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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.

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

Send an email to  info@buhistory.org.uk

Ian Breward – 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 ended up in the drawing office stores.

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: March 5, 2019

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No. 3 Rapid Corner Stitching...

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I’d like to thank Helen Newson for sending the BU History Group copies of the third and fourth editions of the BU ‘List of Parts and Instructions’ (1948 and 1952) as used by her dad when working on and maintaining the No. 3 at the Gla-Rev Smith company at Martlesham – makers of leather cases.

They are incredible – illustrating and listing every part used in these brilliant machines. Like a giant, sophisticated Meccano set. If anyone would like to view them just let me know. Cheers.

Date posted: January 1, 2019

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No5 Skiving Machine –

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My name is Nick and I work for a company in Northamptonshire, we actually own a few old BU machines and they are all still running, however we are having some issues at the moment with our No5 Skiving machine, we have been looking for someone who might have access to the manual for a no5 skiver, I don’t suppose you know of anyone who might? Thanks and Regards, Nick Dewhirst

If you can help please reply to info@buhistory.org.uk  Thanks

Date posted: August 20, 2018

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The BUSMC Ltd: Its works and...

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BU Its Works and Products; cover

We’ve recently been sent this fantastic book by Roger Grimes who lives in Kimberley, Nottingham. It belonged to Mr Arch Hallam who was the brother in law of James Grimes, Roger’s grandfather. His name is in the inside cover with Check No. 203, and it is dated August 1933.
The book has pictures of all the processes and machinery from various departments and branches with the machine operators; the first page has a picture of Mr Charles Bennion from a painting by R Grenville Eves dated 1928. It is a superb book to add to our collection, and tells us so much about not only BU, but life in Britain between the wars for working men and women.

BU Its Works and Products; inside cover

James Grimes was also employed at the BU, along with his brother-in-law Arch Hallam, and they worked there most of their working lives.

Roger’s father, also James Grimes, worked at BU for a period during WWII – probably on wartime production. Being a good draughtsman he often presented the company with drawings done at home, of his designs and ideas. One of these was taken up by BU, this was referred to at the time as ‘blind riveting’, I think we now refer to them as pot-rivets. The company paid him the princely sum of £10 -a generous amount at the time, he was told that his drawings were sent over to the US to develop his design into a working tool, and that BU held the patent on this.

Date posted: August 13, 2018

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Geoff Smith

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Listen to Geoff Smith’s memories of a BU life.

USA 1985. Teaching technicians.

USA 1985. Teaching technicians.

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!!

Top photo; Geoff in the 1990s and now. Photo beneath; Early days, second left, with Gordon Green and Ernest Martin.

Above; Geoff in the 1990s and now.
Below; early days, second left, with Gordon Green and Ernest Martin.

 

Sudan 1974. With Arthur Longland, Cyril Petch and Stan Ashworth.

Sudan 1974. With Arthur Longland, Cyril Petch and Stan Ashworth.

GS. Teaching USA 1989

Teaching in the USA. 1989.

 

 

Demonstrating a Roughing Machine to Chinese delegation.

Demonstrating a Roughing Machine to Chinese delegation.

Automatic Roughing Machine BUAR5

Automatic Roughing Machine BUAR5

Date posted: January 8, 2018

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Cecil Hampson

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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.

Top row from the left Arthur Ball, Dick Guest, Ron Barston, Taffy Morgan, Jack Nown (one of twins to brother Frank), ?, ?, ? Seated from the left Jack Lingham, Charlie Collins, Mr James ,? ,My Father, Frank Webster, ?

Top row from the left
Arthur Ball, Dick Guest, Ron Barston, Taffy Morgan, Jack Nown (one of twins to brother Frank), ?, ?, ?.
Seated from the left
Jack Lingham, Charlie Collins, Mr James,?, My Father, Frank Webster, ?.

“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.”

Cecil Hampson on the far right.

Cecil Hampson on the far right of the photo

Date posted: November 26, 2017

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Request for Information –...

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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

John Evans

Date posted: November 19, 2017

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Frederick Burton

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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 tony305@btinternet.com

 

Date posted: September 24, 2017

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American Connection

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A couple of enquiries which BU History viewers might be able to assist with. Send replies to info@buhistory.org 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.”

006

Date posted: August 9, 2017

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Oil Can

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Maarten Beijen found this beautiful oil can on a market in Romans sur Isere, France, last Sunday.

What would it be used for??Oil tin

Date posted: July 11, 2017

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