Allen, David (1830–1903), printer, was born 6 June 1830 in Randalstown, Co. Antrim, eldest son of James Allen, carrier, and Margaret Allen (née Drennan). His father's business had been very extensive for several generations but suffered from the advent of railways, and when David was still a boy the family moved to Belfast. He was apprenticed to a printer, James Macaulay, who owned the Vindicator newspaper, edited by Charles Gavan Duffy (qv). During and after his apprenticeship Allen became interested in chartism, working for two years after 1847 in Liverpool and the Isle of Man, where radical newspapers were often published. In 1849, perhaps because the chartist paper on which he worked had ceased to publish, he returned to Belfast, where he married (12 September 1851) Agnes Jamieson of Carnmoney; they had four sons and three daughters. He became a master printer in 1857, and printed the Belfast Times, a paper with democratic though not radical views, which foundered after only five months (1872). His wife had secretly saved £1,500 and was able to keep him from going bankrupt. After this he prospered and founded the firm of David Allen & Sons Ltd, which he controlled until a few years before his death (28 January 1903). Allen laid the foundations of its theatrical business, being closely connected with the old Theatre Royal in Belfast.
The company became a world-renowned bill-printing and poster business under his sons David Allen (1854–1926) and William Edward Allen (1860–1919). David Allen jr, born 18 May 1854 in Belfast, was apprenticed aged 11 or 12 to the family firm. He left to set up a shipping business in Belfast, spent some time in Australia to get over a youthful romance, but rejoined the family firm as a director after his marriage (27 June 1883) to Ada Lilian Cook of Tasmania. He was at first joint, then sole, managing director (1909–26) of the rapidly expanding company of David Allen & Sons, was a director of the Dublin Theatres Company, and president of the Council of Associated Bill-Posters (1913–14). He died 29 September 1926 in Killiney, Co. Dublin, survived by his wife, two sons, and a daughter. His younger brother William Edward Allen , born 2 March 1860 in Belfast, was educated at Belfast Academical Institution, and worked in the family lithographic printing businesses from 1876, along with his father and brothers. On his initiative, offices were opened in London (1888) and Manchester (1893). Thanks to his contacts in the theatrical world, the firm increasingly specialised in printing theatre posters, and expanded into a twelve-acre site at Harrow, north-west London. It became a public company in 1897, with William Allen as joint managing director, and later diversified into bill-posting and theatre management. By 1908 it was the largest bill-posting company in the world, and by 1915 it owned the freeholds of five provincial theatres. This diversification proved crucial to survival after compulsory purchase of the printing works (1918). That David Allen & Sons became internationally known was thanks largely to William Allen's business acumen. He married (1898) Sarah Collett Phinn, a barrister's daughter who had used the name ‘Cissy Grahame’ in her acting career; she helped him restructure the firm and succeeded him as chairman at his death (12 April 1919). Their three sons joined the firm. William Allen's estate was valued at £88,267.
His son William Edward David Allen (1901–73) was born 6 January 1901 in London, educated at Eton, and was chairman (1927–70) of the family firm. An unsuccessful unionist candidate for the UK constituency of Fermanagh–Tyrone (1922), he was MP for Belfast West 1929–31 and supported the views of Oswald Mosley and his British Fascists (though he later changed his opinion of Mosley). After this he resigned from the unionist party and did not stand again for parliament. During the second world war, as a captain in the Life Guards, he served in the Middle East and Africa, and was a member of Orde Wingate's mission (1941) to Ethiopia; he served (1943–9) in British legations and embassies in the Middle East as press attaché and information officer. While still chairman of David Allen & Sons, he became an expert on Russia and her neighbours. His History of the Georgian people (1932) and The Ukraine: a history (1940) were reprinted in 1970 and 1968, and his other publications include two volumes on the Russian campaigns of 1941–5, and two volumes entitled Russian embassies to the Georgian kings. He also wrote David Allens: the history of a family firm (1957), an excellent family and business history. He was FSA (London) and FRSAI, and was awarded an OBE in 1948. His homes were in Dublin and from 1949 at Cappagh, Waterford: his house there, Whitechurch, and its garden were remodelled to accommodate Allen's magnificent scholarly library and many guests. Allen's books are regarded as classics: several reveal his knowledge of and affection for Ireland. The fascinating The poet and the spae-wife (1960) is a study of a Spanish Moor's embassy to the vikings, possibly in Ireland. He died at Leeson St., Dublin, 18 September 1973, leaving an estate valued at more than £300,000.
He married four times: first (6 December 1922) Lady Phyllis King, daughter of the earl of Lovelace; they had one daughter, and the marriage was dissolved in 1932. In July 1932 he married Paula (Gellibrand), formerly wife of the Marquès de Casa Maury; after a divorce in 1939, he married (6 March 1943) Nathalie Kossovsky (d. 1966) of Moscow. In 1969 he married Anne Pentland, from Victoria, Australia; they had a son.