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 named John Johnson became an 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 for photographic chemicals to RFC, the Royal Naval Air Service, and other Government departments 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 when the business address 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 work 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 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, including its offices and warehousing, were moved to the Hendon site, with Bernard Cook as chief executive.
Read the full history of Johnsons of Hendon here: