WELCOME TO THE BU HISTORY WEBSITE

The British United Shoe Machinery Company (BU) was Leicester’s greatest manufacturing company. It existed between 1899 and 2000, spanning the twentieth century, and at it’s peak employed over 4000 people at it’s Union Works site in Leicester.

The BU History Group wants to hear from you. Please share your memories and photographs.

Send an email to  info@buhistory.org.uk

Peter Mayes

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We’re delighted to be able to publish a selection of Peter Mayes BU documents. Peter, who began with BU in 1961 (see fifth image below) and worked mainly in the tool room, has incredibly managed to retain all the important documents that followed him through his work life. Here, we include his acceptance letter, his Quarter-Century Club certificate and his apprenticeship indenture papers and completion certificate. The second image appears to be a group of fresh faced apprentices – not sure which one is Peter? A real slice of BU and British industrial history. The full collection has been deposited with the Leicester Industrial Museum at the Abbey Pumping Station which they intend to use when they do an exhibition about the BU.

Date posted: April 20, 2021

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BU Clicker Restoration Project

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Geoff Roberts from Sheldon, Birmingham, owns a BU Clicker machine (see photos). Its in need of some repairs and Geoff is determined to restore it full working order. However.. this is where someone may be able to assist.. he really needs a manual, or in fact any information, that could help. Please have a look and get in touch with Geoff – his email address is at the bottom of this post.

He thinks its similar to the USMC Type C model but there are differences in the machine construction, possibly 1920s vintage.

“I have been a Leatherworker for over 40 years in the UK and Its my challenge to get this machine in use and fully restored to working order. Is there anyone in the group who knows anything at all about this machine please contact me. The Serial number of my machine is  6317. I have included a link (www.beltanedesigns.co.uk.) to my website of some of leather Items I have made over the 40 year period of working in the craft.”
Best Regards Geoff Roberts (Sheldon Birmingham)

Date posted: April 8, 2021

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Always nice to find a bit of...

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Peter Ridgers has contacted us from Down Under.

“A Top of the morning to all. I was employed by the Company as a Road man from 1977 to 1987. A fancy name for a service technician. I did my time in Adelaide, South Australia.
My direct boss was Kay Warralow. I trained under the one and only Jack Coventry. In my eyes one of the greatest gentleman that ever lived. The company’s General Manager was John Fleming who to this day is one of my best friends.
Anyway, I’m doing kitchen renovations and came across this. It brought back fond memories.
If the English Gentleman Tony Walker happens to read this ‘Good Ay Mate’.
Hope this puts a smile on a face or two.
Cheers from Australia – Peter Ridgers”

Date posted: March 1, 2021

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Happy Birthday Allan Barcroft

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Happy 97th Birthday to Allan Barcroft. Lasting Mechanic based at the BU Waterfoot branch in Lancashire. Hope you have a wonderful day.

Date posted: February 13, 2021

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History of BU, 1975-2000

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Hi Everyone. Was wondering if you could help me. I’m writing about the decline of BU from the point of view of people who worked there or lived in the area. 1975-2000.  I’ve had some fantastic contributions so far but was hoping for maybe a few more. Could you email me burtmcneill@ntlworld.com or text/phone 07525714915 and I can tell you more. Would really appreciate this. Thank you. Burt

 

Date posted: January 4, 2021

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John Walter Randall, Patents...

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Sad news, I’m afraid. John Randall, who worked in the Patents Department for nearly 40 years, died earlier this year at his home in Burton Overy. John went from University graduate to director during his time at BU, and left in 1990 to join Black and Decker. Chris, his son, has been in touch and the family would love to hear from anyone who remembers John. Please email info@buhistory.org.uk Thank you.

Date posted: December 8, 2020

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The BU Chipmaker

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Nigel Tout worked in the BU Research Department from 1970 until the firm closed for good in 2000. He has sent us this amazing brochure from the early 1970s of the BU Chipmaker.
As BU’s shoe machinery and materials business began to face difficulties one option considered by the company was diversification into developing, making and selling other products. One of which was a Chipmaker! Something further from shoemaking it is hard to imagine.
Within the firm’s highly renowned and well resourced R & D section a Diversification Department was created in an attempt to move into other profitable lines of business. This unit was in operation by 1970 and one of their early products was the BUD (BU Developments?) Chipmaker.
The images attached are from the brochure for version one of the machine.
In essence it seems a great idea, but although some were sold there were problems.
Nigel explains; “The main problem was that if the potato mixture was left in the plastic extrusion container for too long then the plastic unevenly absorbed a small amount of moisture which was enough to cause the plastic to deform sufficiently to jam the close-fitting piston. Secondly, as can be seen in the photographs of the chips, the corners of the extruded chips were usually rough and not smooth which did not look good.”
Unfortunately the chipmaker failed as a business venture and was withdrawn.
“I remember activity with the chipmaker probably up to the mid-1970s.  The Diversifications Department was one of the first casualties of the economic downturn (remember the 3-day week) in the early 1970s and was closed down.  The manager was made redundant (quite a shock and the first that I was aware of at the BU) and the research assistants were moved elsewhere in the Research Department.”

Date posted: November 15, 2020

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Ian Breward’s BU Memories...

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Ian Breward has shared some of his family memories of BU
“I live in Spain and South Africa now, and I last visited the UK some six years ago.
“My father told me in about 1937 that he and his mate were out of work and had heard that the BU had vacancies; they went to McDonald road where the queue was down the street and as they got nearer to the table where the interviews were being conducted they could see time and time again men were being turned away, their skills were not wanted (metal workers). My dad arrived at the deck and said he was a wood machinist and him and his mate were taken on, the only two that day. That was the start of 36 years working for the BU.
“My dads name was Walter Breward. My mum and my uncle also worked for BU, including the war years; dad worked there for 36 years, ended up in the drawing office stores. (Picture of Ian’s mum and dad who both worked at BU).
“One day my dad was working on a roof and fell off breaking his arm. After that he worked in the drawing office stores. He told me he did not like piece work. He was a member of the 25-year club. As a family we went to the BU concerts on a weekend sitting on a bench at Hildyard Road and watching the acts. The street in the photo below is where I lived up to 6 years of age, on the left-hand side, 112 Wand Street. At the bottom is Ross Walk and BU. We later moved to 20 Rowan Street off Fosse Road North.
“While at Wand Street, I must have been five or six, I had a three-wheel bike and I decided to cross over the road on the corner of Wand Street and Ross Walk. I started across and the BU buzzer went and all the workers came rushing out of the factory and one crashed in to me. I ran home in tears; the bike rider came to my house and showed my dad what had happened. My dad fixed his bike – a long time later my dad realised that the cyclist had been on the wrong side of the road! I often used to play in the gap between the concertina doors that closed the gates.
“I started at BU at 8.30am on the 5th January 1959 with 146 other boys. I was 15 years old. I was an apprentice from 1959 to 1965.
“We were photographed and given a number and a white boiler suit and taken to AT (Apprentice Training) and given a place on a bench. The next three weeks we were shown how to use small tools. At 18 I was transferred back to AT to teach the new apprentices.
“I went from AT to B dept. I asked the foreman why they called it the salt mines down there. He said If you last there you will be able to work anywhere, and he was right. I spent one year there. It’s bad. The dept was below ground, no light from windows and there was a mist in the room all the time. some of the concrete floor had gone and soil was left.
“I first worked on the bench next to a blind guy who sold cigs one at a time. I did tapping all day. I only did not make my wage one week and was told that if I did not make it again I was out, but I always made it after that. Next, I was put on the automatic tapping machines; each operation was for three months. After that I was put on the tumbling machines; I would fill them up first thing in the morning and again after lunch with sulphur and other chemicals – there were no masks!
“This is where I worked when I was in HA (Heavy assembly). I built the number 7 clicker press, five at a time, on piece work. One day I was working there and a group of older guys walked in and all the other guys in the dept started looking busy. I thought it was the directors. But it was the old foreman, he had left five years earlier and they were still terrified of him. The foreman I worked under sat on a desk 18 inches above the floor (he read his bible each day) so he could see right down the room. I was told not to ask him for a requisition for a broken drill or reamer etc. I broke a one-eighth drill and said I was going to get a requisition; the guys said, are you mad go and buy one from a shop in Churchgate, we do. No, I said, so I worked my way down to his desk  and all the guys were watching. I ask him for one and he signed one for me. They told me no one had ever done that before.
“The job was hard work, I never made the time so I would put in extra time for finishing off things that had not been done properly. In the end they said they would re-time me. One day a guy in a suit and my foreman came to where I was working on a lathe and asked me to stop work. The guy in the suit said what we are going to do to help you is pay you 75% of what you make. I said how is that going to help me. Try it and you will see they said. I said you take off your coat and I will take off my boiler suit and you can have a go and whatever time you do it in a will except 50% for the job because I know I am faster than you. He was the time and study guy. As I was talking my father arrived.The supervisor said to him tell Ian to except what we are doing. My father said at home I am responsible for him at work you are and left. I asked why he came down he said he was told to go and see me.
“I was in the cutting dept at the age of 21. I was on a highly specialised job. A guy down the room was unskilled and he did the same three jobs every day as he could not have done any other. We had just been paid and he came down to me and said look at what I get, £ 22 a week. He knew I was not on that, I was on £ 9 a week on piece work. Well, that hit a bad chord with me so I asked the foreman for a meeting with the apprentice training guy in personal. He came back to say they were busy, so I asked him for a pass out; he asked why and I told him. He said but you will all ways have bread on your table as a skilled guy. I said, but it will take me three years to earn what he earns in one. Not good. I went out and went over to the Brush factory in Loughborough and then Rolls Royce, but no jobs. I was on my way back down Melton Road and I passed the AEI. So I went in they said they would take me on at £ 15 a week. I said, is it piece work, they said, no you get that each week.
“I put my notice in on the Monday and each day after that they would take me into the foreman’s office and tried to persuade me to stay; they even offered me a job on the Vulcanising section at £ 30 a week, but it was for seven days. I left.
“I was at BU for six years and six weeks. I started with 146 other boys on the morning and when I finished my apprenticeship and was presented with the indentures there was only five of us left. So hard; 44 hours a week.
“I still have the tool box and all the letters to start and all the info they gave you.”
– Ian Breward, Feb 2019

Date posted: November 1, 2020

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Prepare to be Amazed! The BU...

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‘Eye on Research’ – Nigel Tout, 30 years part of BUSMC Research Department, has sent us this absolutely wonderful film. Made by Stephen Makovski in the very early 1960s, this incredible and important gem shows research personnel doing silly things, ending with a presentation to someone – Does anyone know the person who was the subject of the presentation? We would love to know.

When the Research Department vacated the building on Macdonald Road and moved across Ross Walk in the mid-1980s Nigel rescued this reel of 16mm cine film that was on a pile of things heading to the skip.

Some of the people he can identify include Ernie Simms, Alan Moore, Fred Langton, Barry Sharpe, ‘Wal’ Waller, Harry Mellors, Ewan Cameron, John Pope, and also tea ladies dispensing tea on their round.

Enjoy this amazing piece of BU history.

Date posted: October 25, 2020

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Anyone know what this is?

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Andrew Bowman from Chester is considering buying this. He thinks it may be some sort of eyelet maker?

Date posted: August 23, 2020

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