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Historic costume forms a significant part of the Collection at Newry and Mourne Museum and one of the more interesting pieces is a three-piece “Burton Suit” from the late 1940s. Suits comprising trousers, short jacket and a matching waistcoat began to be worn by gentlemen at private social gatherings in the late 19th century. Known as a “lounge suit”, they became increasingly popular. Made from a heavier fabric, they were meant to be a garment for casual outdoor occasions.  Specifically, matching trousers and jackets made them less formal, because the traditional frock coats and morning coats were worn with contrasting trousers. The short length of the jacket also added to the informal appearance of the suit. After the end of World War I, the lounge suit became accepted as every day and business wear. 

James Murphy and Gladys Fegan pictured at their wedding in Liverpool on 9th April 1947. Courtesy of Rosemary Stretton
James Murphy and Gladys Fegan pictured at their wedding in Liverpool on 9th April 1947. Courtesy of Rosemary Stretton

The three-piece lounge suit in the Museum was made by Burton in 1945. Burton was founded in 1903 as ‘The Cross-Tailoring Company’ by the 18 year-old Montague Burton. The company changed its name to Burton in 1914 when it began to make uniforms for Britain’s Armed Forces and became known as ‘Montague Burton The Tailor of Taste Ltd’ in 1929.

The Burton suit on display in Newry and Mourne Museum in 2011 along with gentleman’s accessories from the mid 20th century. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The Burton suit on display in Newry and Mourne Museum in 2011 along with gentleman’s accessories from the mid 20th century. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

At a time when gentlemen’s suits were almost exclusively tailor made, Montague Burton, believing that “Good clothes develop a man's self-respect” dedicated himself to making made-to-measure suits available at a reasonable price. “A five guinea suit for 55 shillings” was one of his popular slogans. 

The company made military uniforms in World War II and produced a suit known as ‘The Full Monty’ for war veterans after the end of hostilities in 1945. Montague Burton died in 1952 and, at time of his death, the company was the largest multiple tailor in the world. In 1967, Arcadia became the corporate name for the House of Burton.

A ‘Montague Burton The Tailor of Taste Ltd’ label on the inside of the jacket. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
A ‘Montague Burton The Tailor of Taste Ltd’ label on the inside of the jacket. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

By the 1940s there were significant changes in men’s fashions and tailoring. With World War II and the onset of rationing, there was little fabric available for generously cut suits. Clothes rationing was introduced in 1941 with every person allowed 48 coupons per year for clothes. Laws were passed forbidding men’s jackets to be double-breasted, have wide lapels or trousers to have turn-ups. A gentleman’s suit would have cost 26 coupons. Instead, 1940’s suits were characterized by minimalism. A flannel suit became the option of choice for professional everyday wear, single-breasted with narrow lapels and a very trim-cut trouser, in order to save fabric.

Comprised of a single-breasted jacket, trousers and waistcoat, the Burton suit in the Museum is a dark grey pinstripe made from a wool surge fabric.  Surprisingly for a suit made in 1945, it has large lapels on the jacket and turn ups on the trousers which was unusual as rationing was still in force. Overall, the suit is very generously cut for a wartime suit. 

The suit was originally owned by James Murphy from Kilkeel who wore it at his wedding to Gladys Fegan in Liverpool in 1947. Born in 1916 in Kilkeel, county Down, James worked for a time on the building of the Silent Valley Reservoir. He moved to Liverpool in 1937 where he was employed by his uncle, Henry Sloan, who owned a number of shops in the city. During World War II he joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and served in North Africa. 

Handwritten label sewn onto the inside of the waistcoat showing the individual number of the suit and date of manufacture. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Handwritten label sewn onto the inside of the waistcoat showing the individual number of the suit and date of manufacture. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

After leaving the army in 1946, James Murphy married Gladys Fegan, also from Kilkeel. They ran a mobile grocery business before returning to Kilkeel in 1958 when they bought the Corner House (a drapery and confectionary business) which they owned until the 1980s. James Murphy died in February 1999 and his wife passed away in April 2006.

Newry and Mourne Museum is temporarily closed.

by Noelle Murtagh

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