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Born in Devon in 1940, Dennis was brought up next to a farm in Dartmouth where he became fascinated with seeing chickens roaming around and could not have known then where destiny might be leading him…

Time for Work
Dennis started out as a student apprentice for Thornycroft Limited, studying Electrical Engineering and getting involved in many aspects ship building and repairs; an extremely valuable experience. Following his apprenticeship, Dennis joined a small company that produced gas turbine powered generating sets. It was after this, that Dennis began his journey Hydor.

Dennis explained: "After my formal interview, I met Colin Hyde who was then owner and chairman of the company. When my fiancé asked me how I’d got on, I said I can’t see this lasting – they sell fans to chicken houses. She said to me "You can’t do that, we are getting married in six weeks time!"

The Hydor Journey Begins
Dennis joined The Hydor Company, as it was then known, in October 1964 as workshop manager/foreman of the Control Panel Division. Dennis's relationship with Colin Hyde soon developed into a firm friendship.
"Colin was a go-ahead entrepreneur," reflected Dennis, "he was always thinking outside the box, he wasn't always right, but always had views on where to go and what to do next."

At that time, Hydor was selling an imported fan from Holland that had a two speed feature and was believed to be the first of its kind in the UK to exploit this innovation; something Dennis was an integral part of.

"We built control panels for them and we were able to offer three speeds by including a transformer. They were sold at £10 per fan, so a 10 fan panel cost £100, a bit different to today!" explained Dennis.
Among the first customers were some great poultry people that are sadly no longer with us, the likes of Dale Turkeys, JD Woods, Twiddle Turkeys, Jack Eastwood and many more."

Colin had the foresight to think that these fans should not be imported but rather, British designed and made.

"The people that Colin employed from the start were former colleagues including ex-RAF including bomber command, Spitfire pilots and prisoner of war captives. These boys had done it all by the time they were 23 and were a special breed. So the culture was let's try this, we can do that, it was a great example of what’s called today a 'can do' culture."

British Fans
Colin's foresight eventually led to the launch of the High Performance (HP) fan; a four-bladed unit. Hydor, at the time, was a small company that bought in components from established specialists including motors from Newmans in Bristol and propellers hubs from casting companies. The assembled fans were sold into the market at just the right time to coincide with a 15% import surcharge introduced in 1964 by Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, this surcharge saw Hydor cease buying Dutch fans and switch completely to British built units.

In the mid-1960s Hydor was growing quickly and started to attend exhibitions at home and abroad. These included poultry shows in Earls Court, Olympia, Stoke Mandeville and Stoneleigh. Dennis states that from 1965 to this day, Hydor has not missed a major poultry show in the UK, something not many companies could match.

A Top Three Exporter
The switch to home built fans also prompted Hydor to seek business overseas and consequently Dennis and his colleagues travelled extensively across Europe, the Middle East and eventually going even further to South Africa and Australia. This travelling helped to establish Hydor as the third largest exporter of fans to agriculture in the world, behind only GEC and the Big Dutchman.

Dennis fondly recalls meeting a businessman in Iran who approached Hydor and said: 'we are very interested in your fans, could we meet with you in our office this evening?'

"We discussed in advance of the meeting how we were going to price the fans, depending on the number he might want to order. We had in mind costing for a 'one-off' order and then maybe in increments of 10 or even 100. He replied that he was considering an initial order of around 100 and then a further 50 later, but he wasn’t talking about fan units, he was talking about 40 foot containers. We picked ourselves off the floor and went from there," explained Dennis.

On the strength of that order, Hydor moved out of its existing buildings in North Baddesley and into premises in Downton, south of Salisbury; where they are still located today. As a temporary measure we also leased a premises in Romsley as a storage facility to cope with the containers that were going out virtually every week alongside additional containers that we were shipping to South Africa to supply fans to the Rainbow Chicken Company.

"People used to gossip about Colin and you would hear them saying 'Colin this' and 'Colin that' but no one ever left him; he had the most loyal and long serving staff you can imagine.

"In the new premises, we developed new Side-Wall units which were basically a fan inside a box with shutters on the inside and louvers on the outside, or blackout if necessary. In 1982 we also developed the Agri-Jet to provide a vertical discharge unit that could be placed on the ridge of a building or 'off-ridge'.

Modern regulations today call for vertical discharge, a demonstration how far sighted this idea was back in the early 1980s. These units were designed in a square configuration so that they could easily be cut into the roof, which was much more difficult with a circular fan unit.

"Alongside these fan developments, of course, we were making exciting progress with control panels. We went into electronic speed controls, thyristor control followed by the vogue for sequence control panels. Of course we now manufacture bespoke panels with complex, multi-function capabilities," explained Dennis.

A Thorn in his Side
In 2000, Colin Hyde sold the company to Elta Group. Our first reaction was 'what on earth does this huge company want with us?'. Of course the truth was that Elta had recognised that agriculture was a sector of the ventilation industry that they had not yet considered. Like us, Elta also had companies in Australia and South Africa; and so began another exciting chapter in the development of Hydor.

"I remember one time the late Ray Ball, Elta's chairman, coming to see us in my office; he said: 'Well here we go Dennis. I remember in my early career at GEC, I had this small company which was a thorn in my side, a company called Hydor, and now I own it! Isn't that good?'

"The change of ownership brought with it a name change to Hydor Limited, as it continues to now be known, as well as a considerable financial investment to enable further growth and expansion into horticulture, industrial and commercial markets. It was a great shot in the arm for us and these new markets have grown into a very large percentage of the business we do.

Our 'mantra' was, and still is, 'you tell us what you want and we will produce it. We can’t tell you about how to raise chickens; you're the expert on that. We are the electrical/ventilation people.'"

Air Movement
Commenting further about his early career with Hydor, Dennis said: "You know, in those days none of us could say we were agricultural ventilation experts. Ken Ayling, who was the sales manager, knew a lot about ventilation and we learnt from the industry; visiting lots of exhibitions and farms, and listening to poultry people and farmers.

"We learned a lot including poultry house rules and the importance of CFM per pound. It's largely the same today, using the same formulas, albeit on a much bigger scale. The business, to a large extent, is based on good old common sense. When choosing where to place fans for instance, you have to bear in mind that air is lazy and will find the shortest possible path it can. So if you want to draw air from one end of the building to the other, you have to put the inlet at the opposite end. If you put fans in the middle you won’t get air at the ends.

"The poultry industry has changed, in 1965 we worked on the biggest laying house in England that required 24 fans, 630mm in size. Today it is dwarfed by most of the latest houses. The norm in the early days was for chicken houses to have 5,000 birds, now find laying houses containing 90,000 and broiler houses of 60,000 birds.

"I remember back in the late 1980s, someone approached us to plan for a house 250feet long and 90feet wide and we thought 'how do you ventilate a house that wide?' That was when we came up with our Pre-vent system, which was to pressurise the house by blowing air in from units along both sides, working against each other. The air followed the roofline and then as it came back down, you were provided with this circular motion of air in the two halves of the building, we then extracted the air from outlets on the side. So, in effect, the air came in, did a complete 360° turn and went out on the same side.

"I remember being asked by Elta how such an idea could have been developed, 'surely it needed complex design plans' they mused. I chuckled when I revealed that in fact the original idea started as little more than a sketch on the back of the proverbial cigarette packet! Of course the basic design had to be properly developed and we needed to sort out little snags as we went along but the basic idea provided a great solution.

Tales of Old
"I have got some great stories from my time at Hydor: I remember being called out by a poultry farmer who told me I had to go out to him. He told me he only had two out of six fans running, I replied: 'Oh really? 'So the other four have just stopped working?' 'Yes, yes,' he said 'you must come out.' He replied. So off I went and I serviced them. Clearly three of the fans hadn’t been used for at least six months, because when I got them going, the amount of dust that was belched out from them meant you couldn’t see yourself.

"Regulations in the industry have certainly changed. People used to ask: "What safety systems have you included?" We would say: "We have incorporated alarm systems for the mains, high and low temperature and the customer would say, 'I will go and start the standby generator.' Or they would say: 'I have an automated standby generator,' Unfortunately, I took the fuel out of it last month to put in the tractor.' "Of course, today these things have to be checked regularly and recorded so that you know instantly when something goes wrong."

The other week one of our ladies in the sales office sent me an email with a picture of a fan on it I said to her, 'That’s an Ndola Fan, we produced them in 1965.' She had sent it to me because she didn't have a clue what it was. I asked, 'does the customer want to change it?' she said, 'No, he just wants a spare capacitor for it!' Testimony to the design engineering heritage that runs throughout Hydor.

Today
Dennis' long and fruitful career, spanning 50 years so far, continues to this day. He still brings his wisdom and advice to the company two days a week: "I enjoy it. I work with great people. Hydor for me has been a very happy place to work. I have met some great characters in the company, the farming industry, the ventilation industry and throughout the world."

Dennis tells of a brief conversation, "An old friend of mine asked me at Stoneleigh a few years back, 'So you are still around then Dennis, what do you do?' Before I could answer, Duncan Burl, our MD, interjected 'He does what he likes!'"

Everyone at Hydor and Elta Group hope that Dennis continues 'doing what he likes' for years to come.