Johnson’s the Cleaners – Made In Yorkshire | Volume 5

What is Johnson’s the Cleaners?

Johnson’s 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. 

One of these were known as ‘Crockatts’. Along with many Yorkshire firms, an outsider who settled in the Broad Acres started it.

The Beginning

Peter Campbell, a Scotsman, set up as a dryer in Perth around 1814. He later took on an apprentice in 1818 called John Pullar. John was a relative of his wife’s first husband.

John went his own way. He opened his own drying firm calling it Pullar’s of Perth which became part of the Johnson Group.

Peter Campbell’s eldest daughter Anne married a shipmaster called John Crockatt. They had three sons.

One of the son’s, also called John, did an apprenticeship with his uncle called Peter Campbell Junior. At the end of John’s apprenticeship, he left the company and moved to Yorkshire in 1873.

Other members of the Campbell family took over.

John joined his friend Willie Watson who was a dryer in Leeds. He then found work with Josiah Leach in Bradford.

On a visit home to Scotland, Crockatt learned the art of feather-curling from his mother. When he returned to Bradford, he convinced Leach to allow him to offer this as a service.

Soon Crockatt became bored and travelled. He moved to Brussels where he could not find work, this then led him on a 200 mile walk to Paris.

Towards the end of 1874, Crockatt moved back to England. He worked as a dryer with Eastman of London in Oxford Street.

He wasn’t happy with his employers so he moved back to Yorkshire in the spring of 1875. Crockatt set up his own dryer in Leeds where he rented a warehouse and yard.

Becoming what it is today

It wasn’t long before Crockatt had his own shop in the city centre. By 1889, he had a shop in Harrogate and Wakefield.

At the turn of the century, Crockatt had built a chain of 13 stores across Yorkshire. This included a collection and delivery service.

In 1910, he bought a new site for the main work in the Burmantofts area. At the end of the decade he had expanded the site to an impressive 30,000 square feet with a chain of 30 shops.

When John Crockatt died in 1927, the firm had spread to North Lincolnshire and Manchester.

In 1928, the Johnson Group of Dryers and Cleaners approached Crockatt’s sons Arthur and Douglas. They wanted to create a merger.

After seven years, the sons agreed terms with Douglas Crockatt joining the board. The Crockatts were back in business with their relatives, the Pullars and Campbells.

In the second world war, the Johnson Group’s plant in Liverpool was bombed. The main bulk of their business moved to the Crockatts’ Burmantofts site in Leeds.

When the war was over, Crockatts expanded to 79 shops. In 1952, Douglas Crockatt became the group chairman. 

Douglas had ideas of their employees being the main business asset. He stayed in this role until 1966.

They introduced new machines in the 1960’s.  This meant most of the dry cleaning could be done in the shops. Work at the Burmantofts site decreased.

Further changes at the end of the twentieth century saw the Crockatts brand replaced by its parent company – Johnson’s. Business expanded to other areas providing cleaning services for the catering industry and workwear rental.

In the 2000’s, the group gained other cleaning companies. They then expanded into the US market.

Throughout the decade, Johnson’s Group had over 500 stores in the UK. They again expanded their services to carpet cleaning, key cutting, shoe repairs and skiwear.

The recession years have not been kind to Johnson’s dry cleaners. In 2012 they had to close 100 of their under performing shops. This was followed by a further 109 in 2015.

Johnson’s now have 198 stores nationwide. They are also the third largest dry cleaning business behind Morrisons and Timpson.