apprenticed in Ramsgate for seven years as a Bookseller, Stationer and a Printer. After his apprenticeship Dennis became a Librarian in Lemington for a couple of years, roughly 1868-1869. In late 1870 he married Emily Jane Willifer of Lemington. They’d moved to Scarborough in March, earlier that year.
E.T.W. Dennis went into partnership with his brother-in-law Thomas Wythe Case and bought the library and newspaper The Scarborough Mercury off a Mr George Crosby. Mr Case was married to Edward’s sister Jemima. Their company Dennis & Case’s also had a shop that sold books and stationary at 83 Newborough St. The library was at 82 Newborough St. He later bought out his partner and disposed of the newspaper. He also ran businesses at the spa which included a library and retail shop.
In the 1883 Dennis’ Guide to Scarborough, a full page was given to photographs for sale that Dennis had taken, for all UK locations, with E.T.W.D. etched on them.
In 1892 he was making “dainty” folded Easter and Christmas cards. E.T.W. Dennis had gone into partnership with his brother Frederick. The partnership was dissolved in 1893 and the business became solely Edwards. At this time, he printed full time and ended book selling, libraries, etc.
Although Dennis had enrolled as a Congregationalist, in 1897 he joined The Society of Friends (Quakers). His sons went to the Quaker School in Great Ayton and one of them, Herbert, even became the Headmaster there.
An office in Cheapside, London was opened in 1904. The firm became a limited company the following year and the “& Sons” was added to the name. He had four sons in total. They were:
- Ebeneezer Henry Dennis
- Arthur Meridew Dennis
- Edward Dennis
- Herbert Dennis
Up until 1914 Dennis’s premises were at Westmount, off Westborough. Today its the fire escape for Mecca Bingo located down the old road entrance between Boots and Waterstones. He also had 24 Vernon Road for additional printing. Westmount would have been the main office, reception and primary printing premises.
There are a few claims to being the earliest postcard in Britain, with very little actual artifacts remaining. In 1894, British publishers were given permission by the Royal Mail to manufacture and produce picture postcards. They were to use half penny adhesive stamps.
The initial regulations stated that postcards had to be of the ‘old official size’, which was an oblong shape. Court sized cards were permitted from January 1895.
The postcard’s evolution however, goes a bit further back in history. In 1771 a small hand delivered card is known to be on record. The card was published in 1763 by H. Roberts of Holborn. Designed to be hand delivered or put in an envelope. The correspondence was inviting a Mrs Ackland of the village of Landkey, “to drink a dish of tea, tomorrow afternoon.” The invite was from a Mr & Mrs Baker of Barnstable.
As well as printing his own postcards, in 1894 he was also printing artist drawn postcards for Cassell. Dennis produced his postcards in sets / series. There was however a one off Picture Postcard of Tower Bridge in 1895, likely to commemorate its opening the previous year. The first London set didn’t appear until 1898. 1898 saw Dennis publish an extensive range of court cards with his own photographs.
In 1897, Dennis printed some of Winchester without a border. These didn’t prove very popular and are likely to be the only examples.
Edward toured Sudan in 1898 with the British Forces. He published his Sudan Series postcards in 1902.
By 1900, the smaller image on court sized cards had been replaced by full sized postcards.
The first Dainty Series postcards E.T.W. produced were between 1903 and 1910. They are recognised as being monotone images enhance with eggshell blue sky. On the address side, the early series are recognised by their Dainty Series Logo. After 1910 the logo was dropped and merely text remained.
By 1905/06 Dennis was exporting postcards to Australia and New Zealand. The craze of sending and receiving postcards had exploded by these years.
Printing House, Melrose Street
E.T.W. Dennis & Sons Ltd moved to premises at Printing House, Melrose Street in 1914. They printed other such things as Calendars, Toys, Wedding Cards, Scorecards for Boardgames, etc.
Between 1920 and 1959 E.T.W. Dennis & Sons made their own brand of party games under the trademark “Dainty Series”. It then renamed to Dennis Productions.
On 18th of march 1941, records were destroyed when Printing House was bombed by Germans in WWII. The raid started at 8pm, although air-raid sirens didn’t sound until 9pm. 98 planes armed with high explosives were used that night. They flew over Flixton and Folkton, in their approach on Scarborough. The bombardment lasted for hours. The bulk were dropped by 10.30pm, although the all clear wasn’t given until 4am. Luckily the last of the night shift workers had left the premises 15 minutes before the bomb hit Dennis’s.
Bamforth & Co Ltd were another Yorkshire based rival publishers that became famous for their saucy cartoon seaside postcards. E.T.W. Dennis & Sons bought out Bamforths in the 1980’s. Dennis’s would sell up to 25 million postcards a year with 2-3 million being Bamforth postcards.
E.T.W. Dennis & Sons closed operation for good in the year 2000. The rights to the trademark name were sold to John Hinde Ltd, an Irish company looking to restore the archives. The Bamforth part of the business was sold to a Leeds businessman Ian Wallace, who has been re-releasing the images on new products such as mugs, tea towels, etc.
The Vernon road premises of Dennis’s were demolished in late 2013. The E.T.W. Dennis name was still visible up until the day it was demolished.
Melrose Street lasted a few years longer until 2018. Demolition started just a few weeks after our explore.
What was great about this explore is that we wasn’t looking for it. We had our intentions on Playzone at the back of these premises and only really knew about it as ‘the storage place next to Playzone’. However the doors had been booted in and frankly it’d have been silly not to take a look. And how glad I am for doing so! Not only because there was lots to see inside, but also because of the fantastic history I’ve uncovered in doing my research.
Whilst carefully making our way through the flooded building, it was clear the place had been the target of an arson attack. Saying that the fire seemed to be have been confined to one area. The first area we approached appeared to be the printing part of the factory, more so industrial that the other units at least anyway. Here we found the old sign – E.T.W. Dennis & Sons Ltd. It was in 4 sections so we laid it out to spell the name against the back wall.
As we made our way around the other units, we started seeing evidence of the other businesses that have operated in these premises since Dennis’s closed in 2000. Most evidently was that English Rose Hotels (also now dissolved), were using the bulk of the space as maintenance storage.
Upstairs we found larger office space. Some rooms had been completely cleared out. Whilst another room again had lots of furniture and other stuff stored.
I’ve really enjoyed researching this explore. To me it seems like I’ve dug up some history that is almost forgotten. And I’m glad I’ve now got my little part in it’s history. Dennis seemed to be a marvelous man and pioneer in his field. Something to be celebrated, rather than forgotten. I’ve heard ex employees say they had no idea how far back the companies history went. E.T.W. Dennis postcards are still sought after today, as well as Bamforth’s saucy postcards.
I bought my own Dennis postcard as a souvenir. Its of Scarborough’s South Bay and was published c1920. On top of that I’ve made my own commemorative postcard celebrating E.T.W. I’ve ordered 1000 and will be distributing them around Scarborough. Please note these are not for sale, but for people to find. Should you find one, it’s yours to do as you please. Either use it or keep it as a souvenir. But try and let us know you found one.
Pictures of both my purchased Dennis postcard and my commemorative postcard can be found at the end of the photo album below.