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

Australia Enquiry


We have had a fascinating enquiry from Western Australia about a very old and beautiful BU machine – which is of course still doing what it was made to do. Can you help Diane with more information? email to info@buhistory.org.uk and we’ll forward on. Thanks.

“Hello, I am not sure if I am in the right place, but I am involved with a museum in a very small town in rural Western Australia, and we have a machine that was owned by the local saddlery business, it also made boots.  The saddler came to town in about 1910 and bought an existing business, but I have a feeling the machine is a little later.  On the handle it has the words ‘The British United Shoe Machinery Coy Ltd Leicester England’ and on another part of the machine has ‘GHM 24′ (see photos below).

This machine is the right height for you to stand up to work, has a handle and a treadle (too old for electricity) and it looks to me that you might use it for put staples in, it has a slide sort of thing that goes sideways.  It was seized, but this morning I oiled it and it is working like it has never stopped.

Ideally we would love to get our saddlery machinery operating, and be able to demonstrate what it did and what the saddler used it for.  Any information would be greatly appreciated.”


Diane Hatwell

Dowerin District Museum


Date posted: January 31, 2016

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Pension News


BU Pensioners

One of our members has received a letter from the Insolvency Service relating to the BU. Apparently the original redundancy payment figures were worked out for a 5 day week instead of which it should have been for a 7 day week. The letter was to inform me that a cheque would be in the post!
Unfortunately it was sent to the address that I lived at in 2001. However we know the owners and they forwarded it on.
If anyone has moved since 2001, they should telephone the Redundancy payment service on 01213803313, quoting BU and have their national insurance number.
Thanks Mick

Date posted: January 28, 2016

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Me and BUSMC


Hello, I’m Jon Dodson. My Dad, Garry, worked at the BU until just before it closed. He was the quality manager and a proud member of the quarter century club. I stumbled upon your excellent website today and so many memories came flooding back that I thought I’d write a few lines, just in case anyone was interested. When I was about 23 (I’m 48 now, in 2016) I actually worked at the BU as well, as a temp for nine months in the “made to order” (MTO) department, working in Neville Bell’s team. He was a nice guy. But my experiences of the BU, through my Dad, actually go back much further than that temporary employment as a young man:

Children’s Christmas Party (1975?)
As a 9 or 10 year old boy I attended a couple of the BU social club children’s Christmas parties. I can’t remember exactly where they were, but it was very near Ross Walk. They were incredibly organised. As soon as I walked in there was a cloakroom taking coats and giving tickets out. I was alone but quickly made friends both times. I well remember the rows of trestle tables and mountains of jelly and custard. I also remember the magic acts and especially the music. One band did “under the moon of love” and I was singing it in the car all the way home. Looking back now, it seems incredible that any employer would go to the trouble of providing a Christmas party for employees’ children (or maybe the employees themselves organised it, I don’t know) and it’s as good an indication as any of how times are changing, rarely for the better it often feels.

Bowling at Mowacre Hill (1980?)
Fast forward 5 or 6 years and Dad was in the Bowls club at Mowacre Hill sports and social ground. I used to go along to provide moral support and always received a Vimto and crisps for my trouble in the club bar afterwards. The club was always full and the camaraderie was palpable. The only name I can (half) remember was ?Bill Hurd? who also bowled and drank. Was it about the bowls or was it about the beer? In hindsight I reckon it was 50:50. I remember that the club also had facilities for football and golf as well. As far as I know, zero employers do anything like this these days.

Chinese Exchange Visits (1982?)
A couple of years after that, Dad was sent to China for a week or so on Business. China was still a firmly closed country. Dad came back half a stone lighter and told us that all he’d had to eat was cabbage and rice, and that his “hotel” accommodation was not fit for UK prisoners to live in. Either just before that, or just after (so long ago I can’t remember), there was a delegation of Chinese visitors to the BU and Dad was asked to host them for an evening at our family home. There were 3 or 4 of them, none of who spoke a word of English, and a translator. Poor Mum didn’t have a clue what to feed them so we ended up speaking to our local Chinese take away and getting a massive box full of assorted dishes delivered. The magic ingredient for the night was Chinese fire water called “Mau Tai” which was about 50% ABV and after sufficient toasts had been made to Chairman Mao and the Queen, the actual meal went swimmingly. Even though it was a long time ago, I have an enduring memory of four fairly well-sozzled Chinamen leaving our house and jumping into a taxi back to Holiday Inn where they were staying. We were still eating the leftovers two days later.

1985 is quality year (1985!)

…in recognition of which, a BUSMC tea mug was made. Dad brought his home and then didn’t useit. IhaveitnowandasfarasIknowit’s never had a brew in it. I wonder how many others are left? One of Dads proudest achievements was getting the company BS5750 (I think it’s called ISO9000 now). He put in more than a few late nights that year.

Temping at BUSMC
When I was about 23, Dad mentioned that there was a temp job available and was I interested. I was. So I actually joined the ranks for 9 months. I worked for the MTO section, which provides one off spares for machines that were officially obsolete. But it was amazing how many orders came in, and from all over the world (especially India and South America I recall). My job was to see if we had the part in stock remnants, or find the blueprint for the part in question and pass it to a colleague (Meg Hendry) to be sent to an outside contractor to make the part and then send it back to us for quality checking, finishing and dispatch. There were two places the blue prints could be; the more recent machines had thier blueprints in filing cabinets in a room next door to MTO, all in alpha numeric order and woe betide anyone who filed them in the wrong place. For older machine parts, I had to take a trip to the cellar which I believe also doubled up as an air raid shelter during the war. Piles of blueprints were in every niche and finding the right one could take ages.

I mentioned above that the part could sometimes be in stock remnants; I had to check that first obviously and I occasionally got lucky but most of the time the parts that were in MTO stock stayed in MTO stock and the things that people wanted had to be made from scratch. However, sometimes the part could be scavenged from “building 83″ which is where old machines went to die and be canaballised by knowledgable experts such as Mr Kevin Toach. But there was no stock control for building 83, apart from Kevin’s brain.

Once the part had either been obtained from stock, scavenged from building 83 or actually Made To Order, it was quality checked by Geoff. I can’t remember his surname but I think it began with a C – (Crowther, Coulter or Collins maybe). Geoff could look at a part, run it through his fingers, and then decide whether it was fit to be dispatched, or whether it perhaps needed to be polished, or filed or hardened.

I used to look forwards to lunchtimes. I’ve never worked anywhere with a staff canteen quite like it. It was like school dinners, but done properly. I think I remember that there was an actual chef there who cooked stuff in the morning rather than opening and microwaving it.

PS, I’m delighted to tell you that Dad’s still with us (76 years young now)

Date posted: January 18, 2016

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Elsie McCarthy


Hello I was wondering if anyone could help me, I’m trying to find anyone who may have worked with my late mother Mrs Elsie McCarthy who worked at the BU from:1962-1987 in the typing pool. If you have any information please contact me, I’m her daughter Yvonne. Thank you for your time.

Email; info@buhistory.org.uk


Date posted: December 6, 2015

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Hi Everyone. Tom Marlow, a local lad and University student needs some help: Please read below.

“I am currently a third year history undergraduate at the University of Leicester and I am undertaking a module about the transformation of Leicester between 1945 and 1980. As part of the assessment for this module, I need to record the memories of somebody who worked in industry in Leicester during this time period. I was wondering if you could ask your members if anyone would be willing to be recorded. Ideally, the recording would take place within the next two weeks. They will take no more than an hour and I am willing to conduct the recording wherever the volunteer feels most comfortable, as I am from the Leicestershire area. Thank you.”

If you can help please email Tom at tem12@student.le.ac.uk


Date posted: November 3, 2015

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Vital Assistance Required !!!!!


Please read the letter below. If you can assist at all please email info@buhistory.com or the email at the bottom of the letter. Thanks….

screw machine

Hello there,

I came across your website this morning whilst looking for some help:
We are William Lennon & Co Ltd, a 4th generation family-run footwear manufacturer in Stoney Middleton, Derbyshire.

We have a BUSM standard brass screw machine #2047 that is still in operation (one of only 4 left in the world we believe).

As a very old machine, we lovingly look after it well and in return it works hard for us.

We are now having ‘timing’ issues with the mechanics of the machine, and so hence the contact to your group.

‘Is there anyone in your group that would have any knowledge of the workings of our beloved machine?’ Some ex-BUSM engineer that used to service/repair such devices that may be able to help us with our quest to keep the machine running?  If so we would love to hear from them with their thoughts and advice.

We would be so grateful of any replies / help you can give us, and attach a photo of the machine.

Kind regards

Libs Slattery

Date posted: October 18, 2015

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1964 BU Training Film (made...


Semi-automatic roughing machine 1964

Date posted:

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Great Days


Leslie Hubble has posted this brilliant photo of the Quarter Century Club from the 1960s.


Left to right; Eddie Orme, Glen (Taffy) Evans, Bill Leadbetter, his brother Frank, and Charlie Jerrom.

Date posted: October 11, 2015

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Quarter Century Club Keyring


Probably not so many people qualifying for these clubs anymore – working for one company for 25 continuous years.

Doubt if such a thing still exists: None that I know of …IMG_2189

Date posted: October 6, 2015

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Albert Tilson


Does anyone remember this name from BU? Probably from the 1950s, perhaps even the 1940s. Albert, or maybe he was called Bert, might well have been a clerk, and may have been involved in international travel. His son, Christopher, has written to us seeking information about his father who he never knew and would be incredibly grateful if we could provide some news. Please email info@buhistory.org.uk if you can help. Thank you.

No photo I’m afraid.

Little bit more information from Christopher … He was born in 1914, 21 Bernard Street (Berners?), Leicester, one of 8 children born from 1901 to 1914
The only information I have is that he was a clerk and seems to have ended up going to Australia a couple of times in the 50′s could that possibly have been with work? Although why would a clerk be sent all that way but he ended up as an Accountant.
Took his pilots licence 1939 and is mentioned in the Leicester newspaper, with a colleague named Kenneth Harper. I always thought with his licence he would have been a pilot but although on certain documents we have it states RAF I can’t find anything about him in the National Archives.
Married my Mum in 1943, went out to NZ in 1960 and died 1990.

Date posted: September 1, 2015

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