Cliff Allen has written to us about… “What for me was the best company I have ever worked for. I have realised working for other companies since the sad demise of the BU that as far as conditions and benefits for employees were concerned the BU was way ahead of its time.
“The picture is the retirement of Alan Plant who was a sheet metal worker in Charnwood department. He served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War so unbeknown to him the staff at Charnwood built a ship out of cardboard, which unfortunately is not in the picture, and arranged for two sea scouts from the sea scout base on Ross Walk to come and pipe him aboard. To say he was surprised is an understatement, but he thought it was a fantastic thing to do.
“I started as a trainee welder at Charnwood which was the sheet metal department of the BU, in September 1968. It got the name Charnwood from the factory on Abbey Lane where it was situated. The factory had been called Charnwood Engineering and, as was told to me, was owned by a European count, I can’t remember which country, who had to return home to look after his sick mother, and the BU took the factory over. It was on the site that is now the Renault garage. Before that the department had been situated in the Star Works which was the old tram station next door to the Pineapple public house off St Margerets. In Charnwood there were various departments, welding, fettling, sheet metal, break press and punching, drilling, tool room, assembly, paint shop and maintenance, producing a range of shoe making machines. As far as I can remember there were about 140 staff, and the manager was Mr Bernard Rix. We had our own canteen and two ladies used to prepare the best hot sausage and hot cheese and potato cobs for morning break and meals at lunch. The BU was such a big firm in the late 1960s and early 70s that the blood donor unit decided it was worthwhile to come down from Sheffield and set up in the concert room of the social club. I can remember my foreman Charlie Mitchell telling us that a coach would be transporting us to the club to give blood, I was a young lad at the time and had never thought about giving blood and said I wouldn’t bother. Charlie said it was for a good cause, you’re going, and many years as a blood donor began.
“As the years went by, I can’t remember the dates, the roof on the building needed an expensive repair so we relocated to the empty ground floor of the main building on Ross Walk, and the Abbey Lane building was sold. After a few years we moved again into what had been the old knife shop where we remained. That’s where the picture of Alan Plant is taken. I would guess its the late 80s early 90s, and about 50 staff were employed in Charnwood at that time. In the book (BU People) one of the stories mentions the various clubs that employees could enjoy, one that I didn’t get a mention is the shooting club which was popular with many of the welders.
“I felt proud to tell people I worked at the BU. There was a feeling of belonging to a great company, the like of which I don’t think we will see again. It’s a scandal it ended the way it did, after providing employment for so many Leicester workers over so many years, making what were regarded by many as the best products on the market.”