The History of Johnson’s the Cleaners & Where is is Now

What is Johnson’s the Cleaners?

Johnson’s the Cleaners – better known as just Johnson’s cleaning – is one of the UK’s most prosperous dry cleaning groups. The Johnson Group has been part of many successful regional companies dating as far back as the 1780’s.

The Beginning of Johnson’s the Cleaners

It all started around 1814. A Scottish man called Peter Campbell saw an opportunity and took it. He decided to set up as a dryer in Perth called Pullars of Perth.

Peter’s business was doing well. He was earning enough profit to take on an apprentice called John Pullar. John wasn’t a stranger to Peter, he was related to Peter’s wife’s 1st husband.

Once John had completed his apprenticeship and learned all he possibly could, he decided to open his own drying firm called ‘Pullars of Perth’. Both Peter’s and John’s businesses would later join together to become part of the Johnson cleaning.

During this time, Peter’s eldest daughter Anne married a shipmaster called John Crockatt. Anne and John went on to have three sons. One of their sons – also called John – became an apprentice for his uncle Peter Campbell Junior (Anne’s brother).

Like the John before him, Anne’s son John also left the business once he had finished his apprenticeship. Other members of the Campbell family took over in order to keep the business running smoothly.

In 1873, John moved to Yorkshire – Leeds to be exact. When he arrived in Leeds he quickly became friends with another dryer called Willie Watson.

John quickly realised that he needed to find a job. He soon began working as a dryer with Josiah Leach in Bradford.

After a while, John became homesick and decided to visit his family in Scotland. During his time back home, his mother Anne taught him the art of feather-curling.

When he returned to Bradford, he told Josiah about his new-found skill. John quickly convinced Josiah to let him offer this service to the customers.

Soon John became bored of his job and where he was living. He decided that the best way to solve this was to travel.

John moved to Brussel’s in France. After desperately searching for work, he soon realised that there weren’t any jobs available. John then walked 100 miles to Paris in hopes of finding employment.

By the end of 1874, John decided to move back to England. When he returned he arrived in London. John soon found a job with Eastman of London in Oxford Street as a dryer. John didn’t get along with his new employers and soon found himself bored and unhappy again. 

In the spring of 1875, John moved back to Leeds in God’s Own County. You know what they say, you can tek t’lad outta Yorkshire, but you can’t tek Yorkshire outta t’lad (or lass) – even if he is originally from Scotland.

When he arrived back in Leeds, John decided he wanted to open his own dry cleaning business. After looking around the area, he found a warehouse and yard which would be perfect.

How Johnson’s the Cleaners became what it is today

John was quickly able to buy a shop in the city centre of Leeds. His Yorkshire dry cleaning business was successful and in 1889 he was able to expand to both Wakefield and Harrogate.

By the turn of the century, John had gone on to open 13 shops across Yorkshire. This also included a collection and delivery service.

In 1910, John was able to expand his business again. In order to keep up with demands, he bought a site in the Burmantofts area located in the East of Leeds city centre.

The expansion of the business didn’t stop there. By the end of the decade, John had increased the site to 30,000 square feet which was home to a chain of 30 shops.

In 1927, John Crockatt died. His two son’s Arthur and Douglas Crockatt took over. At this point, the business had spread to North Lincolnshire and Manchester.

The Johnsons Group of Dryer and Cleaners founded by both the Pullar’s and Campbells (relatives to the Crockatt brother’s) had heard of the businesses success. In 1928, they contacted Arthur and Douglas wanting to create a merger.

In total, it took Arthur and Douglas seven long years to agree to the terms of the merger. One of these terms included Douglas joining the board.

The Crockatts were finally back in business with their relatives.

During World War II, the Johnson Group’s plant in Liverpool was bombed. Between them, they decided that the best thing was to move the main bulk of business to the Crockatts’ Burmantofts dry cleaning site in Leeds.

After the war had finished, the Johnson’s cleaning Group were doing well. They expanded their business with a further 79 shops.

In 1952 up until 1966, Douglas was promoted to the group Chairman. Douglas had big ideas, one of these being that the employees were the main asset to the business.

Times were changing. During the 1960’s, the company introduced new machines. This meant that most dry cleaning could be done in the shops which in turn would decrease the work at the Burmantofts site.

At the end of the 20th century, the Crockatt brand was replaced by its parent company – Johnson’s. The business expanded again. It would now provide cleaning services for the catering industry and workwear rental.

During the 2000’s, Johnson’s the Cleaners had no plans on slowing down. They gained other cleaning companies and also expanded into the US market.

Throughout the decade, the Yorkshire cleaners owned a total of 500 shops within the UK. The business had also expanded their services to carpet cleaning, key cutting, shoe repairs and skiwear.

Johnson’s cleaning services were thriving up until the recession which deeply affected the business. In 2012, they had to close 100 of their under performing shops in order to keep the company afloat. Then, later in 2015, they had to close another 109.

Although not as big as they used to be, Johnson’s the Cleaners currently have an impressive 198 shops nationwide. They are still a well known name and are the 3rd largest dry cleaning business behind Morrisons and Timpsons.

Not bad going eh?