Your memories of suit shopping at South Shields stores

Memories of a trip to the shops for a suit were ‘made to measure’ for Time Of Our Lives.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 14 May, 2019, 11:39
The old Burton's store in South Shields.

So thanks to regular contributor, Terry Grewcock, for sharing his recollections of just such experiences.

Here’s what he remembers.

“Growing up in South Shields in the late 50s, a visit to Burton’s for a suit, or to one of the many similar ‘made-to-measure’ national chain outlets, such as John Colliers, Jackson’s the Tailors, The 50 Shilling Tailors, Hepworth’s, Dunn’s, Weaver to Wearer or Greenwoods, was an essential ‘rite of passage’ for every young man.

“Everyone had to have a ‘made-to-measure’ suit.”

However, says Terry “it was actually a bit of an ordeal”.

“Entering the shop and ‘just looking around’, you became the target of the salesman, lurking behind the racks of clothes.

Burton in Jarrow precinct.

“He had already deduced that you wanted to buy a suit, and was ready to pounce. It was like the spider and the fly! He would engage in some harmless sales patter before uttering the well-used phrase ... ‘Like to try the jacket on for size, sir?’

“If you agreed to his suggestion, you were ‘snared’! Once he persuaded you to remove your own jacket, the skilled salesman proceeded to keep you like that until he had measured you up for a ‘made-to-measure’ suit.

“Calling out the measurements one by one, ‘waist, Sir’, ‘chest, Sir’, ‘inside leg, Sir’! And so on! It was a ritual you soon learned!”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

It was a massive industry, as Terry reveals.

Montague Burton was the biggest manufacturer of them all.

The firm’s main factory in Leeds was one of the largest in Europe, and the company stood sixth in size of all UK companies. At its peak, in 1960, it sold just under a million suits in one year.

Montague Burton (whose real name was David Osinsky) was Jewish and came to the UK in 1900 when he was only 16 years old and penniless, to escape persecution in Russia. When he died in 1952, he had built up this hugely successful business.

His stores were noted for their impressive facades. Some are listed buildings.

“Both South Shields and, particularly Jarrow, had impressive stores. The famous Burton logo still remains on two sides of the Jarrow store, and the original mosaic entrance flooring remains intact.

“The creator of this business empire frequently provided a billiard and snooker facility in the upper floors of his stores in order to keep young people away from drinking, as he was a committed teetotaller.

“The South Shields store had such an amenity, and I remember playing there in the late 50s. And yes, there was no bar or alcoholic drinks, but I must confess to one vice that started in Burton’s ... I remember smoking my first cigarette during a game of snooker!

“It was often said at the time that ‘a good snooker player was the sign of an ill-spent youth!’ Well, I was never a good snooker player so I would probably agree with this saying.

What are your memories of going shopping for a new suit or an outfit for work or “best”?

Did you used to work at any of the Burton’s shops? What are your memories?