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Tel: +44 (0) 1306 884722

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A history of Johnston Sweepers from 1904 to the present day


JM Johnston

JM Johnston, co-founder of Johnston Brothers

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 minimised and it was recognised 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. 

Johnston Three Wheel Boiler

Johnston Three Wheel Boiler from 1909

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.





Double Furnace Tar Boiler

Double Furnace Boiler Tar Boiler of 1910

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'.

Weir Boiler

Johnston Weir Boiler with mechanical brush gear at work in 1930

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 mechanisation 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.


Mechanical Sweeper

Johnston Mobile Mechanical Sweeper first produced in 1937

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 programme 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 defence 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.

Roeslev Sugar Beet Lifter

'Roerslev' sugar beet lifter from late 1940's

The Johnston Group, - Johnston Brothers (Contractors), Hadsphaltic and Non Impact Surfaces were soon involved in major civil engineering contracts. These included schools, 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.


In the early 1950's the company was involved in the design of a machine to recover surplus chippings following road dressing. The chippings could then be 'recycled' and used elsewhere.This development led to a commitment to produce a sweeper unit which operated on the principle of high velocity air conveyance suction.

At the end of the 1950's Johnston developed a new prototype sweeper design.

By mounting the complete suction sweeping equipment on the back of a lorry (where a tipper body would normally be) the first truck mounted sweeper was created.

Johnston Prototype

1959 Johnston Prototype. The first lorry mounted suction sweeper, seen here on an Austin chassis

The brain child of RFC Gray, rubbish no longer passed through the fan, therefore giving higher suction due to its increased horsepower.

This provided a single mobile unit with all the manoeuvrability of the then widely used mechanical sweepers.

Only five of these prototypes were built but with the experience gained, a production based machine, the Mk1 was produced.The first commercial Johnston truck mounted sweeper had been created.




An early Mk1 exported to Barcelona, Spain

The Mk1 was launched at the 1960 Public Works Exhibition in London and proved a success from the start.

This was the first ever suction type lorry mounted road sweeper to be marketed successfully in the U.K. It created enormous interest and was a major milestone in road sweeper development.

The company was soon involved in demonstration programmes all over the country and deliveries of completed sweepers began in 1961 from the Vincent Lane factory.

The first Mk1 exported - a dual sweep machine was shipped to Denmark in June 1961 and invoiced at £3950.00


The expanding Johnston Group became a publicly quoted company in 1964.

Technical development continued at pace and by August 1965 Johnston had delivered its 500th sweeper and supplied 80% of the UK market.


Johnston 200 Series

The popular Johnston 200 Series

January 1968 saw the introduction of the Johnston 200 Series which represented a major step forward in sweeper design.

Earlier single engine Johnston models required the installation of a purpose designed gearbox. This arrangement split the engine power between road wheels, suction fan and sweeping brushes. 

The 200 was the first two engine or 'dual' machine. A separate engine to drive the fans and brushes gave constant suction and brush action. 

During its 11 year production run a total of 3,956 machines were built.


Cutis Road Site

An aerial shot of the Cutis Road site in the mid 1970's

By the mid 1970's, production had out grown the Vincent Lane site and main production moved to a larger site in Cutis Road, Dorking.

Sustained export success in1975 resulted in Johnston Engineering achieving the Queens Award for Export.This award coincided with annual production exceeding 500 machines for the first time.


Launched in November 1978, the 400 Series introduced the new concept of 'skid-unit' manufacture.

The skid unit contains all the sweeper components above the vehicle chassis frame.Mounted on its own sub-frame, with lifting points built-in, the unit can be stored ready for mounting on any chassis without dismantling. Skid units can also be shipped overseas for local assembly.

Johnston 400 Series

Johnston 400 Series

Other improvements on the 400 Series included an in-cab control system of all sweeping operations and a significant reduction in noise levels.

A popular variation of the 400 was the 450 Series Airport Sweeper. Outrigger brushes and broom-assisted nozzles very quickly swept large areas. A large magnet for retrieving ferrous objects, such as nuts and bolts, was also produced as an option.


In 1983 the Spares and Service Department relocated to a new building in Curtis Road opposite the main production site entrance.  The building comprised a warehouse for over 10,000 spare parts, together with a training area, trade counter and administration offices. Four additional UK Regional Service Centres were set up at Sudbury, Avonmouth, Warwick and Livingston in Scotland.


Johnston 600

Johnston 600 Series operating at London's Heathrow Airport in the mid 1980's

1986 saw the company widen its product range into the small compact sweeper range, with the acquisition of Babcock Sweepers Limited at Sheerness in Kent, and production of the 2000 Series Compact sweeper began at the Sheerness plant in 1989.


The company’s development of the 600 Series, with its significant product innovations were recognised by achieving a British Design Award in1988. This high capacity machine, with its wide range of options, became the standard Johnston production vehicle.


In 1992 the Vincent Lane site in Dorking finally closed after 60 years of Johnston activity, and all remaining production and staff relocated to Curtis Road.

New offices were built, together with development of the site to include a skid shop and testing facilities.

Johnston 2000

Johnston 2000 Series


Another milestone was reached in the summer of 1995, with the production of the 15,000th Johnston sweeper - a 2000 Series Compact.




Johnston Beam Runway Sweeper

Johnston-Beam Runway Sweeper at the Farnborough Airshow with Concorde and the Red Arrows

In 1996 Johnston purchased the Danish company Beam, which produces bespoke specialist runway sweepers and airport stand cleaners.


In 1997 a new office and production facility for the Compact and 5000 Series, was opened at Sittingbourne, replacing the Babcock factory in Sheerness.



Production of the new 5000 Series Compact Sweeper began in 1998.


Johnston MadVac 101

Johnston MadVac 101 Sweeper

In 2000 Johnston acquired the Canadian based company MadVac. 

Established in 1986 MadVac specialises in the design, construction and distribution of litter collection systems and pedestrian operated sweepers.







In recognition of its core business, in 2003 the company changed its name to Johnston Sweepers Limited.  2003 also saw the introduction of the new brand identity. This included a redesigned logo, Johnston 'swirl' and vehicle liveries.

The new V Range was launched in September 2003 - a replacement for the best selling 600 Series, but with more features and improvements.


The new C400 mid-sized sweeper is launched, replacing the 5000 series in the 7.5 and 8.9 tonne class.  The new machines introduce high and low transit speeds for the first time, as well as the new CANview in-cab display system.

Johnston is the first manufacturer in Europe to be awarded AQMD PM10 certification, regulating air quality emissions – ahead of legislation.



Johnston launches its new UniQa range of winter maintenance equipment, teaming up with sister company Giletta under the new brand Johnston Giletta.

Vast new parts and service depots open in Leeds and Coventry as part of a programme of significant investment in Johnston’s nationwide customer support network.


Johnston Sweepers

Johnston line up on the streets of Bangkok

Johnston wins its largest order in the company’s history to date, to supply over 100 truck sweepers to Bangkok in Thailand.

Tests reveal that Johnston’s compact uses up to 40% less fuel in like-for-like trials, a significant finding in Johnston’s drive for lowest cost of ownership.

Johnston Sweepers is awarded ISO 14001 accreditation, the international standard for environmental management systems.


Johnston Sweepers wins the Manufacturing in Action award for its commitment to promoting best practise in all areas of the business.  In the same month, Johnston is named Company of the Year in the Surrey Business Awards for its tenacity in an international business market.

£1.25m is invested in the latest technology at the Dorking plant, including a robotic welding cell and a new environmentally-friendly shot blasting unit and powder coating plant.


Johnston celebrates 50 years of producing truck mounted suction sweepers, having pioneered the very first suction sweeper design and launched it to the market in 1960 at the Public Works Exhibition in London.

Johnston CN101

Johnston CN101

The CN101 1.3m3 subcompact sweeper is launched, entering the product range in the new lightweight subcompact class for sweeping in urban pedestrian areas where space is confined.  Uniquely, the new machine features 500 hour service intervals for lowest cost of ownership.

Johnston’s entire parts supply system is re-launched with a £1.4m investment in spares stock and free guaranteed next day delivery anywhere in mainland UK.  A brand new service centre opens in Redbridge, Essex, to service the London area.

Johnston launches its new VT551 7.5 tonne “slim” truck sweeper, designed to be fitted to lighter, narrower chasses for value-for-money high payload.  At just 2m wide, the new machine features 5.25m3 hopper capacity while using 27% less fuel than comparable sweepers.


The brand new C201 compact sweeper is launched to the market, featuring more than thirty design upgrades including Johnston’s unique patented 4 wheel steer system for best-ever manoeuvrability, state of the art electronics and Glide 2 suspension.

Johnston C201

Johnston C201 with winter maintenance equipment

Johnston opens Johnston North America for business in North Carolina, USA, as a wholly owned subsidiary to import Johnston equipment into the North American market and supply sales support to the network of dealerships throughout the region.

The new C201 is names as one of the quietest sweepers on the market following independent trials at Milbrook Proving Ground, with a sound level equivalent to an electric lawnmower at less than 96dB(A).

Twenty five sweepers are supplied to the London Borough of Newham in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympic Games.

New demountable winter equipment is introduced, allowing machines to double up as sweepers and snow clearing vehicles.


Johnston V651

Johnston V651 Range

Johnston launches the all-new V Range truck mounted sweeper range, featuring more than one thousand upgrades and a brand new clean-air engine from JCB to bring to the market the longest-ever on station work time and lower than ever running costs.

Johnston’s record breaking order in 2008 is surpassed by the company’s largest-ever order for more than 300 truck mounted and compact machines for the City of Moscow.  The machines are produced in special 316L grade stainless steel to cope with operation at minus 20.o.

The new C201 is named Waste and Recycling Vehicle of the Year for 2012 in the PAWRs awards, and goes on to also win Mechanical Product of the Year in the 2012 British Engineering Excellence Awards.

Johnston’s Parts e-Shop goes live for business, allowing customers to browse and purchase spares on-line, as part of a £1.6m investment in the company’s after-sales service provision.

The CW201 street washer is introduced to the C201 compact range, and a new 4.5 GVW option is introduced, increasing payload to 1.7 tonnes.


Johnston Factory in Dorking

6,000m2 factory extension in Dorking, Surrey

Building starts on a new factory wing at the Dorking site, as part of an £11m project to consolidate all three manufacturing plants in the UK at one site.  The new factory aims to be the most modern sweeper manufacturing facility in Europe, with all-new technology and assembly flow lines for maximum efficiency and quality.




Read more about Johnston's history.


Discover why excellence runs through everything we do.

Johnston Sweepers Limited, Curtis Road, Dorking, Surrey, England RH4 1XF UK

Tel: +44 (0) 1306 884722

Company Reg 00199841

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