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Heritage: The story of one of Barking’s best known shops

PUBLISHED: 17:00 26 December 2019

The Burton building. Picture: Archive and Local Studies Centre, Valence House

The Burton building. Picture: Archive and Local Studies Centre, Valence House

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In the second of our series on the stories behind Barking’s stores, historian Simone Panayi takes a look at the Jewish immigrant who set up Burton and may have inspired the phrase, ‘The Full Monty’.

East Street in 1931 when Barking receives its charter. Picture: Archive and Local Studies Centre, Valence HouseEast Street in 1931 when Barking receives its charter. Picture: Archive and Local Studies Centre, Valence House

Barking's Fire-Bell Gate, where a curfew bell tolled until the early 20th century, is the grand gateway to historic Barking - St Margaret's Church, Barking Abbey ruins and the old quay beyond.

When viewed from East Street, it is framed by two more heritage buildings.

On the corner of North Street, is the 1925 rebuild of The Bull Inn, which, as an establishment, has possibly been present since the abbey gate was built in 1370.

There were no rooms at the inn this Christmas because it is undergoing redevelopment before offering accommodation for visitors again.

Burton corner in about 1935. Picture: Archive and Local Studies Centre, Valence HouseBurton corner in about 1935. Picture: Archive and Local Studies Centre, Valence House

At number two East Street is the limestone Burton Building.

Currently an International Supermarket, this site was the location of fabric and fashion stores.

By 1930 former owner, John H King, had sold this shop to Montague Burton, who sought out corner locations to build grand stores for his bespoke tailoring business.

At this time Mr King must have moved to a smaller store along East Street.

John H. King No.2 in Broadway, Barking. Picture: Archive and Local Studies Centre, Valence HouseJohn H. King No.2 in Broadway, Barking. Picture: Archive and Local Studies Centre, Valence House

There is a marvellous photograph of his Gent's Outfitters in 1931, when W D Stewart created an incredible display on top of the store, documenting Barking's heritage in celebration of the town's borough status, confirmed by charter in 1931 and a royal visit by the then Prince George (the Queen's father).

The Barking Charter parade was filmed by Pathe news and can be viewed on the Valence House Collections webpage.

It shows the recently built Burton building in the background.

Whether this was serendipity for Mr Burton, or he planned for the new store to be completed in time for the royal visit, we don't know.

John H. King in 1931. Picture: Archive and Local Studies Centre, Valence HouseJohn H. King in 1931. Picture: Archive and Local Studies Centre, Valence House

But it was the type of occasion, full of pomp and glory, that Mr Burton relished.

By 1931, he had more than 400 shops, with this famous "tailor of taste" soon controlling one of the largest global tailoring businesses.

An incredible journey for a European immigrant.

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Fleeing Russian pogroms, Burton arrived in Britain aged 15 in 1900 as Meshe David Osinsky.

He probably started out as a "peddler" of garments, before opening his first outfitter's shop in Chesterfield in 1904, under his new name, Maurice (later Montague) Burton.

He began offering "wholesale bespoke" suits, manufactured to measurements rather than "made to measure" - meaning they were cheaper.

This business model survived the First World War, enabling him to rise above the depression era, buoyed by the production of de-mob suits.

East Street in Barking, Wm King No.2 and Pellings Broadway. Picture: Archive and Local Studies Centre, Valence HouseEast Street in Barking, Wm King No.2 and Pellings Broadway. Picture: Archive and Local Studies Centre, Valence House

Phrases such as "Gone for a Burton" and "The full Monty" are said to have originated in reference to his suits.

Burton was a paternalist employer, providing amenities for staff such as a canteen for his thousands of Leeds mill workers.

He valued the temperance movement, aiming to provide alternatives to public houses.

In 1931, he was knighted for his service to "industrial relations and international peace" - the Burton's website acknowledges his role promoting education globally and in the creation of the United Nations.

Robert Willett in the Broadway, Barking. Picture: Archive and Local Studies Centre, Valence HouseRobert Willett in the Broadway, Barking. Picture: Archive and Local Studies Centre, Valence House

This was the year when Barking's Burton's building was built.

Designed by Burton's in-house architects, it features key Art Deco motifs.

Look closely at this beautiful building to view the elegant elephants, positioned as capitals on the columns, beneath a cartouche - which would have displayed the Burton logo - and the decorative overlapping quadrants.

These were all regular features on Burton buildings built between 1931-2, as is the foundation stone laid by one of his children.

The 1930s could be described as the hey-day for Burton's, but the number of stores continued to grow with 616 at the time of Montague's death in 1952.

Many are now listed.

In Barking, Burton's tailoring and fashionwear business moved out of the purpose-built store to Vicarage Fields in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, this classic, thirties building remains and will hopefully soon get a face-lift as part of the Barking Abbey and conservation area townscape heritage improvements, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and managed by Be First.

For more about becoming a heritage volunteer visit yourcall.befirst.london/barking-heritage

With thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, B&D Archives, Alexandra Lynch, George Westbrook and the Heritage Volunteer Researchers.


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