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 A tale of
two brothers
Graham Denny looks back at the origins of Denny Bros as it marks a special landmark
It’s quite a success story and one with an interesting history. Some readers may be familiar with the Denny Bros Group. Comprising eight companies and employing more than 100 staff it
trades around the globe.
This year we celebrate our 75th
anniversary. We have enjoyed some significant achievements over the years, however, business is never without its challenges and a certain amount of resilience is required which makes this an anniversary worthy of celebration.
As a family we can trace our Suffolk roots back more than five centuries. Our family history is scattered with entrepreneurial types, notably Thomas Denny who established the Tannery at Combs in 1711, and my great grandfather Cornelius Denny of Lawshall who was described as postmaster, shopkeeper, pork butcher and occasional barber. However, printing is where we have been most successful and this is entirely thanks to the two brothers who founded the business, my uncle Douglas (born 1923) and my father Russell (b. 1927). It seems appropriate now to reflect on the history,
the sacrifices they made and the legacy they left.
Douglas, the elder brother, began his working life as an apprentice baker. When he was old enough he joined the war effort and signed up for the Navy. He served until his ship was sunk by an enemy torpedo. He returned home in 1944 and joined the Royal Observer Corps.
Russell, who was 12 when war started, began printing as a hobby. It is not known what sparked his interest in this trade. Most likely it was the opportunity to earn some pocket money. He bought his first printing machine, a hand operated Adana, aged 14, which he set up in the shed of the family home, then in Hardwick Lane. His mother was a great help buying him a case of lead type and finding work for him from people she knew. He reinvested any money he made into more equipment.
Aged 15, he began an apprenticeship at Paul and Matthew General Printers and Stationers who were then located in the Butter Market. He gained valuable knowledge but he was unimpressed by the working conditions in the print room which he said would be unacceptable
today. He described the conditions as dirty with no hot water and one unkempt toilet in the basement. Whilst he was there he met Winnifred Parker who worked in the stationery shop. She was the daughter of Frank Parker of Parker’s Bakery of St Johns Street. Years later Winnifred was to become his wife.
A keen motorcyclist, he joined the Fire Service as a part time despatch rider. This role was not without its hazards requiring racing to the scene of any plane crash, in blackout conditions, not knowing what you might find when you arrived. It could be unexploded bombs on board or air crews dead or injured. He received three shillings per night “subsistence money” for this. All valuable additional income to supplement his modest apprentice’s pay.
In 1945, as the war was ending, Douglas had no desire to return to his previous career as a baker and Russell’s experience of the poor working conditions at Paul and Matthews convinced them they would be better off working for themselves.
They committed to setting up a full time business together using the equipment Russell already owned and hence the ‘
. . . and their legacy
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