The huge building with Art Deco detailing built by Montague Burton in Leeds in 1934 shows the extent to which the making of garments had become, over the previous 60 years, a factory-based activity rather than the work of individual tailors. It is also evidence of the ‘retailing revolution’ of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that occurred in most west European countries.
Montague Burton (1885-1952) was a Jew, born in Lithuania, whose original name was Meshe Osinsky. After settling in England he built up a chain of stores whose objective was to provide men with good quality suits at the cost of a week’s wages, and he proclaimed himself ‘the tailor of taste’. By the 1930s he had created a chain of 500 shops that were the most distinctive on British high streets, with bold Art Deco motifs, including stylised elephants’ heads, faience panels, bronzed metal and polished granite. Many that have long served other purposes can still easily be recognised.
Burton also had 14 factories of which that in the Burmantofts district of Leeds was the ‘flagship’. There he employed about 1,000 men and 9,000 women, who made some 30,000 suits per week. He provided a works canteen and generous health and retirement pension schemes. The factory was one of the principal manufacturers of the ‘demob’ (i.e. demobilisation) suits supplied to men leaving the armed forces at the end of the Second World War.
The Burtons chain continued to expand after 1945 and consisted of more than 600 shops when its founder died in 1952, but it declined with subsequent changes in fashion. The name remains as a brand within the Arcadia group that now uses the Leeds factory as offices and warehousing. Montague Burton is commemorated by a blue plaque affixed to the building.