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24 September 2014

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Local History

A Burton van and shop
A Burton van and shop

The full monty - Montague Burton

Hudson Road, just off Harehills Lane in Burmantofts, used to be home to the biggest clothing factory in the world part of Sir Montague Burton's menswear empire.

Montague Burton

  • Montague Burton was originally named Meshe Osinsky.
  • A Lithuanian Jewish refugee, Burton was only 15 when he opened his first business, a draper’s shop in Chesterfield, in 1900.
  • Burton was knighted for his services to commerce and charity.
  • When Sir Montague Burton died in 1952, his empire covered 600 shops and 14 factories and was clothing one in four men in Britain.
  • After World War II, Burton was a major supplier of de-mob suits. 'The full monty' may be an expression first used to describe these suits.
  • It was rumoured there was an RAF office over a Burton’s shop, where men would go to sit exams. Anyone failing an exam was said to have 'Gone for a Burton'.

Around 10,000 people worked on the site, producing over 30,000 suits a week. Burton was the biggest employer in Leeds.

Hudson Road was the heart of Montague Burton's empire. He chose Leeds because it was the centre of Britain’s textile industry and so he had access to skilled tailors and machinists.

Burton’s secret was to offer high-quality made-to-measure suits at low prices. "A five guinea suit for 55 shillings", was Burton’s promise.

Montague Burton
Montague Burton

Men would start work at 14 years of age as barrow boys, then be apprenticed as tailors or cutters.

However, men were outnumbered 10 to one by women. There were vast workrooms of machinists, with whole families working on the same production line.

The factory was described by former tailor, Sam Bernstein, as "a town in itself".

Burton made every effort to keep his staff happy - Hudson Road had the largest works canteen in the world, along with a pre-welfare state health and pension scheme.

Free dentists, chiropodists and even sun-ray treatment were provided for factory staff.

At work in a Burton factory
At work in a Burton factory

Interestingly the Burton factory may have been responsible for introducing two pieces of slang into the English language. The phrases 'The full monty' and 'Going for a Burton' may both have originated because of Burton's clothing empire. But we are asking for your help, can you provided proof of using the phrase 'The full Monty' BEFORE 1985?

Find out more about working at Burton's
Burton - a leeds legend >
video Sam Bernstein on making a suit >
video Stanley Barnet on Hudson Road >
Audio and Video links on this page require Realplayer

last updated: 01/02/06
Have Your Say
What memories do you have of Hudson Road or the Burton shops?
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karen lumb
does anyone remember joyce ella and marian lumb who worked in the factory marion worked in the office in the late 20,s?????????

My mother worked there in the forties and fifties . She made sure I didnt miss the christmas party .A truly wonderful affair for all the children of the thousands of employees . Every child came away with a present and the party food and entertainment was simply magnificent .

Roy Clark
I used to live in Compton Row which is a street off Hudson Rd, almost opposite the bottom entrance in Hudson Rd. I was born there in 1942 and lived there for 25 years. I can remember the thousands of people walkind down the street arriving for work in the mornings in the opposite direction in the evenings.It was like crowds leaving a foodball match twice a day. If you were caught up in the crowds it was difficult to get through your garden gate, you could be swept past by the shear volume of people. My mother worked at Burtons, first hand sewing buttons to the suits and then later as a Hoffman presser. When she was a sewing buttons she was paid 'piece work' this I think is the more buttons she sewed the more she earned. So on a night at home she would round us up to thread the needles with cotton thread and bees wax the thread, these would then be carefully place in a shoe box which she would take with here,saveing here time at work. I remember Burtons sports day when the kids would race in the egg and spoon, sack and three legged races. All good fun. I started work at 15 as an apprentice engineer servicing time clock and a few years later would service all the time clocks at Burtons, it would take four of us about a week to complete.

Bryan Jones
I remember Burtons as being the greatest in British tailoring. Today, what remains of Burtons, is an absolute shame to British retailering.

Mel Reuben
When I left School in 1957. My first job was as a apprentice motor mechanic at Bolton of Leeds. Arnold Burton who loved fast sports cars, purchased a top of the range French sports car. The car was being cleaned and valeted for his collection in the washing bay,in my wisdom I decided to take a short cut on the shop bike. Unfortunately I skided on the wet floor and crashed the bike into the car and badly scratched the car. This was just a hour before Arnold Burton was collecting it.Subsequently I was suspended for the day and sacked the next day. 54443

I was born in Leeds in 1971 and was brought up near the Burton Factory and whenever we were little and tripped up or fell over, my mum always used to say 'I went for a Burton' (Going/Gone for a Burton/Went for a Burton) - I take this to mean and have been told that this was when the Burton empire crashed/or shares went down, or something to that effect, this is the saying that developed out of that situation. I still use the saying now - hopefully, I don't trip up as much! The phrase Full Monty as ALWAYS meant a FULL 3-piece suit. A lot of sayings are from Leeds... for instance: 'It's like Briggate in here!' - meaening packed/busy/full of people! But that's only for the 'locals,' mind!

Mumtaz 'Monty' Khan
In the mid to late 80's I fought as a boxer for St.Patrick's Boys' Club and had bouts at the gym in the Burton's factory on Hudson Road for Leeds School Boys Championships. Mr Tommy Bergen ran the boxing club there. Later on we owned Khan Stores on top of Hudson Road and had many friends and customers working at the factory. The shop was closed in 2002. We have great memories of the place and the surroundinf areas including Torre estate, the Huson streets etc. As I was nicknamed Monty I was also told the story of the 'full Monty' as it is related here. Whenever I turned up for bouts/competitions it was said I was the full Monty meaning I was wearing a Burton's suit and this was in the 60's.If anyone remembers us please post your memories on this list. Good luck to all.

David McArdle
Myself and my wife worked for Burtons startin back in the 1980's - it was then a sought after place to work. It had almost a family atmosphere - we left in recent years when things are now not the same and it seems it is going back to a workhouse enviroment!!

Tony Roe
I wondered if anyone knew my great aunt Mamie Freeman who I understand was the manageress of the canteen.


I dont have any memories of Burton because i wasnt born yet but it nice to know where the name Burton came from and how TOPSHOP started out!!

Bob Scaife. Nashville USA>
Any old Cutting Room guys from the 60/70&8os about.Do you have the same happy memories of the tea ladies coming around with tea cakes fat and bread and scones, we would all ask for the fat with the most colour which we called the mucky fat because it had the most taste to it. Also working Saturday morning then going into Leeds for lunch before going onto Elland road to watch Leeds Utd. Graham Williams - John Stickland Moose and Paul P. Hope you are all doing well.Once again thanks to all for the happy happy memories. Bob Scaife.

David Walters
I started work as a sewing machine mechanic with Singer in 1959, and my first job was to go to Hudson Road and assemble 5,000 new stools for the machinists. A long job that took weeks.As a 15 year old just left school it was a daunting prospect to have to walk into one of the sewing rooms with all those ladies. Other the years I visited many times to service sewing machines, and rembember well Mr.Maurice Brough the chief engineer. I am still working in the industry selling sewing machines in Asia. There are many factories in this area now which have over 3,000 machinists, changed days.

Julie Newman
I am trying to find any reference to my grandfather Edward Watson who was a Burton's cutter up until 1925

My husbands family worked in the Burton factory as either machinists, cutters, or in the office and stock room. I can't prove the phrase was used before 1985 but when I first met my husband in 1969 they used the phrase then for a full monty being a 3-piece suit which they did for less than other tailors 2-piece suits. As far as I am aware - they still run the welfare system right up to closing the factory.

Bob Scaife. Nashville USA>
I grew up in Stoney Rock Leeds started pushing a trolley around in the Cutting Room 1st april 1964, had 18 of the happiest years of my life in the Hudson Rd Factory. I eventually moved to the USA to become A senior vice president in one of the largest Clothing Companues in the world but I will never forget my roots and the people who I was forunate enough to share those happy happy 18years with. Good luck to each and everyone of you. And thank you for those happy happy years to all managers and staff and most of all the Burton Family. Bob Scaife.

Matthew Lusardi
My Great Grandma had a sweet shop at the side of the Hudson Road 'Burtons' entrance. My mum worked at the sandwich shop opposite the sweet shop owned by my uncle. They would make hundreds of sandwiches a day for all the Burton's employees.

Derek Everett
In the 1940s most of the Burtons in East London had snooker halls above them. After a V2 rocket partly destroyed the one at the top of Walthamstow High Street snooker tables hung half out of the remains for several years.

Bob Hughes
Am I correct in thinking that many of the Burton Shops were 'corner sites, which allowed the company to have 'two; showcase windows in order to attract trade? This would make them rtather simiar to the 'Lyons Corner Restaurants ' which I remember from my youth. Am I also correct in thinking that a number of them had snooker halls above them - or am I merely confusing this with the local branch in my home town of Hereford?

My mother used to work for Burtons and always led me to understand that the full monty referred to a three piece rather than a two piece suit.

Kenneth Munn
"Going for a Burton", heard on BBC Radio programme of WW2 reminiscences referred to a cramming school above a Burtons store for those resitting a cypher clerk's examination for one of the services. For full details see BBC archives.

Jean Dorning nee Burton{South Africa}
My dad, Frederick William Burton(born 1899) lived at No.11 Andrew Street,Hunslet and would have been 2yrs old when Monty opened his first shop. His father was Ernest Edward Burton of which we know nothing of but it would be interesting to know if there was a connection and indeed if he ever worked at the Burton plant.

simon carey
I was always lead to believe that 'going for a burton' originated in burton on trent and referred to the brewing industry?? Simon Carey

Philip Hanson
What ever happened to Gillian Clarke ?

Nearly all the female members of my family worked at Burton's at Stoney Rock at one time or another.I used to meet my mam there sometimes in the early 1960's,and the sound of the footsteps and voices as everyone seemed to leave together was like being at a football match.I am sure that at the peak of Burton's success there was a workforce there of 16,000, when it was the largest Clothing factory in the World.I'm probably not alone in thinking that there should be statues to commemorate Burton's (and Marks&Spencers) contribution to Leeds.

I worked at Burtons in 1977 the year of the Queens Silver Jubilee and one of the ladies I worked with made me an Easter Bonnet type hat with the words "Jubilee Chick" on it. I think she was called Margaret Slater. I have some lovely memories of learning to sew in the training room with Hazel and Carol. At their say so, you were off to the factory floor, this was a nerve wracking experience, you could not see to the other end of the factory, hundreds of sewing machines were humming away and the steam pressers were hissing away, belching out steam and the pressers were forever wiping their foreheads with a bit of old cloth. Some people sung as they sewed and it wasnt long before everyone joined in. I was there when it was mass redundancies and on one occasion some important directors or similar came round the factory and everyone was hissing, not sure but I think one of the men was called Stanley? My stepfather, Frank Coultate, worked there for years, eventually it became a distribution warehouse and he worked there too. After he died there was a bench placed in the grounds in his memory, all arranged by his colleagues. My sister and I had a lovely day looking round the factory once more and we received a bouquet of flowers each from the management and staff. I will always remember Burtons.

Derek Clay
I worked as Auto-Electrician on the Lorry/Car Fleet for several years upto 1979/80. It was then managed by Raymond, Stanley & Arnold Burton. They all had private reg numbers on the many cars we worked on. Arnold had a collection of various fast cars including a Lotus Elan. I think Stanley collected clocks(or was it Raymond?). The canteen was enormous & we could buy a suit in there very cheap, at a little shop in one corner. Cutting through machine rooms to other depts was a noisy experience. The site had even its own nurse, joiners, electricians, plumbers etc. There were regular coach trips organised. Transport side changed to High St Transport before I left. Strangely, I ended up back on site, working for GE Capital for 5 yrs in the office on Trent road to 2002. The Health Centre is now a training area and all factory is just warehouses now!

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