Posts filed as 'Apprenticeship'

Ian Breward – BU Memories


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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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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