Laid by Monty – Tailor Made Shops for Tailor Made Suits

Recently launched, is a web site dedicated to the Art Deco stores built by Burton the Tailors from the 1920s to the 1950s. The website’s creator and Burton aficionado Jeremai Smith guides us through the formation and development of the firm, and their distinctive high-street shops.

Burton was a familiar name on our High Streets up until closure in 2021, and while many later branches occupied non-descript modern retail units, their early purpose-built shops are easy to spot throughout the UK & Ireland. Some of them have been marvellously restored, with references to their past history, but a lack of listing leaves the majority open to detrimental changes or demolition.

Montague Burton

Sir Montague Burton was born in 1885 as Meshe David Osinsky in Lithuania (then part of Russia). The son of a bookseller, he left the country aged just 15, to go into business in England. By 1905 he was selling suits, opening the first of his own shops the following year in Mansfield. His naturalisation application in 1909 shows that he had taken the name Morris Burton, before ultimately settling on Montague.

He was a keen businessman, evidenced by the quotes seen in company publications. “As a spark to a petrol engine, so is enthusiasm to business.” However, he was also greatly concerned with the welfare of his employees, providing meals and healthcare, and received a knighthood for services to industrial relations in 1931.

A clever business move was to provide space for a billiard hall above many stores, attracting young men who might also become customers. A few of these survive today as pool clubs, usually accessed through a side entrance with a pair of “coffin doors”, so nicknamed for their octagonal shaped panels.


By the 1920s Burton had begun building their own stores, and hired Harry Wilson as the in-house architect to develop these around 1923. Although sometimes confused with former Woolworths from the same period, Burton’s had a distinct house style, and most can be easily identified. These buildings usually have stone or faience facades, or red brick with pilasters and details in stone, however, a small number have entirely black granite facades. There was a preference for prominent corner sites and the distinctive “Montague Burton the Tailor of Taste” logo usually appeared on the parapet.

Former Burton store, Newark-on-Trent, 2018. Foundation stones laid by Raymond Montague Burton and Stanley Howard Burton in 1935; grade II listed.

Nathaniel Martin replaced Wilson as chief architect in 1937, but the typical style continued. Individual elements were repeated at different locations, such as window spandrels, perhaps with a flower in the centre, zig-zags, or waves of concentric circular segments, and a variety of pilaster capitals. These elements are often found in different combinations in a seeming “pick and mix” of designs.

Former Burton store, Cheltenham, 2012

Other details include mosaic tile branding in doorways, logos on ventilation grates at ground level, and a band of black granite above the shopfront. Below this was often a strip of transom lights proudly displaying the locations of other branches: Halifax, Leicester, Leeds, Plymouth, Manchester, Newcastle!

Former Burton store, Abergavenny, 2020. Foundation stone laid by Ramond Montague Burton in 1937; grade II* listed.

Some branches stand out for their one-of-a-kind features: a sweeping curved frontage with golden balconies in Hull; arched windows and balustrades in Taunton; urns in Tunbridge Wells; or a strikingly large terracotta on black tiled sign at Abergavenny. “Let Burton the Tailor of Taste Dress You.”

Art Deco Burton store, Hull, 2018. Built 1935; grade II listed.

At 11 locations you can find the repeated intricate relief sculpture of an elephant head. It’s unknown why an elephant was chosen. The number varies with the size of the building from two heads, through to an impressive 18 in Halifax.

Foundation stones

Former Burton store, Morley, 2018. Foundation stones laid by Austin Stephen Burton, Raymond Montague Burton and Lady Montague Burton in 1938.

One of the most charming features is the foundation stones laid by Sir Montague’s children, engraved with their name and the year. The earliest date from 1924 when the children were still fairly young; Barbara and Stanley who laid foundation stones that year would have turned 14 and 10 respectively.

A handful of locations have a foundation stone laid by Montague’s wife Sophia, given the unofficial title of “Lady Montague Burton”.

The tradition seems to have continued consistently throughout the Twenties and Thirties, coming to a natural halt at the start of World War II.

Interestingly, Stanley, Arnold and Raymond apparently revived the tradition for just a few years between 1950 and 1952. They would have been in their thirties by this point. Montague Burton died whilst at a business dinner in Leeds in 1952, aged 67, and the timeline of foundation stones fittingly ends here too.

Closure and conservation

Burton vacated many of these buildings long before disappearing completely. As far back as the 1970s, the first McDonald’s in the UK took over the Woolwich building. At the time of the Arcadia Group going into administration in 2020, fewer than 40 of these buildings were still home to a Burton. As of 2023, they are most commonly occupied by banks, building societies, and fast food. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 41 locations sit completely empty, with even more partially empty.

Burton store mosaic, Hull, 2018. Built 1935; grade II listed.

Out of around 290 surviving locations, only 18 are listed buildings (the majority of these in Scotland). A unique Moorish design in Birmingham was demolished in 2001, followed by Neasden in 2012, Notting Hill and Ayr in 2018, West Bromwich in 2019, Cricklewood in 2020, and one of the two Aldershot buildings in 2021 (the second is currently awaiting the same fate). Additionally, Sutton Coldfield was desecrated in 2016 with a wonderful black granite façade replaced by ghastly plastic cladding.

In 2018 Historic England declined to list Weston-Super-Mare, which has the third highest number of elephant heads, due to garish CEX signage. Sadly, none of the locations with elephant heads has a listing.

Former Burton store, Weston-super-Mare, 2015

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Some owners and tenants appreciate these buildings and their history. New Art Deco signage has been installed in Ripon; previously removed transom lights have been refabricated for Colne; Kirkcaldy is now home to a bar called “Montagues”, the signage evoking the classic Burton logo and window lights; a planning application has been submitted to recreate the golden Burton logo in Hull; and the Ferrious furniture store in Altrincham has meticulously restored every detail with a striking red and gold colour scheme.

Laid by Monty

Returning to the UK in 2006 with a renewed interest in the urban environment after five years in the US, I noticed these Burton buildings all over the country. When asked online if anyone had a list of locations, and no one came forward, I took it as a personal challenge to catalogue them all!

The list turned into spreadsheets, with architectural features compared and categorized, and in 2016 spawned the Laid by Monty Twitter feed, the name alluding to the foundation stones. Now, 16 years of research and over 300 locations, surviving and demolished, can be viewed at The list can be sorted by year built, listing status, and more. Each location has a dedicated page with more information, photos and timelines.

What’s next?

The web site remains a work in progress. Lots of locations still need to be photographed, and every now and then somebody spots a new location to be added. How many more of these buildings are hiding out there in plain sight? There are unanswered questions. Very little is known about the architects Wilson and Martin. What nuggets of information could be held in local archives around the country? Will we ever find out why the elephant head motif was chosen? Hopefully we will also see more of these buildings listed and preserved for future generations to enjoy.

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