Thomas Burberry

Thomas Burberry

Thomas Burberry was born at Brockham Green on 27th August 1835. He was an English men's outfitter, and the founder of Burberry, one of the United Kingdom's largest branded clothing businesses. He is also known as the inventor of gabardine. He was educated at the local village school and was a tailor's apprentice at a local draper's shop. Thomas Burberry at the age of 21 opened his own outfitting business in Basingstoke in 1856. Burberry clearly had good business acumen identifying the needs of the local community and particularly the farmers of which his father was one. By 1861, the census reveals that he was employing in his shop seven men, three boys and seven females. By the census of 1871 he is described as a "draper and manufacturer employing seventy hands". He moved to a house in Basingstoke which had 160 acres, staffed with a number of servants, and a governess to look after his six children (1881 census). Burberry was married twice, first to Catherine Hannah Newman and then to Mary Marshall. He had two sons and four daughters by his first marriage.

Burberry specialised in good taste and luxury goods, within just ten years he had reached what was to be a major turning point. He introduced products made of gabardine: a fabric consisting of various heavy fibres, of which several clothing items can be made, but particularly overcoats, jackets and heavy garments.

The invention originated from a discussion one day with a local Shepherd. Burberry remarked on the ability of the Shepherd's smock to resist the rain, which the shepherd put down to the sheep dipping, where he thought the smock absorbed some oily substance from the wool. Burberry thought about this idea and finally came up with a method of waterproofing that could be applied to the yarn before weaving, as well as to the finished cloth itself.

Initially his garments were used by the British Army, hence the horseman logo. Burberry jackets were used for expeditions by Arctic and Antarctic explorers including Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton and for the first trans-Atlantic flight.

Thomas Burberry

The most famous garment with the Burberry label was inspired by trench warfare during the First World War. Burberry recognised the need for promotion and publicity and ensured that Lord Kitchener and Lord Baden-Powell both wore his weatherproofs. By these means he expanded his business into one of the United Kingdom's largest branded clothing businesses.

The Trench Coat, a waterproof jacket, was worn by British soldiers, all unaware that it was destined to become the best-loved raincoat in the whole of cinema history. With Humprey Bogart, in 'Casablanca', and Audrey Hepburn, in 'Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, the Burberry trench coat acquired an unheard of fascination and became an unquestionable style icon.

During 1868 Burberry set up a factory in New Street and In later life Burberry lived in Hook, and rode by horseback to the firm flourished, then in the early 1900's the Burberry store in Winchester Street was expanded to occupy a larger site. Then in 1892 a mill was built in London Street to manufacture the cloth. This mill employed many local women and girls. Burberry's kindness that he showed to any of these staff who suddenly became ill or widowed is well documented. Burberry was a devout Baptist and every morning staff would begin with a prayer meeting.

A few years later, with his son, he started a small business in a local hotel, giving fittings and taking orders. Within two years work had become so demanding that a shop was opened in the Haymarket. This eventually grew into the Burberry company of today.

In April 1905, a fire started in the Basingstoke store in Winchester Street. The shop was completely gutted, causing £30,000 worth of damage. Burberry rebuilt the store on the same site.

The company went public on the London Stock Exchange In 1920 and incorporated as Burberrys Limited. His two sons Arthur and Thomas Burberry were joint managing directors. Soon after this, the now famous check design, the Burberry check, was trademarked and used in coat linings.

Basingstoke every day, even when he was well past seventy years old. One day he fell from his horse and was found in a ditch and from that day on he had to find another form of transport! 

Thomas Burberry

Thomas Burberry retired from the company in 1917, and lived at Abbot's Court near Weymouth, Dorset. He was a teetotaler and campaigned against tobacco smoking. He died at his home at Hook near Basingstoke on 4th April 1926 aged ninety one.

Burberry’s radical change of direction, as the brand of the highest chic tartan fantasies, was in 1997, when Rose Marie Bravo, the Company’s Managing Director, took over, taking the label to among the highest names in fashion.

The Creative Director, Christopher Bailey, who has directed the House for several years, has certainly contributed to the year-on-year growth experienced by this fantastic brand, with its 15 lines, including its latest: Prorsum, a Latin word meaning "Onwards! Burberry is a global British luxury brand with a heritage of innovation, craftsmanship and design. The Burberry business comprises five divisions: menswear, womenswear, childrenswear, accessories and beauty.