Week by week, we will be delving into the back stories of some of the greatest Yorkshire companies – finding out about the people behind them, their humble beginnings, how they became household names, and where they are now. Today we take a look at Johnson’s, and find out how a family of Scottish dyers became part of one of the UK’s most successful dry cleaning groups, plus the role of which Yorkshire played in this.
The Johnson Group has its origins in a number of successful regional companies across the UK dating back as far as the 1780s, One of them was known as “Crockatts” and as with many other successful Yorkshire firms, it was started by an outsider who settled in the Broad Acres.
Our story starts with a Scotsman, Peter Campbell, who set up as a dyer in Perth around 1814. In 1818, he took on an apprentice, John Pullar (a relative of his wife’s first husband), who later went on to form his own dying firm, Pullar’s of Perth which itself became part of the Johnson Group.
Campbell’s eldest daughter, Anne married a shipmaster called John Crockatt, bearing three sons. One of these, also called John, took up an apprenticeship with his uncle, Peter Campbell Junior. At the end of his apprenticeship he left the company, as there were other members of the Campbell family to take over and moved to Yorkshire in 1873.
He first joined a friend, Willie Watson – a dyer in Leeds, before finding work with Josiah Leach in Bradford. On a visit home to Scotland, Crockatt learned from his mother the art of feather-curling, and on his return to Bradford, persuaded Leach to allow him to offer this service. Crockatt soon became bored with the work and decided to travel. At the end of the year, he moved to Brussels, but, unable to find work, walked 200 miles to Paris. Towards the end of 1874, Crockatt moved back to England, working as a dyer with Eastman of London in Oxford Street. Not happy with his employers, he moved back to Yorkshire in the spring of 1875, setting up his own business as a dyer in Leeds in a rented warehouse and yard.
It wasn’t long before he had his own shop premises in the heart of the city centre and by 1886 held premises in both Harrogate and Wakefield. By the turn of the century he had built a chain of 13 stores across Yorkshire, complete with a collection and delivery service. In 1910, he purchased a new site for the main works, in the Burmantofts area, and by the end of the decade had expanded the site to an impressive 30,000 square feet, with a chain of shops totaling 30. By 1927 when John Crockatt died, the firm had spread into North Lincolnshire and Manchester.
In 1928, Crockatt’s sons Arthur and Douglas were approached by the Johnson Group of Dyers and Cleaners about a merger. Seven years later they finally agreed terms with Douglas Crockatt joining the board. The Crockatts were now back in business with their relatives, the Pullars and Campbells. Arthur Crockatt became a director of Eastman enterprises, reconnecting another of his father’s endeavors. During the Second World War, the Johnson Group’s plant in Liverpool was bombed, so the main bulk of their business moved to the Crockatts’ Burmantofts site in Leeds. By the end of the war, Crockatts had expanded to 79 shops and 1n 1952, Douglas Crockatt became the group chairman, with his ideas of the employees being the main business asset. He stayed in this role until 1966.
In the late 1960s, new machines were introduced which meant most of the dry cleaning could now be carried out in the shops, meaning work at the Burmantofts site decreased. Further changes throughout the latter part of the twentieth century saw the Crockatts brand being replaced by its parent company, Johnson’s. Business also expanded into other areas such as providing cleaning services for the catering industry, and workwear rental.
The 2000s has seen further expansion of the group with the acquisition of other cleaning companies, and an expansion into the US market. Through this decade the Johnson’s Group had over 500 stores in the UK, and had expanded their services to carpet cleaning, key cutting, shoe repairs and skiwear.
Unfortunately the recession years have been less kind on Johnson’s dry cleaners, forcing them to close 100 of its under-performing shops in 2012, followed by a further 109 in early 2015. Currently they have 198 stores nationwide and are the third largest dry cleaning business behind Morrisons and Timpson.
In the next post in this series, we will look at the chocolate manufacturers, Rowntree-Mackintosh.
Further reading for this article:
Please leave us a comment below with your thoughts and feedback.