Sunday, June 22, 2008

Burton's Deco Elephants

Burton's Deco Elephant, Belfast

Before I travelled to Belfast to catch up with my parents who were on holiday there, I found this Belfast Art Deco website about a building in Ann St which had these amazing elephant decorations (above & left).

Burton's Deco Elephant, BelfastThe website said it was a mystery what the building was so I was thrilled when my Dad guided me to Ann St and on first sight of the building announced that it used to be Burton's the Tailors.

My Dad was born in Belfast and lived there for almost 30 years before we emigrated to Australia. You can't beat local knowledge.

The shop is quite small and bears two such stylised elephant heads as capitals to the columns dividing the windows on the building's facade. Other deco features can be see around the windows and on the cartouche at the top of the building which would have contained the Burton's name.

Belfast Art Deco website has since been updated and notes that the Ann St Burton's store was designed by a Burton's employee N Martin in 1932 while the elephants were designed by E A Moore.

The site also records that there are other Burton's stores in England also bearing elephants.

I discovered this for myself about a month after I returned to London where I was living at the time. I was driving around with a friend from Australia randomly spotting deco buildings when I saw the elephants again in Greenwich.

Burton's Deco Elephants, StreathamLater still, I saw them again in Streatham, South london (right & below). They were on a pub but there is no doubt the building is a former Burton's store.

It is bigger than the Belfast store and has four elephants but a lot of the other decoration is identical.

There is however one subtle difference. The elephant's tusks point outwards on the Belfast store and inwards on the Streatham store.

Burton's Deco Elephants, StreathamI am not a building expert but it looks to me that the Streatham elephants are cast in concrete where the Belfast ones are perhaps carved from stone. There is certainly more detail in the Belfast elephants and I suspect that those tusks would break off if they tried to produce them using a cast.

A search of flickr (see links below and please take the time to have a look at these great pictures) has revealed to me other locations in England where the Burton's elephants still gather including the Greenwich location where I had first seen them in England. All of the 'English' elephants have tusks that point inwards.

It seems these elephants continue to bring up questions.

Barking, uploaded by bowroaduk
Greenwich, uploaded by bowroaduk
Wolverhampton, uploaded by suselstahl
Oldham, uploaded by Stan.W
Weston-Super-Mare, uploaded by Fray Bentos
Halifax, uploaded by Martinish
Chatham, uploaded by BrianD36


  1. wonderful post! i love those elephants. thank you so much for the introduction to deco elephants, they are most inspiring and the history that goes along with very fascinating. what a great eye you have!

  2. Thanks,
    I wasn't the first to spot them and I won't be the last. I've just taken note of where I've ssen them and put together a few things and now there is a whole Deco Burton's group on flickr.

  3. I collect Burton elephants too.
    A rather tangential follow up is here: