Suits you, sir! How Leeds once clothed the nation

PIC: James Hardisty
PIC: James Hardisty
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It is now known as one of Leeds’s most-deprived areas, but Harehills was once tailored to be at the heart of the city’s biggest employer that helped clothe the nation – Burton’s suits.

The Hudson Road factory was at the centre of Montague Burton’s clothing empire and at its height was the largest clothing factory in the world, employing 10,000 people producing more than 30,000 suits a week.

Sir Montague was originally from Lithunia, but moved to Britain in 1900 as a teenager to escape the Russain pogroms against Jewish people. In 1903 and aged just 18, he borrowed £100 from a relative to start a tailoring company in Chesterfield, starting his hugely successful business career.

Many of the traditional red brick back-to-back houses that still exist in the Harehills area were once home to staff who lived within walking distance of the famous factory.

Opening in 1921, the factory was renowned for its pioneering welfare system for workers, with a health and pension scheme that predated the arrival of the welfare state.

Production was organised so a person ordering a suit on a Saturday could collect it the following weekend and was set at a price designed to be affordable for the working classes.

During the Second World War, Burton produced uniforms for the troops and after victory over the Nazis, he produced a special suit for war veterans that was nicknamed ‘The Full Monty’.

The Burton chain consisted of more than 600 shops when its founder Sir Montague died in 1952 but has fallen in size over the decades.

The Hudson Road site still remains in use, but is now employed as offices and warehousing.

The rather-more controversial Sir Philip Green became the first sole owner of Burton in 2002 – whose corporate title was changed to Arcadia in 1967 – since Sir Montague’s day.

Sir Montague is remembered with a blue plaque on the Hudson Road building, paying tribute to the ‘Tailor of Taste’ who made good quality, made-to-measure suits for a week’s wages.

Technical details: Nikon D4 camera with a Nikon 400mm lens, exposure of 1/1000th sec @ f/4, ISO 160.

Saphieh Ashtiany, the equality and employment lawyer

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