The British United Shoe Machinery Company (BU) was Leicester’s greatest manufacturing company. It existed between 1899 and 2000, spanned the twentieth century, and at it’s peak employed 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





This plaque from 1914 contains the names of all those BU workers who went off to war (220 names I think). A massively important item. Incredibly, and disgustingly, it was left to rot in the old BU headquarters by the last owners (APAX partners – they’re still around!).

Thankfully it was found and rescued from the Ross Walk site by Matt (pictured left) and Rick. They have donated the plaque to the At Risk War Memorial Trust. “It can now be enjoyed by the people of Leicester for good.”


Roll of Honour



Date posted: November 26, 2016

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Oral History


Hi Everyone. Colin Hyde from the East Midlands Oral History Archive at Leicester University has some students who want to record memories of work and industry in Leicester before 1980 and they’re struggling to find people. He’s asked me if any BUSM people would agree to be recorded for half an hour by a student? Do let me know and I’ll pass on to Colin. Could be fun and interesting. Email info@buhistory.org.uk or burtmcneill@ntlworld.com

Date posted: November 10, 2016

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BU Internal Phone Book


Mary Hubble’s copy of the Ewart/Texon (so many names from BUSMC) phone book from the late 1990s

BU Phonebook

Mary and her husband worked for the BU and finished at Texon in 2002. She got a job still on the site and was last to leave before it was demolished.

Mary Hubble Phone internal



Date posted: October 31, 2016

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Info Wanted


Graham Damant –
I have just bought a Pearson sewiung machine and have managed to work out how the basics work and its stitching well. However it would be useful to have a manual, any ideas where I could buy one.

Vishal –

I was wondering if you could help me i am searching for the old BUSM building plans, i need help locating these blueprints as we want to see what the building roof was built from. We are looking at this part of belgrave commercial centre as we wanted to know what the roof was constructed on.
If anyone can help just email in please to info@buhistory.org.uk I know both would be very grateful for any help

Date posted: October 19, 2016

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Model SD.173


Dave Porthouse has sent us some images of his machine: Dusty, then cleaned up.

image1image1 2

“I did use this machine many years ago when making some leather moccasin type slippers and basically it punctures the leather to enable it to be neatly stitched. The crank arm with the wooden handle drives the straight cut gears at approximately a 1:2 ratio which in turn drives the spindle. Locked to the spindle on the business side is a sharp pointed wheel like a small spur. The working platform has an adjustable fence to set the spacing between the edge of the leather and the line of stitching . The platform has the adjustable spring loaded tensioner that applies the piercing pressure via what looks like a tuffnol roller. It is set for single row stitching but I can see from the roller that it has been used for double row stitching by fitting an additional spur wheel. Although it is just over 12″ wide and 8.5″ tall it weighs in at 13lbs on my bathroom scales.”

Date posted: September 6, 2016

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Machine Found!


Alan Foster from AIM Engineering in Glossop, Derbyshire, has been in touch about this item….


“Hello there, We have found an old The British United Shoe Machine Company LTD in an old derelict building we recently bought. I attach some pictures and would be grateful of any user manual or help in how to disassemble it ? It looks to weigh over a ton and is on the first floor so difficult to move. It is free to anyone who can collect it ( It looks awkward to get out as there are no stairs!)


Any information welcomed as I have found the BU history website fun to visit.

Regards, Alan

Email; a.foster@aimeng.co.uk

Phone; 0145 786 2505.

Date posted: June 9, 2016

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Paul Gill


One of the main organisers of the BU History Group is Paul Gill. Paul has been diagnosed with dementia and is part of a campaign to encourage research into the condition. Please watch the video by clicking the link.


Below is a letter published in the Leicester Mercury last month from Dave Tipton in which he pays tribute to Paul.  He tells about Paul’s crucial role in the seven year struggle, and ultimate victory, by BU pensioners to win back their pensions after the company went into administration in 2000.



Date posted: May 9, 2016

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Kevin Iredale


Two items I recently uncovered at home.The photo was taken in the Gear Cutting section around 1983 after I had taken over from Roy Benson who had just retired.

Kevin Iredale 1

I was lucky to have worked in some very interesting departments: Photo Engraving in the Met Lab with Roy Birkett, which was behind the Hardening and the Electro Plating shops. Q Department which made the accessories for various BU machines and C Department with Frank Welford, which made cutters which I think cut and finished the soles. I finished my time at the BU on the K.T.M machines in building 51.

Kevin Iredale 2

Happy days.Please correct me if I have got any names or departments wrong it was a long time ago.Emoji

Date posted: May 1, 2016

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Leslie Hubble


I worked in the IVI works as a Tack and Nail maker and also as a utility man. If someone was away l would fill in for them. I found this old forklift truck license about a fortnight ago.

Les Hubble x

Date posted: April 22, 2016

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Mick Wiseman


Mick Wiseman1

Mick Wiseman recollects his time as a BUSM apprentice in the 1970’s. All the college and further education courses he attended and qualifications gained. It illuminates the incredible lengths BU went to equip their workforce for careers as engineers. 

I started as an apprentice at BUSM Co Ltd on July 26th 1971 at the age of 16 having just left Hamilton High School with 7 CSE‘s 5 grade 1 and 2 grade 3. I was one of about 60 or so apprentices to start that day joining a number who had begun their apprenticeships the previous Easter. The Articles of Apprenticeship duly signed by myself, my father and the BU secretary would see me Indentured as a Mechanical Engineer (Technician) after 4 years of training and day release study. Also in the agreement were the details of the award given per calendar month, paid annually, for satisfactory conduct and progress at approved classes for further education and in the workshops. These awards were based on age and at 16 it was £1.50, 17 – £1.75, 18 – £2.00, 19 – £2.25 and 20 – £2.50.


As I remember I started on the ONC course which straight from school I found very challenging with most people in my classes being 2 or 3 years older, there was one other apprentice from the BU on my course but he came off before the end of the year. It was a very intense year with classes at Charles Keene College 3 nights and day release Wednesday afternoon and all day Thursday. Although I found it difficult I surprised myself and a few others by passing my O1 exams in Mathematics, Physics, Workshop Processes & communications, Electrical Engineering Science (credit) but just failing Mechanical Engineering Science. I requested to be changed to the electrical course for ONC O2 or drop down to the MET (Mechanical Engineering Technician) course but was told I had to do the Mechanical ONC O2. Workshop Technology and Drawing and Design were not too bad but I found the Mathematics and Applied Mechanics too much and failed year 2.


For 1973-74 I stayed at Charles Keene College and did Year 2 of Part 1 MET and after the struggle with ONC found the course much more to my ability and enjoyed it, this showed with my results being awarded a credit, it was also a lot less work with just 1 ½ days at college. Although recommended to go straight on to MET 3 the decision was made to continue my studies on the next level, MET 2 and over the next two years I went to Leicester Polytechnic and really enjoyed the atmosphere and way of teaching there even though the second year included 3 evenings. This again proved to be the correct course for me as I was awarded another credit after the exams in June 1976. Having successfully completed my apprenticeship in the July of 1975 and therefore having to fund any further courses I decided not to go on and take the final part, MET 3. All books for course work had to be purchased and this could be done through the company and money stopped weekly from your wages, also there were some second hand books available.


As well as the external examinations we also had regular lessons in the BU training school classroom on engineering processes and calculations for setting up machines etc. also as a fitter in the assembly shop where there was a lot of pneumatics on the machines we also had an in house pneumatic course which was provided by my then foreman Eric Hutton, something that I found more than useful in my future engineering career. One thing to note was that during the time that we had the three day working week if we were at college on the days we were not working we still did not get paid and it was just my luck that most days I was at college we were not working so I was still doing nearly a full week for 3 days’ pay.


I left BUSM Co Ltd in May 1978 to work at another of Leicester’s big engineering companies Wadkin Ltd who unfortunately went the same way as the BU at around the same time. I was getting married and was offered a fitters job on double day shift, the difference in money at that time when working shifts was quite a lot and even though I would be earning £58.67 plus bonus at about £20 per week bonus. One of the main reasons I was successful in getting the job at Wadkin was the reputation the BU had for their apprentice training and also my qualifications, it certainly set me up in good stead for my many years in engineering.


Date posted: April 7, 2016

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