Johnsons of Hendon ~ Company History

Johnsons of Hendon Limited can trace its roots back for two and a half centuries, to a goldsmith named Richard Wright who established his business in 1743 in Maiden Lane in the City of London. (Note: the original version of this story refers to Richard Wight, not Wright, but since John Johnson married Martha Wright, I am wondering if there was a typographical error and that Wight should read Wright, or vice versa.)

A lad by the name of John Johnson became apprentice to Richard Wright and found himself in charge of the business soon after he had finished his apprenticeship. John Johnson had taken up the profession of Assayer and was certainly the first private and independent Assayer in the City of London.

It was around 1839 that Johnson and Sons began manufacturing chemical salts of silver and gold which were required for a photographic process recently invented by Fox Talbot - the negative-positive photographic process as we know it today. It was at this point, that Johnsons began their long association with photography.

During the First World War (WW1) photography found strategic importance in the field of observation by the rapidly expanding Royal Flying Corps (RFC). Johnsons supplied the greater part of the requirements of photographic chemicals to RFC, the Royal Naval Air Service, and other Government departments who were using photography. Jonsons were also able to make supplies available to both the American and French fighting services.

The Johnson & Sons advertisement, left, dates from September 1918, almost at the end of WW1. It was placed in the Amateur Photographer magazine at a time when the business adress was still 23, Cross Street, Finsbury, London E.C.

Bernard Cook became acting managing director in 1910 and by 1913 it was obvious a new site was needed, especially for packaging amateur photographic chemicals. A freehold site in rural Hendon in North London was chosen, but war in 1914 meant that this packaging plant was never built. Instead a new chemical works was built to manufacture the developing agent amidol (diamidophenol) when supplies of it from the vast chemical industries of Germany, based on coal tar derivatives, promptly ceased at the start of war hostilities.

The later exponential growth of photography for war purposes (principally aerial photography), followed by radiography and the cinema, produced an increasing demand for photographic chemicals. New buildings on the Hendon site were constructed for the manufacture of metol, hydroquinone, paramidophenol, glycin and pyrogallic acid, as well as some pharmaceuticals. This was the establishment of a key industry in all senses.

In 1927, when the lease on the Cross Street, Finsbury, premises expired, all of Johnsons' activities were moved to the Hendon site, with Bernard Cook as chief executive. In 1948 the name of the company was finally changed to Johnsons of Hendon Ltd, the name by which it become known throughout the photographic and chemical trades and by its photographer end-users.


Johnson's factory at Hendon Way, around 1920, before the expansion of the site to incorporate all Johnsons' offices and warehouses in 1927.
The site is now part of the Brent Cross Shopping Centre.
Picture courtesy of Bob Collier (who worked at Johnsons for 31years) via Stan Scholes (Stan's first job after leaving school in 1944 was as a lab. assistant with Dufay Chromex, Borehamwood)

The above are more images sent by Bob Collier, believed to date to the same time as the Johnson factory photograph, above.

The photographic chemical side of the business grew rapidly and in 1927 the offices and warehouse were moved from Finsbury (23, Cross Street, Finsbury, London E.C) to the chemicals manufacturing works at Hendon (see pictures, above and after 1927 site enlargement, below). The company became so closely identified with the district and its address (their Head Office and Chemical Works were located at 335, Hendon Way, London, NW4) that in 1948 the company name was officially changed from Johnson and Sons, Manufacturing Chemists Ltd; to Johnsons of Hendon Limited. But Johnson and Sons had been using this business name in advertisements since at 1943 (see adverts in the 1943 BJPA).

During the Second World War the company decided to concentrate solely on photographic chemical production side but the old-established business of Houghton-Butcher, at Ensign House 88/89 High Holborn, London, was destroyed by enemy action during the nights of 24th / 25th September 1940 (William F Butcher had already died aged 70, January 12th 1936). Thus, on October 7th, Ensign Ltd, the sales wing of Houghton-Butcher, was wound up and sale of the remaining stock of enlargers, epidiascopes and cine cameras was taken over by Johnson & Sons, who named this equipment marketing 'arm' of their business Johnsons Holborn.

At this time, Johnsons had already started to refer to themselves as Johnson of Hendon, although their formal name was still Johnson & Sons. The manufacturing works of Ensign at Houghton-Butcher Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Walthamstow, London, E17, continued to operate until 1945. For a short history of Houghton-Butcher and Ensign see here.

Also, see here for further history taken from the 16th July 1958 edition of Amateur Photographer magazine.

Miniature Camera World (MCW) magazine, in their January 1941 edition, referred to the bombing of Ensign House on 24th-25th September 1940 in a short editorial, entitled "Ensign, Ltd". It said:

"Readers will have heard with real regret that, because of heavy damage sustained by buildings and stock through enemy action, Ensign Ltd., have had reluctantly to close down. The company was founded by George Houghton in the same premises in Holborn in 1834, as dealers in glass, and became actively interested in photography with the introduction of the Daguerrotype in 1839, at which time it was necessary to obtain a license from Houghtons to operate the process. But although Ensign Ltd. is to be closed down, we are pleased to hear that arrangements have been completed whereby Mr. Stanley Houghton, the previous managing director, Mr. Fred Butcher, the technical director and members of the staff, are to join Johnson & Sons, of Hendon, who will shortly open a new department to continue precisely the same class of business as that previously conducted from Holborn. Thus opens a new chapter in the history of two families which have been actively engaged in the photographic industry since its earliest days."

This was to be the beginning of a very long association for Johnsons of Hendon with both the manufacture and distribution of high grade photographic equipment. Over the next thirty years, Johnsons of Hendon produced developing tanks, enlargers, thermometers and darkroom accessories of all kinds and became distributors for such well-known names as Durst, Eumig, Braun, Voigtlander, Paterson, Ferrania, Polaroid, Tamron, Bolex, Aiwa, Denon and Zeiss Ikon.


Johnsons factory site in 1940 (picture courtesy of Jon Pippard). The boiler house chimney can be seen in the right back ground.
The site boilers (producing around 2MW thermal of steam, or more likely hot water) burned coal at that time, but changed to oil burning in summer 1957.
Coal would have released a lot of particulates into the atmosphere, whereas oil would have been cleaner and could be automated, though would have emitted nuisance oily smuts if not maintained.

Below is the same view copied from Google Earth (picture courtesy of Martin Reed).
Only the row of (1930s?) houses in the bottom right hand corner remain the same. The rest is now (part of) the Brent Cross Shopping Centre, Hendon Way, London.


Below is a photograph sent by Sheila Bamforth (née Murray; see photographs of her father and grandfather, below).

The lorry is believed to be parked outside of the Johnsons of Hendon "Photo Apparatus Division" building at 35-37, Brent Street, Hendon, London, N.W.4. Sheila tells me that the lorry has the words "Continental Ferry Trailers Ltd, North Street, Barking. Tel. Rippleway 5377" on its driver's door and the boxes on the lorry say "Eumig".
Johnsons were UK agents for Eumig from the mid-1950s but the photograph most likely dates from the 1960s (see the Austin or Morris Mini parked behind the lorry).


The map to the RHS shows the location in Hendon of Johnson's Head Office & Chemical Works (now the site of the Brent Cross Shopping Centre), the Assembly Division and the Photo Apparatus Division, as they were in 1954.

During the 1950s and 1960s the management of Johnsons of Hendon included the following people, as advised to me by Doris Pippard, the wife of A.R. 'Pip' Pippard. The dates, and positions held, require confirmation.

Chairman was Bernard Cook (from 1928; Managing Director from 1920) who stayed on until he was nearly 80. His son, Brian, became a Director in 1958. (The Cook and Pippard families remained good friends long afterwards).

Managing Director was Johnny Balmer (previously Sales Director).

E. Stanley Houghton and F. John Butcher had joined the board of Johnsons from Houghton-Butcher in 1940.
Stanley Houghton had become Chairman by 1960, taking over the role from Bernard Cook.

Financial Director was Stuart Houghton.

The Sales Director was James Mitchell (Doris Pippard suggested around 1968-70 but it may have been a few years earlier, as he joined Johnsons in Spring 1963 ~ see "Photo Firm May Seek Share Quote", below). James Mitchell was Scottish, ex-Ilford and a very good friend of 'Pip' Pippard. After spending his retirement in a village near Chard in Somerset, he died in the 1980s.

Technical Director (in 1970) was Antony 'Pip' Pippard. 'Pip' Pippard had previously had responsibility for the design and building of Johnsons new research laboratory, completed around 1966. It is probable that this is where the R&D was done for what subsequently became the very successful home colour processing chemistry that was marketed by 'Pip' and others under the brand name Photo Technology Ltd.

Advertising Manager was Barton Wright.
Kevin MacDonnell (known affectionately as Mac) was 'attached' to this department.


Opposite is a Johnsons of Hendon organisational chart, as from 31st August 1959.

Notice that the name of A.R.Pippard appears four times:
'Technical Advisor to the Board', and on all three Work's Committees, i.e. 'Works Production', 'Technical Chemical', and 'Special for Research and Development'.

This chart was sent to me by Jon(athon) Pippard, son to Anthony 'Pip' Pippard.


During the late 1970s, Bill Rose (see below) tells me the senior rep' was Roger Francis (his brother Malcolm raced sports cars). Roger either took over the running of the company or set up an alternative business to handle some of the professional products. He married Johnson's senior receptionist.

Bill Kerr has mentioned Roy Dobson as the Scottish manager for Johnsons in Glasgow (probably the 1960s). Bill says"Roy was one of the real gentlemen of the road. Tall, clipped moustache and always immaculate in his dress and speech (came from somewhere in England). These guys were all experts in their profession and knew everything about the product they were selling".

Sheila Bamforth (née Murray) has supplied me with information about two other Johnsons of Hendon managers.

Her father, Maurice Frank Murray (see right, taken around 1940), was Export Director at Johnsons of Hendon until the takeover by Hestair (1972). She remembers how he travelled around the world and often went to Germany, dealing with Braun and Voigtländer. He would have been about 56 on his (forced) retirement at the Hestair takeover and it was a big shock for him having worked for the company for some 40 years - he had started at a young age, first as a van boy and then worked his way up the company.

His father (Sheila's grandfather) was Frank George Murray (far right), who worked at Johnsons from 1900, starting in the premises at Cross Street, Finsbury. His photograph is shown in an ivory frame, a gift from an agent in Tehran when her grandfather retired. His death certificate states that he was a Company Director (Export Director at the time of his death). He died in February 1956 aged 70.

To read further about Sheila's father and grandfather, click here.

Sheila recalls members of the Cook and Houghton families, and also James Mitchell, previously of Ilford until Spring 1963, becoming Sales Director at Johnsons. These people were not only colleagues of her father, but also family friends.

She also remembers a company driver/chauffeur with the surname of Hart. Nick Cook confirms his name was Lew Hart.

Lew taught Sheila to drive, when she was aged 18, including "a terrifying second driving lesson up to the busy West End of London and around Hyde Park corner!" He also drove her and her father to her wedding in 1968, in Arkley near Barnet, where they lived at the time.

Further information from Sheila is available via a copy of "The Hendon Way", issue No.7, produced maybe autumn 1957. This series of 8-page booklets was seemingly aimed at Johnsons' retail traders.
A pdf of this booklet can be downloaded by clicking here.

"The Hendon Way", issue No.4, from 1951, can be downloaded by clicking here, courtesy of Nick Cook (see further of his information, below).

Sheila Bamforth has also sent a cutting from The (London ?) Evening News for April 4th, 1963. Wriiten by their reporter, David Malbert, the piece is entitled:

"Photo Firm May Seek Share Quote".
"A company founded in 1743 and which has become the third biggest photographic firm in the country, is likely to seek a Stock Exchange quotation for its shares later this year.
It is Johnsons of Hendon, making everything for the photographer except films.
Last year it had a turnover of £3,300,000 and profits of £200,000.
Capital of the company today is £540,000 nearly all in 5s (25p) ordinary shares which received a 10% dividend for 1961, with profits enough to 'cover' it nearly seven times.
Mr James Mitchell, aged 55, has just become a director. He was a joint managing director of Ilford (the photographic company to which ICI has a big stake) until he stepped down two months ago.

Amateur Photographer reported (12th February 1964 on its 'News Week' page) that Johnsons of Hendon Ltd. had then become a public company. They reminded readers of Johnson's history, as follows, "It can be said to have begun in 1743, because it was in that year that John Johnson set up as an assayer of precious metals. They entered photography in 1873 when they started supplying photographic chemicals and many years later moved to premises at Hendon where, during World War I, they produced organic developers (never before made in Britain) for the Services.


Photographs of more of the Johnson management team have been sent to me by Nick Cook, grandson of Mr.E.Bernard Cook, President of Johnsons of Hendon Limited at the time of his 'semi-retirement' in 1951. Bernard had first started his business career with Johnsons on 6th January 6th 1902, as an Executive under Chairman Mr. John Grove Johnson. (John Grove Johnson left the business in 1908 and was succeeded by his sister Edith, who ran the business as Chairman from 1908 to 1922). Bernard Cook became a Director in October 1902 and then became Joint Managing Director in January 1920. He became Managing Director and Chairman in 1928. In 1951 he celebrated his 50 years service with the company by holding a party for the entire staff of over 500. The party was held in Wembley Town Hall.

The photographs below, shown by permission of Nick Cook, were taken at the Wembley Town Hall party.

Bernard Cook continued to provide assistance to the Johnsons of Hendon management, retaining his title of President until his death at age 85 on 4th June 1965. Bernard's son, Brian Cook, joined Johnsons in 1951, around the time of Bernard celebrating his 50 years. Brian became a Director around 1958, with responsibility for the construction, maintenance and successful operation of the complex chemical plant at the Hendon factory. Brian had studied chemical engineering at London University and, during the 1950s, had visited an associated company in India where he supervised the installation of a manufacturing plant for photographic chemical products.

The Chairman of Johnsons, following on from Bernard Cook, was E. Stanley Houghton. Amateur Photographer reported (12th February 1964 on its 'News Week' page) that Stanley Houghton had joined the Board in 1940. He was the great grandson of George Houghton who, in 1834, went into partnership with a French artist, Antoine Claudet, as glass and silver merchants. Claudet had acquired the British rights of the Daguerrotype process, and he and his partner set up portrait studios in London, but soon realized that it was more profitable to supply glass plates, silver salts, reagents and other chemicals and equipment for photography.
Houghtons amalgamated with W. Butcher & Sons (around 1925) and traded as Houghton-Butcher (G.B.) Ltd. and later as Ensign Ltd. In 1940 the famous Ensign premises in High Holborn were blitzed, Johnsons of Hendon acquired that part of the business concerned with the production and sale of photographic equipment, and E. Stanley Houghton and F. J. Butcher joined the Board of Johnsons. This marked the beginning of the Apparatus Division of Johnsons.

Mr Arthur Hooper (Works Foreman) presenting a radiogram to Bernard Cook,
from all the staff of Johnsons of Hendon.

Mr Herbert Hill (non-executive Director) presenting a portrait to Bernard Cook.
The portrait was commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain.
Part of the Festival was a gallery in London showing "Men of Free Enterprise" and Bernard Cook was honoured to have a place there. After the exhibition, the portrait was hung in the boardroom of Johnsons, but when Johnsons were taken over by Hestair and the company moved from Hendon (post-1972) the portrait passed to Bernard's family and is now in the care of grandson Nick Cook.

Dick Taylor, Fred Butcher, Herbert Hill, Frank Murray, Bernard Cook, Stanley Houghton, John Bentley.

From left, clockwise: Mrs Butcher, Mr.E.S.Houghton, Mrs Murray, Mr.R.L.Taylor, Mr.F.Butcher, Mrs Houghton, Dr & Mrs Sillberad, ?, ?, Mr Maurice Murray (foreground).

From left:
Bernard's daughter Jean Cook (= Nick's Aunt Jean Gill, died 2016), Bernard & Mrs Cook, Mr.H.B.Cook (= Brian Cook, Nick's father).

The following notes have been sent me by a gentleman named Bill Rose who worked for Johnsons during part of his career in the UK photographic industry. He joined Johnsons (Holborn) in 1969 as the assistant manager and left in 1970, moving to Proctor Cameras as their equipment manager. The following photographs were in rather poor shape when Bill turned them up a few years ago and required quite a lot of restoration. They are all strictly 'Copyright Bill Rose'.

"Johnsons of Hendon operated its London office at 94 High Holborn. This was for trade sales and repairs. The office was managed by Bob Fensome (picture opposite)."

As an aside, an entry in 'Photography' magazine for December 1950 (a time 20 years prior to the recollections of Bill Rose) reads: "For the convenience of Trade friends, at Home & Overseas, Johnsons of Hendon, Ltd; have added a new and spacious showroom to their London offices at 94, High Holburn, London W.C.1. This is under the able management of Mr Gray, who has been associated with the photographic trade in Holburn for nearly 50 years." Possibly Bob Fensome took over from Mr Gray ?

"Johnsons imported and sold West German made Zeiss and Voigtlander cameras, which were not only expensive (and continually rising in price), but also somewhat unreliable, which meant there was a considerable amount of faulty equipment being shipped back to Hendon each week by collection van."

"Next door was the company's retail sales shop (directly connected), which used the name Houghtons - all that remained of the camera manufacturer that had been absorbed into the business many years earlier (see above). The interior of both shops probably changed little in several decades. The walls were lined with expensive wooden panels, covered by framed ads for products. Downstairs was a basement area used as a showroom by visiting company reps. This contained the full range of slide projectors, movie projectors and enlargers.

Houghtons carried a limited amount of stock and despite being well-located and staffed by knowledgeable people, this small retailer couldn't hope to compete with the flashy newer stores like Dixons. The most expensive item Houghtons ever stocked was the Pentax Spotmatic, but the emphasis was on Johnsons products.

Both shops closed in the early 1970s and the managers retired. The site of Johnsons of Hendon is now occupied by the Brent Cross Shopping Centre, which was built in the late 1970s."

The manager of the Houghton shop was affectionately known as 'Uncle Fred' by the other staff.

His full name was Fred Walker (see picture alongside, taken in the Houghton shop during 1970).

Glynn Hall was his assistant (see Glynn in the picture to the right. Glynn is the gentleman to the lower front left.)

The photograph below shows some of the staff of Johnsons London Office. Bill Rose is the young man in the background. To the front left is a gentleman named Glynn Hall. To the right front is a part-time employee named Bob ? (Bill can't remember his second name).

Bill Rose later became involved in aeronautics and space technology, authoring a number of books on the subject.

Bill Rose had an assistant named Chris Downie, see picture, left, taken in 1970 during a tea break. According to Bill, Chris went on to work for Master Photo Finishers who were part of the Wallace Heaton retail company. He later returned to work for Johnsons of Hendon in the late 1970s and then joined the retail photographic company Tecno.

An interesting picture of a Johnsons delivery vehicle, made by Foden, sent to me by Tony Pritchard.
The lorry's split windscreen, its general design and registration plate, seem to date the vehicle to the 1950s, but the cars at the left hand side date the view to the early 1970s.
The address on the side of the vehicle is 335 Hendon Way, so presumably dates the photograph to before 1974, when Hestair sold the valuable Hendon Way site for development (and became part of the Brent Cross Shopping Centre ~ opened in 1976), but that still makes the vehicle 15-20 years old at the time the picture was taken.
Possibly it was a publicity shot ?

Repairs at Johnsons were carried out at a workshop close to Staples Corner, on the North Circular Road, catering for (amongst other makes) Voigtländer and (later) Eumig. Bill Rose comments that "Although it was recognised by the late 1960s that Japanese made cameras and lenses were better designed, more reliable and cheaper than their German equivalents, there was nonetheless a resistance within Johnsons against Japanese products".

Carl McVey has provided additional information about Johnson's Staples Corner premises. Carl joined Johnsons in 1962, when the Staples Corner Service Manager was Sam Allard. Sam remained in this post until Hestair arrived on the scene (in 1972). Sam was given a "Golden Handshake" by Hestair in 1972 and the position was then taken over by Richard Kogel from Austria (though nothing to do with Eumig in Austria, who took over Johnsons in 1977 - see below). Richard held the position of Service Manager for a relatively short period.

Carl McVey eventually became Technical Manager of the Electronic, Durst and hi-fi (high fidelity audio) section before finally leaving Johnsons in 1974. He recalls that during his employment, Johnsons had the Distribution Agency for Voigtländer, Bolex, Eumig, Minox, Durst, Braun (electronic) flash guns, Rollei and, latterly, Tamron. "There may have been others, but it was a long time ago now." Carl was instrumental in assessing and approving Aiwa and Denon hi-fi equipment for Johnsons, thereby enabling Johnsons to also become Sole Agents for these products (around 1974). During this assessment period, Carl met the CEO of Aiwa and the famous Ray Dolby (of Dolby systems). He took them on a tour of Soho (London) Japanese restaurants, "but that's another story !"

A 1970s phtograph from Carl McVey.

LHS is Carl McVey.

Centre is Richard Kogel, who was the successor to Sam Allard.

RHS is Nobuosi (affectionately known as Nobby) Sekine, the technical ambassador from Aiwa.
Carl says Mr Sekine was "A really great guy who became a family friend.

Carl McVey at work in the Staples Corner workshop during the 1960s. Carl says "The article I am repairing is the Rollei flash gun with variable flash duration. It was allegedly responsible for reciprocity failure because the minimum flash duration wavelength was shorter than the gelatin thickness of the film."

Carl describes the Staples Corner premises as being "a very large building divided between the Developing & Printing (D&P) section on the ground floor and equipment repairs on the 1st floor. Still camera repairs, mostly Voigtländer, were undertaken by nine very professional English (including Carl) and German camera technicians who worked together. There were also eleven technicians repairing Eumig cine cameras and projectors, including two from Eumig (one of whom, Robert Reingrüber, became godfather to Carl's son) and four working on Braun and Durst equipment.

A German gentleman named Klause Bonke worked in the office and is believed to have been in charge of liaison between Voigtländer and Johnsons. Below is a photograph showing Klaus (courtesy of Bob Collier).

In 1972, Johnsons of Hendon was acquired by the Hestair Company and underwent major restructuring. Hestair asset stripped by selling the Hendon site itself, which was worth a lot of money, and this site subsequently became the Brent Cross Shopping Centre. For further, see here.

Around that time, part of the repair section was moved to secondary premises at Macclesfield. Carl says that he has no idea what happened to them, but their relocation was probably all part of Hestair's asset stripping program of selling off valuable building land, as was the subsequent closure and sale of the Staples Corner repair centre building itself, where Carl worked. When the Johnsons of Hendon main factory site was closed on Hendon Way, limited space at the Staples Corner building meant that the photographic equipment and hi-fi stores were moved to hangers at the old Handley Page aircraft factory at Radlett, Hertfordshire (which had closed in 1970). Carl believes it likely that the remnant part of the repair section was originally also destined to be moved to Radlett, but alternative (rental) property was found at a site very near to, and virtually opposite, Staples Corner, at 14 Priestley Way, also on the North Circular road, at London NW2 7TN.

The above are further photographs from Bob Collier (via Stan Scholes) showing the servicing of cine equipment

Presumably, Priestley Way was named after Joseph Priestley, the 1774 discoverer of oxygen in air, since Priestley Way was also the location of a British Oxygen Company factory - BOC - now (since 2006) part of The Linde Group.

Since Priestley Way was only a rental building, Carl anticipated (at the time) that Hestair's plan was to eventually let the business slowly disperse. In the event, however, Johnsons continued to operate out of 14 Priestley Way throughout Hestair's management and also the subsequent 1977-1981 Eumig (UK) ownership. Indeed, it seems they stayed at Priestley Way until they'd purchased and amalgamated with Photopia Ltd during 1985-1989, which led to the formation of Johnsons-Photopia at Photopia's premises at Hempstalls Lane, Newcastle Under Lyme, Staffordshire, ST5 0SW.

Carl was given the task of closing down and arranging the clearance of the Staples Corner premises. "What a waste to have to dump the entire D&P processing section's equipment i.e. tanks, driers, silver reclamation plant, the whole lot". During its clearance, Staples Corner proved to be an Aladdin's Cave ! "Apparently, the building had previously been occupied by Pathescope and in its 'vaults' there were many mementos of that era, with ancient tea-chests full of very early chemical glassware, plus pestles and mortars, all presumably intended for sale to early photographers. There was also a set of very old chemical scales, complete with weights down to ½ gramme, all housed in mahogany with spatulas and scoops made of horn. I wonder who those had originally belonged to ?" "Interestingly, I found a well used large pestle and mortar stained with silver nitrate etc indented with the name Wedgewood. Carl jokingly conjectures if this might have belonged to the early (end of the 18th century) photographic pioneer Tom Wedgewood, but then muses "maybe not...."

Carl left Johnsons of Hendon in 1974 to study Polymer Engineering. He became a designer in engineering plastics until, aged 54 and after trying to start his own business, the 1991 recession finally made him to take a totally new course in life (see left). By 22nd Feb 1992 he arrived in Cyprus, where he already owned a villa and was a licensed skipper. So he was able to provide yacht charter trips for tourists. Carl says "It certainly beats sitting at a work bench in London..."

Mike McGrath has written to add his own details about working at Johnsons in 1959-1961 in his school holidays and before going to university.
“I worked at Johnsons of Hendon for two summers – they were employing maybe 200 workers on Hendon Way. I worked in the stock room making up orders of Fixol, Unitol, Universol etc etc. The chemicals were stored on high deep metal shelving in large brown glass bottles – probably half a gallon or more (in each bottle). Much time was spent stocking and then filling orders onto a wooden trolley. The pace seemed fairly relaxed and supervision by the stock room foreman was pretty minimal. A long sloping cobbled lane contained the primitive workshops where chemicals were brewed in large vats – probably unchanged since the 1920s when the factory was built. A fork lift driver was related to Eric Delaney the famous drummer of the 1950s of whom I owned one 45 rpm record, which I still have - ‘Oranges and Lemons’ etc. The driver was a handsome man who went out with a glamorous girl from accounts – all high heels and swishing petticoats. Lunch was taken in the busy works canteen, consisting of a cold drink and sandwiches, the latter made, I think, by my mother."

Michael Dorman, who currently lives in Toronto, Canada, has emailed to tell me about his experiences in the autumn of 1967 (aged about 23years) when he and his friend Larry came to England to hitchhike around and do odd jobs to support themselves. "The first job was two or three days moving furniture at BBC Broadcasting House, Langham Place. The announcement of choosing the name of the Queen Elizabeth liner was made on the wireless (radio) just as we were having our tea break. The next job I was given, as well as my friend Larry, was at Johnsons of Hendon. We worked there for a while through the Manpower company but then left Manpower at the encouragement of our co-workers, to become full-time employees of Johnsons".

To read more about Michael's experiences while at Johnsons, click here.

The picture alongside was made available by Bob Collier (via Stan Scholes) who titles it as "Johnsons Colour Laboratories". Judging by the 105E Ford Anglia in the visitor's car park (produced from 1959), the photograph must date from the 1960s. However, all the registrations are pre-1963, which suggests the building itself pre-dates 1966.

The Johnson delivery van, far left, has "Apparatus Division Service" imprinted on its side and the building looks very similar to part of an 'L' shaped building that was the "Apparatus Service Section" located at 970 North Circular Road, London, NW2. The complete Apparatus Service Section building can be seen in the lower right hand picture, scanned from the Johnson General Photographic Catalogue for 1964-65.

This building is most likely the Staples Corner premises where Carl McVey (see his story above) would have worked when he first joined Johnsons in 1962. Carl describes the Staples Corner premises as being "a very large building, divided between the Developing & Printing (D&P) section on the ground floor and equipment repairs on the 1st floor. It's probable that Bob is referring to the ground floor D&P Section when referring to this building as being the Colour Laboratories (colour photography having become widely available by the 1960s).

The Service Section, subsequent to the Hestair take-over, moved to rented property virtually opposite Staples Corner, at 14 Priestley Way, also on the North Circular road, at London NW2 7TN.

Picture Courtesy of Bob Collier


Johnsons of Hendon, under its Hestair ownership from 1972, abandoned chemical production altogether in 1974, after 200 years. The Photo Technology page contains information relating to the history of the chemicals manufacturing business of Johnsons of Hendon after it was closed.

'Camera User' magazine for April 1974, under 'Product News', has an entry entitled 'Johnsons cease chemical manufacturing'. It reads:
"The Board of Johnsons of Hendon has decided to cease the manufacture and distribution of photographic chemicals and to concentrate exclusively on the distribution of photographic and audio agency products which represent the major and expanding part of its business. The decision to cease the manufacture of chemicals has become inevitable with recent events. Historically, Johnsons chemical business has proved progressively less viable without the manufacture of its own raw photo chemicals.

More recently this has been exacerbated by the acute shortage of primary raw photo chemicals essential to the continuation of its business. The current national economic problems have further worsened the position. The manufacture of chemical products will be run down over a period of a few weeks during which time every effort will be made to fulfil orders on hand. Products will, of course, continue to be supplied as long as stocks last.

This decision enables Johnsons of Hendon to devote more resources to the development of its established photo agencies, including such famous names as Eumig, Bolex, Durst etc and to the new agencies which are now being successfully launched, including Aiwa (Audio), Tamron (lenses) and Toshiba (amateur flash). The launch of other important agencies is anticipated in the near future. Johnsons of Hendon will, therefore, continue to be the foremost British company serving the retail and professional photo trade and looks forward to a successful and prosperous future in partnership with its customers".

What exactly was going on in the UK in 1974 to cause this change of company policy? The UK's economic situation had been deteriorating for over a decade with balance of payment deficits, high inflation and, in 1967, currency devaluation. Unrest in the Middle East with the 1967 'Six Days War' when Israel defeated the Arab States and extended her borders, laid the foundations for the Yom Kippur War, which began on October 6th 1973 when Egypt and Syria opened a coordinated surprise attack against Israel. At first on the defensive, Israel rallied and had decidedly gained the upper hand by 22nd October when the UN Security Council called for a cease-fire. The US and many western countries had shown strong support for Israel and so the Arab oil producing States, under OPEC, contributed to the world's growing energy crisis by cutting production, resulting in oil prices quadrupling from 1973 to 1974, further fuelling inflation. UK coal miners' strikes in early 1972 and again in early 1974 lead on both occasions to a state of emergency and a 3-day working week, in order to conserve electricity supplies. By 1975, UK unemployment and inflation reached post-World War II record levels; inflation went well over 20% and, with fluctuations, remained high for the rest of the decade, averaging perhaps 14%.

In 1977, Johnsons of Hendon was purchased by Eumig with headquarters in Vienna and the company name was changed - to Eumig (UK) Limited. Eumig had been started in 1919 by two friends with a staff of 20 skilled workers and four clerks. Eumig grew to become world renowned for the high quality of their amateur movie equipment. By 1969, after 50 years of trading, Eumig staff numbered 2,700 (PP magazine, Aug69).

'Practical Photography' magazine for March 1977 has the following item in their 'Photo News' section, under the heading 'Hello Eumig'
"Johnsons of Hendon Ltd changed its name to Eumig (UK) Ltd on 1st February, following a take-over by Immatra AG of Zurich. As well as Eumig cine equipment, the new company will continue to distribute Durst, Tamron and Bolex products. The address remains the same at Priestley Way, London NW2 7TN." Practical Photography magazine for April 1980 reported that Mike Allen, "known as Britain's Mr Durst....his enthusiasm and hard work has made Durst the best known enlarger in Britain today" had been appointed as Manager with responsibilities for the marketing of Durst, Bolex and Denon products. To read more about Mike Allen, see his entry in the Eumig People news-sheet (see next paragraph). David Vaughan was Managing Director of Euming (UK) Ltd.

To view a copy of Eumig People, a news-sheet produced shortly after Eumig (UK) Ltd purchased Johnsons of Hendon from Hestair, click here. It is made available by courtesy of Bob Collier and sent to me by Stan Scholes. See a photograph from a 1981 Works Outing to Calais, by clicking here.

In 1981, Eumig (in Austria) became bankrupt and, quoting Kevin MacDonnell (see below), "their agents all over the world started to fold as well." In the UK, however, the company had diversified enough to survive and became the subject of a management buyout, returning to its original trading name of Johnsons of Hendon Limited. Thus the wheel had turned full circle and Durst equipment was again being distributed by Johnsons of Hendon Ltd, still at 14 Priestley Way, London, NW2 7TN.

Kevin MacDonnell, writing his regular column within 'Photography' magazine for December 1981 wrote a short piece entitled 'Johnsons Lives':
"When the famous Austrian firm of cine equipment manufacturers, Eumig, became bankrupt recently, their agents all over the world started to fold as well. Here in England, however, Eumig (UK) Ltd had very sensibly diversified, acquiring several other very important agencies and they have not only survived but are expanding. This is very good news indeed, for the firm is the offspring of the Apparatus Section of Johnsons of Hendon, the oldest photographic firm in the world.

I say this with confidence because it was Johnsons who supplied Tom Wedgewood with silver nitrate for the 'Silver Pictures' he produced at the end of the 18th Century, long before photography was truly invented, made by the blackening effect of sunlight on the chemical. Then, when Houghton and Claudet, who imported the glass domes that went over wax fruit, started selling material for the first Daguerreotypes produced in this country, it was Johnsons who supplied the chemical kits. Incidentally, years ago I traced Claudet's descendents, charming people living in Kent, who had many of his early pictures.

Johnsons and Houghtons then had little connection for a century, but when the latter had their premises destroyed in Holburn during the Blitz, the two firms merged. Bernard Cook, Johnsons' Managing Director, decided to revive amateur photography when the war ended and the fantastic growth of the hobby in this country during the Fifties and Sixties was due almost entirely to his efforts.
His firm went to endless trouble to help people who wanted to take up photography. A schoolboy would be treated with the same consideration as an FRPS, cheap instruction books were distributed, lectures were given to every Club in the British isles. The cost was regarded as an investment and amateur photography boomed.

Ten years ago (written Dec 1981) the firm was taken over (by Hestair), the land on which it stood became Brent Cross Shopping Centre, the Chemical Section became Photo Technology and the Apparatus Section became Eumig (UK) Ltd."

In 1985 Johnsons of Hendon acquired the business of one of its major competitors - the Photopia Group. At that time, Johnsons waas being run by David Vaughan and his business partner Neil Magee. In 1989 the two companies were finally amalgamated under the Johnsons Photopia banner. For history relating to Photopia Ltd, click on the link.

Johnsons-Photopia were then located at Hempstalls Lane, Newcastle Under Lyme, Staffordshire, ST5 0SW, UK, the original home of Photopia. HOWEVER........
The TechRadar website reports that on Tuesday 25th September 2018, UK photographic services company Johnsons Photopia went into administration. In 2006, the company was bought from then-owner David Vaughan by Steve Kirkham, David Harper and Tim Harrison, who are said to have been effectively running the company prior to the sale.



This page last modified: 23rd January 2021 (previously 22nd September 2019)