Peter Campbell began learning his trade in Perth in 1814, with Archibald Campbell (whether he was a relative or not is not known). Two years later he took as an apprentice John Pullar, who would establish his own company in 1824 and become his main competitor. In 1819 Peter Campbell left Archibald Campbell to found his own firm.
Abundant water supply from the Tay made Perth an ideal location for the dyeing industry. However it was the arrival of the railway in 1848 that led to its rapid expansion. Within a few years P & P Campbell and Pullar's Dyeworks built new facilities to cope with rising demand and became some of the town's largest employers. Even though there is very little information available online about P & P Campbell, one can assume this was a successful business as his network of agents throughout Britain and the contracts he was awarded by important companies, including the Great Western Railway, illustrate. Campbell's firm not only dyed all sorts of materials, from wool and cotton to velvet and fur in its Perth works, it also cleaned them using different techniques including the French or chemical cleaning one (which in the 19th century was refered to as Nettoyage à sec rather than Dry cleaning). This technique had been pioneered in Britain by Pullar and Campbell was quick to adopt it in order to keep up with his competitor. Actually in many instances Campbell only followed Pullar's lead: whether it was synthetic dyes, using the parcel post for the cleaning side of the business, electric light or telephone, Pullar was always ahead. The introduction of electricity made it possible to work for much longer during the winter months, when daylight didn't exceed six hours. Gas lamps didn't provide enough light to carry out some of the processes. Pullar adopted electrical lights by 1878 but it took Campbell four years before 40 arc and 100 incandescent lamps lit the four main departments of the works: the dye house, the cleaning house, the finishing house, and the overhauling rooms.
In 1912 P & P Campbell, like J. Pullar and Sons, became a limited liability company. That allowed it to raise capital and invest in new machinery. Yet times were hard for the British dyeing industry. Germany was well-ahead in terms of technology and could offer much lower prices. Additionally in March that year the railway and coal industries went on strike. Products didn't move, coal was no longer available to power the machines and for a short while coal tar dyes, upon which the industry relied heavily, were in short supply. The strike only lasted for a few weeks but it shattered the dyeing industry. The war two years later did little to revive its fortunes. Britain produced less than 10% of the dyes used in the country's dye works. With imports from Germany interrupted, P & P Campbell and its competitors experienced great difficulties: the working week and wages were reduced, and some workers were laid off. The situation improved slightly towards the end of the war, but disaster struck one year later. Even though the most dangerous processes were carried out in fireproof buildings, extinguishers were supplied in most rooms, and Campbell kept its own fire engines, in 1919 a large part of P & P Campbell's Perth Dye Works went up in flames. The company didn't recover and was taken over by Pullar's Dyeworks.
The purchase of Campbell allowed Pullar, who had already bought several of its competitors, to expand its network of agents in the UK. By 1927, they totalled 7,752. Pullar, which was also known as North British Dyeworks, continued trading for several decades but closed down in 1993.
The 1886 edition of Kelly's Directory for Romford includes the following entry:
Parr & King, fancy drapers, hosiers & haberdashers, stationery etc; periodicals ordered; agents for the Perth dye works, Kingston house, Victoria RoadCould they have been the agents this ghost sign pointed to? Or was there another one closer to Forest Gate?
Perth Dye Works
Location: Sprowston Road / Picture taken on: 15/05/2011