History 1904-1949

A History of Johnston Sweepers From 1904-1949


In 1904 J M Johnston and two brothers set up business at 110 Cannon Street, London under the name of Johnston Brothers. In the early days there was only one line of business – importing and selling of Rhenish Basalt stone from Germany. In Britain the stone was used to form a solid foundation during road construction. Even during these early stages, the company was involved in export to places such as Lebanon, Kenya, Sudan and Burma.

With the advent of the motor vehicle and heavier wear on road surfaces the problem of dust became more acute. In the interest of Public Health the dust had to be minimized and it was recognized that tar was ideal for this task and also prevented water bound roads from disintegrating, especially in areas carrying heavy traffic.


In 1908 J M Johnston met the surveyor C H Waithman who had been experimenting with a tar spreading machine.

Seeing the possibilities of overcoming the dust problem Johnston Brothers developed and manufactured the Three Wheel Boiler, which they fitted with a Waithman designed Reservoir Broom.


By 1910 the Three Wheel Boiler had given way to a more sophisticated four wheel model which was also fitted with a platform to carry the barrel.

Later machines were fitted with a heater under the platform and became known as the Johnston Double Furnace Boiler.

This machine was adopted by Councils throughout the country, establishing Johnston Brothers as a leading name in road surface treatment. The start of the First World War in 1914 ended all imports of road dressing stone from Germany.


Peace came to Europe in 1918 and the rebuilding task began. Johnston Brothers acquired the Horsehay and Doseley Quarries to replace their previous suppliers from Germany.


By the mid-1920’s Britain’s road system was fast expanding. In 1924 Johnston Brothers took over the assets of ‘Road Plant Construction Company Limited’.

Based in Vincent Lane, Dorking, the company manufactured a variety of engineering equipment from agricultural machinery through to road construction and road sweeping equipment. As improved construction techniques were developed, the company began to produce a wide range of road surface machines. These included tar boilers, gritters and a mobile asphalt plant.

With twenty million square yards of surface dressing required in Britain each year, the next break through came with the Johnston Weir Boiler with mechanically operated brush gear. This replaced ‘hand tarring’ and the furnace and broom systems were phased out – the age of mechanization had arrived.


In 1933 Non Impact Surfaces Limited was formed by Johnston Brothers, to lay the new ‘Nimpacttocote’ – a surface both noise and vibration free. Laid by grader and planer equipment, the top surface was compacted only by traffic. Further research and development in 1934 led to a new process – heating and planing using the Johnston Nimpactor.


By 1937 the company produced its first mechanical road surface cleaner, The Johnston Mobile Sweeper & Collector.

Compared with today’s ‘high tech’ machines it was a very basic affair but in the 1930’s represented a great advance in sweeper design.

With the outbreak of war in 1939 the Johnston Companies were fully engaged on war work.

The Johnston owned Hadsphaltic Construction Company, applied their civil engineering expertise to an extensive aerodrome construction program throughout Britain.

Road Plant Construction built and supplied vital equipment for HM Forces, including gritters, sweepers and snowploughs. Both home and overseas requirements were met and at least two Johnston snowploughs were in use by the RAF on each of over 600 airfields.

At Johnston’s Rugby gravel and sand pit, the stockpile of several thousand tons of sand was quickly used up supplying millions of sand bags for use in civil and military defense as protection against bomb blast. In 1945 the Johnston Companies once more prepared for the huge task of rebuilding. Post war the priorities were housing and public service projects.

The Johnston Group, – Johnston Brothers (Contractors), Hadsphaltic and Non Impact Surfaces were soon involved in major civil engineering contracts. These included school, roads, footpaths, sewers, water mains and sewage disposal works.

The Machinery Company (a forerunner of Johnston Engineering) also entered the agricultural machinery market in 1949. Hundreds of sugar beet harvesting machines were sold throughout the UK and also exported to the Canadian market.

Read more about Johnston’s history from 1950 to the present day.