8th March 1977. A ‘Dying’ Business.

Being fleet of foot is a useful attribute in success, as seen at the beleaguered Sketchley Cleaners, when after David Gawler sold its dry cleaning business in 1999, he renamed the remnant, Semara.  A year later Johnsons Cleaners took over failing Semara to gain synergies in protective overalls rental.

In short order, Gawler, described as having ‘turned round Burma Oil and Sketchley’, departed for another challenge!(1)

The saga started Today in 1977, when Hansard reported a Commons debate when Mr Shepherd and Mr Rooker asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, whether he would refer to the Monopoly Commission, the matter regarding the proposed takeover by Sketchley Ltd of their main rivals in dry cleaning, Johnson Ltd.

Sketchley Dye Works

Sketchley Dye Works. By the 1950s it was the largest dyers and finishers in Europe. Pic Ref. below.

Sketchley, named after a local brook at Hinckley, Leicestershire, was once the UK dry-cleaning market leader in 1985, with 600 shops.(2)

By the 1990s when dry-cleaning was declining, Sketchley bought several service companies including workwear, and  SupaSnaps, which later proved unable to compete with in-store mini-labs offering one-hour service.

By the 1990s, the once proud, independent Sketchley, was in trouble, but denied that soaring debts and a plunge into the red had forced a Rights Issue.

As John Jackson, appointed October 1994 with a brief to re-build, said: ‘Sketchley was ready to grow and the reason for the Rights is that a number of investment products offer good short-term paybacks.’ Flannel!, The writing was on the wall.

Once a familiar sight on Britain's Streets.

Once a familiar sight on Britain’s Streets.

To reduce property costs, shops were merged and those unprofitable closed, a move camouflaged by going in-store with Sainsbury’s; one in the Author’s Burton-on-Trent supermarket.

After making a failed bid for rival Johnsons, Sketchley shops were bought by Mr Minit (keys and shoes repairs), in 1999. The rump of Sketchley now became Semara, involved in overall rental and supa snaps.

In 2000 Johnsons took over Semara after the latter’s losses on its photo processing shops. In 2003, ex shoe maker, John Timpson, bought his rival Mr Minit, which included 120 Sketchley shops. A year later these were sold to Johnsons.(3)

In July 2012, ‘Johnson’s closed 100 shops [out of 460]; Dry cleaning feels the pinch’, was reported in the Independent.

Sketchley 1950s

Sketchley 1950s


End of Sketchley

End of Sketchley, demolished in 2012.


Deadly, but no longer needed!







Art Deco shop design of 1930s.

Art Deco shop design of 1930s.

(1) Daily Telegraph/finance article 10.3.2001.

(2) Cleaners and Dyers of Men’s, Ladies and Children’s clothes and Household Furnishings, originally traded as A & E Hawley & Co., Ltd. Hosiery Bleachers Dyers and Finishers, Hinckley since 1885. They also were French (dry) cleaners.

(3) As reported in the Liverpool Daily Post: ‘Johnsons Service Group last night [19.5.2004], consolidated its position as the biggest operator of dry cleaning outlets in the country with the acquisition of High Street rival Sketchley from Timson’s.’

Ref: dailytelegraph.co.uk/article. John Timpson.16.5.2010.

Ref: stillmecollection.co.uk/Pic of van.

Ref: gb.geoview.info. aerial view of dyeworks.


Ref: thisleicestershire.co.uk/sketchley dye works.

Ref: Liverpool Daily Post May 20th 2004 art by Tony McDonough.

Ref: HC Debate 08 March 1977 Vol 927 cc 456-7.

Ref: On changed company names, David Gow, Guardian 20.7.1999.

Ref: 28dayslater.co.uk/sketchley-shop.




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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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