Posts filed as 'Apprenticeship'

Geoff Smith


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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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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Charnwood Branch


Glyn Jones has sent us his memories below.. BU Boy…


“I joined the BU in July 1966 I was only 14 and 10 months old (birthday 29th August). I was only a little lad and the BU was huge. I trained in the apprentice section on the fourth floor of the main building along with about 80 other young hopefuls. I stayed at the Belgrave road site for about 18 months before moving to Charnwood Branch on the Abbey Lane, a much smaller building. I remember I worked in several of the departments in Charnwood but spent most of my time there building machinery. Although we built shoe making machines we also built an assortment of other machine as diverse as screen printing and conveyors to chip making machines for the catering industry. In about 1969 I remember helping to build a huge machine that cut out the material for making ladies bra’s. A roll of cloth was loaded into one end and out came all the bits to make the bra’s from the other end. 80 x 12ft and stood 8 ft high.”
“My father in law Ted Elkington worked in the stamping dept and set up all the machines for the operators , who were mainly ladies. Ted worked at the BU all his life and in his younger life travelled the county installing machines. I will talk more about him later.
“Charnwood had a new extension in about 1970 and the fitting section moved out to the last building on Ross Walk next to the sea cadets hut. We were there for about 12 months until the new building was built.
I have never forgotten my time at the BU , had a great apprenticeship meeting some great people on the way. I left in 1977 to join the NHS as an engineer in the maintenance department. Moved though the ranks retiring as the engineering manager of a Shropshire hospital.”
“Hope I’m not too late for the tool box contest. I made two of these and all of the tools in the other picture. They both originally had lots of BU stickers on but as I moved jobs the tool boxes changed their use. If you look closely you can see I used one of the box’s as a key box when I did high voltage maintenance, and still have them to this day.”


Date posted: March 4, 2014

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Toolbox Challenge. Part Four!

Mick Wiseman recalls his early career as an apprentice at BU…

“I started as an apprentice at The BU in July 1971 before leaving in 1978 to work at Wadkin Ltd. After the first year in the training school I then worked in the sub assembly dept under Colin Overton before moving over to ASG, the heavy machine assembly on the ground floor where I built a number of machines, mainly the travelling head press and then Matthew Wylie Pallet Nailing machines with Graham Price, Here are a few photos of my toolbox made in the training school in 1971 and also a few of the tools we made as well. There is a stamped plate on the box with my clock number on which was 1175. Also there is a photo of an old BU oil can, BU Leicester, which I believe was sent out with the machines but I seemed to have acquired one and it is still in great condition.”

Date posted: February 13, 2014

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BU Apprentices, 1930


A number of Bert Harrison’s wonderful photos of himself and workmates at British United. Bert is in the fifth picture from the top.

Bert 1Bert 2Bert 3Bert 7Bert 8Bert 10

Date posted: January 13, 2014

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Sad News


With much sadness we have received news of the death of Frank Smith, aged 95, on Friday December 13th 2013.

Frank’s funeral takes place at 10am on Thursday January 10th at St Thomas More Church on Knighton Road, Leicester.

Frank wearing the President's Chain for the Quarter Century Club

Frank joined BU aged 14 in 1934 as an errand boy. He then began an apprenticeship in engineering, what Frank described as his saving grace, as it set him up for so many things in life.

He joined the army at the outbreak of the Second World War and was involved at Dunkirk and later in Burma. Incredibly he rose to the rank of Major by the end and was awarded the MBE for bravery in action.

Frank Smith during the War

Frank returned to BU after the war and worked in the drawing office, experimental design office and shoe material research department. It was during these 30 or so post war years that BU reached its zenith, dominating the world shoe machinery market. The excellence and sophistication of it’s products, developed and produced in house, were unrivalled. Frank was invited to join the BU Board of Management in 1978, and in 1979 he was president of the Quarter Century Club. He retired in 1981 – 48 years at BU, minus seven serving in the forces.

Frank’s wife Marjorie pre-deceased him. Together they had seven children and lived in the Knighton area of Leicester. Our condolences to all his family.

In 2012 Frank recorded his memories of life and BU, and these can be heard on the BU history website. It was such a pleasure to meet Frank; his intelligence and kindness and strength shined brightly.

Date posted: December 16, 2013

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Toolbox Challenge 3


This superb 1977 entry into our BU apprentice tool box competition from Kevin Iredale also poses a question. Kevin found these two items inside the tool box – Can anyone remmember their use? Please email us with your answers


Date posted: December 6, 2013


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Toolbox Challenge – New...


Peter Mayes has sent us the following pictures of his tool box.

Mates1 Mayes2

“I started work at the BU on the 04-09-61 as an Engineer Learner.
Under the direction of Ted Bolton, apprentice supervisor, I with others started making my-tool box. At one stage I was one step further on than I was instructed. This displeased T.B. who promptly dropped it on the floor and put his foot on it. So this is my second tool-box. I have donated it to the Leicester Industrial History Museum at the Abbey Pumping Station.”


Here’s a reminder of Dave Tipton’s box. After Christmas we’ll select a ‘winner’ at the New Year BU History Group meeting; so keep your entries coming till then please. There will be a prize!

Send to

Date posted: November 13, 2013

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Toolbox Challenge


Calling all BU Apprentices!

The fine toolbox below was made as per requirement of all BU apprentices by Dave Tipton 50 years ago. Its stood the test of time. How’s yours? We would like anyone who has still got their apprentice box to take a photo and send to the BU History Group – No cheating!

Pleaseclip_image002-1 email to

Date posted: September 24, 2013

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Gordon Biggs


Gordon Biggs was born in 1922. He began work at the BU aged 14 years in 1936 and retired 46 years later in 1982. This recording was made on 20th March 2012. Gordon describes his progress at the BU and talks in detail about the tasks he carried out.

1944 'training for a career' checking teeth of a cutter


Listen here – Track 1

Introduction – 1936. 0.30 – First day, met Joe Moore. Errand boy for the first year. 1.25 – Sticking blue prints on boards. 1.35 – How Gordon got the job. 2.12 – Transfer to the Tool room. Making marking tools. How this was done. 3.45 – Working on a speed lathe; making taps and gauges. 4.40 – ENDs

Gordon Biggs and friends at QCC dinner

Listen here – Track 2

A typical working day. 1.08 – Clocking in. 2.08 – Taking lunch to the canteen. 2.56 – Smoking time. 3.20 – Knocking off, 5pm. 3.46 – Wartime changes. Asked to work nights. 7.30-7, night  and day, six shifts a week. 5.14 – Quiz time at breaks. 5.57 – Sirens going off. 6.50 – BU firewatchers. 7.20 – ENDs

Gordon school recommendation

Listen here – Track 3

After the war. Tool design office. 0.54 – Worked in the Drawing Room designing tools. 1.08 – Back to the Tool room as assistant foreman. Then foreman after two years. 1.50 – Stayed as foreman until 1980. 2.23 – Job satisfaction. Producing good machines. The BU was a good firm to work for. The Institute. 3.32 – The Ambulance room during the war became a dentists. 4.28 – Hairdresser came in two days a week. 4.56 – Money not great, but job for life. 5.08 – Today no job secure. People did leave for extra money. BU apprenticed people were well trained and skilled. 6.15 – Quarter Century Club. 7.12 – Annual dinner. 7.40 – Made a trustee in 1980. 8.12 – Associated companies that attended club meetings. 8.36 – ENDs

Gordon work record BU

Listen here – Track 4

Appointed equipment engineer. Reponsible for purchasing new machine tools, and selling old machines. 0.53 – Management secretary of joint production committee. Met monthly. 1.50 – The work chugging along happily. 2.30 – Cannot remember a BU dispute. 3.05 – Permanent job: Good friendships. 3.56 – Daryl Watkins. 4.30 – Emhart pension. 5.22 – ENDs


Date posted: June 12, 2013

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