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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.
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Listen to Geoff Smith’s memories of a BU life.
Born in 1940 at 45 Cromford Street. Attended Melbourne Rd infants school, Charnwood St junior School -Just failed 11+ exam – Moat Boys senior School, and left in Christmas 1955
Started at BUSMC April1956 as an Electrical apprentice: RAF 1960-1964 (Air Radar Mechanic): Back to BUSMC in 1964 on Electrical Assembly.
1968-1974 Drawing Office Electrical Draftsman.
1974-1997 Commercial Office (Bottoming Dept) Maintenance, Installation, Technical Teaching, Trade exhibitions. 1997 Redundant.!!!!
Total 329 overseas visits to 29 different country’s in 23 years!!
Date posted: January 8, 2018No Comments
Christine Davies (nee Hampson) has shared with us the following wonderful memories of her dad, Cecil William Hampson (born 31.01.1903), and growing up in the shadow of BU. Days spent at the Mowacre Hill sports ground and evenings at the Institute.
“My father, Cecil Hampson, joined the BUSMC when he left school at 14 and became a skilled grinder making sample parts for shoe machines which were sent all over the world. His machine was near the end window on the corner of Ross Walk and MacDonald Road, so I could see him when I walked by. As a little girl I would wave to him through the window and often walked to meet him from work. We lived in Hunter Road and our garden backed up to the Institute in Hildyard Road so I would wait to hear the buzzer before setting off as there was always a mass exodus from the gate; a rush of bodies eager to get out of the noisy factory. They came out on foot, by bike and all manner of vehicles so Ross Walk was quite a dangerous place at leaving off time. In later years. my then boyfriend, now my husband of 55 years, actually had an employee land on the bonnet of his car as he tried to run the gauntlet. Fortunately, the car was at a standstill as it was impossible to progress down the road with the mass of bodies exiting from the factory.
“I was always interested in what my father actually did and I do remember being taken inside the factory on one occasion to see the machines. Whether it was an open day, I am not quite sure as children were not allowed anywhere near the factory departments. I was most impressed that my father used industrial diamonds to grind the metal but disappointed when I saw this black stub of rock which was an industrial diamond and nothing like the one I eventually acquired in my engagement ring.
“It was a large thriving business in those days with a great emphasis on the welfare of its employees. My father took advantage of the many social amenities on offer for him. he was a very keen and skilled greens bowler and weekends were spent at the Mowmacre Hill sports ground where he played and won many trophies over the years. As a child, and later a teenager, I made many friends of other employees children and we would play cricket or explore the acres of grounds making our own fun and enjoying the fresh air. The bowlers wives also joined together and would accompany the teams when they played away getting together for lunch somewhere in the towns we visited. I loved these occasions and always had another members child to share the day.
“As I got older I took a great interest in tennis and when the magnificent tennis courts were not being used by members, I was able to play with anyone who was available and happy to play with me. It was there that I met Mark Cox, the son of another employee and who became well known as a British international player playing in the Davis Cup and at Wimbledon. We would often play together, being of a similar age, although I have to say that members of the tennis section were not quite as welcoming towards us as other sections were. I always felt that they believed they were the more upmarket section. Mark was lucky because his parents both played tennis and he was soon spotted by the LTA and taken under their wing to be coached to become the player we knew in his mature years.
“As the days drew to an end the members would congregate in the sports pavilion at the grounds where there was an excellent bar. Most people brought a light supper with them and the evenings often ended with a singsong. On special occasions the whole population would get together and bring items of food so that all sections joined together for a party. This was particularly noticeable between the cricket and bowling sections of the club.
“My father also used the facilities of the Institute, it being just around the corner from our house. During the war, the building and the factory were camouflaged to fool the aeroplanes looking to bomb munitions factories. My father remained at home during the war as he was making munitions at the factory and his job had reserved status. He became an ARP warden often on night duty looking out for overhead activity and supporting the home guard. He would go to the Institute for a drink with friends or play snooker on the wonderful tables that were provided and as a little girl I attended the fantastic Christmas parties for members children. These took place in the magnificent ballroom which I later frequented on a regular basis for their Saturday night dances. My mother and father had always enjoyed the Old Tyme dances and which I was allowed to go to as a child. It was the highlight of the week. Each year I was allowed a new long dress and a velvet cape to attend these. I thought I was the ‘bees knees’. Later I was asked to sell tickets for the modern dances and given a free one if I sold 10 each week. These tickets were greatly prized by my friends because the facilities were so good so it was never difficult to sell 10 each week. It was there that I met my future husband who had been invited by a close friend.
“My father continued to work for the BUSMC for almost 50 years having been a member of the Quarter Century Club, but had to retire just short of this due to ill health thereby missing out on the gold watch given to employees with 50 years service. By that time I was married and had moved to Worcester where my husband was an architect and I was a Headteacher, so my parents sold their house in Hunter Rad and moved to Malvern to be near us so we could help if needed when my father wasn’t well. They lived for a long time in Malvern which my father loved, their bungalow having views of the Malvern Hills, but eventually came to live with us as he needed more help. However, in spite of failing health, he survived happily until the age of 86 still talking about his days with the BUSMC which had a great influence on his life. I was really saddened when I learnt that the company had finished altogether. It was then one of the few companies that knew how to look after its employees and had a happy workforce. I am afraid these are now few and far between.”
Date posted: November 26, 2017No Comments
Request for Information –...0
I am a volunteer researcher for the proposed GCR Museum in Leicester.
My current area of research is the ways in which goods were both supplied to and delivered from Leicester in the period 1900 to 1920. Although there is a great deal of information on the industrial processes and the history of certain businesses there seems to be very little information on how these businesses acquired their raw material or delivered their finished products in this period.
I have visited the Leicestershire Archive on several occasions and have found that for many companies the financial records, Purchase Ledger, Sales Ledger, General (Nominal) Ledger and Receipts and Payments bank and cash books, have proved a good source but feel that there may be other sources for this information.
As a local heritage society I would welcome your advice on possible other sources of information, including your own publications, that I may persue. I have seen in one of your publications a photograph of LNER lorries packed with cases of BUSM product for delivery to the railway goods depot but cannot find anything else on how that organisation either received its raw material or delivered its finished products.
Thank you in anticipation
Date posted: November 19, 2017No Comments
Tony Burton writes from Glasgow… “Hello, my grandfather Frederick Burton, 1884-1959, was employed as a sheet metal worker at the BUSM Co. He continued to work for them during the war and told me that they built a mock farm on the roof and glass panels on the nearby Rushy Fields to confuse the German bombers. I think Fred was a foreman but I know little more about his work.
Do you have any information on the sheet metal workers at the company or any information on what went on during the second world war?”
If you can assist Tony please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Date posted: September 24, 2017No Comments
A couple of enquiries which BU History viewers might be able to assist with. Send replies to email@example.com please.
Firstly, from Grahame Jordan…
“I’d like to find more information about the American inventors who came to develop new machinery at the BU Belgrave Road site. I am a Leicester resident, born to a BU worker, whose father was ‘an American Inventor’ of shoe machinery.”
And also from… Audrey Fuller in the USA.
“Hello, I recently purchased a very old cobbler machine, the story is that it came out of a copper mine owned by the Phelps Dodge Co. in Morenci Arizona, it was used to repair the miners work boots. I cannot find a number on the machine other than a 6hm and it is the only red one I’ve seen on the internet, not sure if it came that way or that someone in the past had painted it.
Can you tell me anything about these machines that have the John O Flarerhty Montreal Agents on the wheel, some of them only have The British United shoe Machine co. on them. Are these machines rare? Any information would be so helpful, I’ve enclosed a few pictures of it, hope this helps.”
Date posted: August 9, 2017No Comments
Maarten Beijen found this beautiful oil can on a market in Romans sur Isere, France, last Sunday.
Date posted: July 11, 2017No Comments
BU Heritage Panel Unveiled0
Date posted: May 1, 2017No Comments
Any Old Info0
Marc Harris (USA) has a beautiful BUSM leather machine (pics below) that he plans to donate to the San Jose Historical Museum in California and would like to know the date of manufacture. The serial number is 5472. Any info would be appreciated!
Date posted: March 5, 2017No Comments
Karen Pearson has contacted us to tell us that her father, Phil Wignall, passed away last Sunday. He was 91. For all who remember him the funeral is on Thursday, March 2nd at 12 o;clock at Countesthorpe Crematorium.
Phil was a BU man from age 14 until being made redundant in 1982.
In the post below we republish Karen’s lovely story about her dad.
Date posted: February 16, 2017No Comments
Karen Pearson’s story about her dad, Phil Wignall, who passed away on 12th February 2017.
First posted on this site in November 2013 when Phil was 89.
My father George (Phil) Wignall. Pictured above with, L-R, George Matthews, Phil, Roy Remmington, and Jack Harrison – on a 1960s Toolroom outing to London.
Phil started work aged 14 on Sept. 9th 1939. Shortly after this World War II broke out and he was drafted into the RAF. He returned to the BU after the war in 1946
Phil played football for the BU Team in 1946. They got to a final and he didn’t get picked so never played for them again. He did play for the Tool Room football team for many years. He played snooker for the company and he was also a first team player for the Latimer Ward Club from an early age until finally giving up only a few years ago. He has great memories of the BU grounds, playing sport and attending BU sports days with his family. Also on a Saturday nights himself, his wife and friends used to go to the BU Sports Club.
He was also a member of the BU Quarter Century Club and was a Steward for a number of years.
Second left, front row, 1968.
Phil is second left in the picture below along with Jack Granger, Len Bosworth and John Neal.
Date posted:No Comments