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Tony Ingham has written to us about his grandfather, Jack (David John) Bethel. Wonderful memories of growing up in Leicester and BU.

“I was born in Leicester in June, 1942, when my father was away in the REME in the Channel Ports Division. He had served in the RAOC initially and was in the BEF in France. He was evacuated through Dunkirk in 1940.
My mother took me home to 44 Hunter Road where we lived with my grandparents, David John (Jack) and
Annie Bethel, until after the War had ended.  Father returned in 1946. I was the only one of four grandchildren to live with them. Mother worked in the Hosiery industry and grandmother had a large machine from one of the hosiery companies from time to time in the back room at home and did outwork. She, of course looked after me at home. They had bought the house, which was unusual in those days.

I attach one photograph of Jack and Annie Bethel taken from the wedding photographs of my parents in 1939, which someof your older readers might recognise them from.

Jack Bethel, as he would have been known by his colleagues had well over 40 years service with the BU and retired in 1955, aged 65, on pension from the BU which he was so proud of. He was born in Wales and came to the Midlands with his parents and siblings to live in the Nottingham area. His grandfather had been killed in the largest mining disaster ever in the Country in 1878, in Abercarn, leaving the family without parents as the mother had died before. His father was a carpenter and could find work other than in the pits and worked on canals, rising to Inspector of Canals in the Nottingham area. I know from what had been said that Jack had even been down the mines in the Nottingham area when he was short of work but did not stay. He was medically unfit to be called up.

Somehow he came to Leicester and lodged in the Coral Street area of Belgrave near to where his wife-to-be Annie also lived. He had somehow gained experience on a metal-planing machine and that is what he found work with at the BU, where he stayed for the rest of his working life. I recall going down Law Street, Belgrave when I was young and about one third of the way along the factory building from Ross’ Walk I found the point where his machine was. I knew where to look as he had taken me to an open day at the factory and I had seen where he worked inside, which was massive to a small boy. The
windows were high and blocked out on the lower panes but I often attracted someone’s attention inside and they would sometimes fetch Jack to wave to me! It was the original factory building then with camouflage paint still showing on the brickwork as I always pointed out to my own children when visiting.
The amazing thing about him was that he was what they called in those days, ‘stone deaf’. Some family affliction had made some of his siblings and parents deaf and it caught up with him in his late teens to early twenties, after he had learned to speak as a hearing person, which helped him greatly. Nowadays he would not have stood a chance working on machinery of the sort he did, being hearing impaired but he got the job and stayed with it! The Health and Safety gurus nowadays would have a fit! He only had one accident to my knowledge in all of his service with the BU when his hand was caught in the machine and he had an index finger amputated. That just made him all the more of a hero to us children, arm in a sling and a big bandage! When he recovered he went straight back on the same machine until the end of his service.
He was a marvel at lip-reading and my youngest daughter, having known her great-grandfather all her life asked me one day, “Is grandfather deaf? and we all fell about laughing as she really did not know. We did not have much of a garden at Hunter Road as there was a concrete-roofed air-raid shelter covering most of it but a strip was still available. He would lurk in the entry at weekends and wait for the milk cart, drawn by a horse, and as soon as it left some ‘presents’ on the road he would be the first to nip out with dustpan and bucket and collect it for the garden. What he did not use at home he would take in a sack to his allotment. His favourite thing at the weekends at lunchtime was to walk round to the Institute in Hildyard Road
for a couple of pints with some cronies, who also had no trouble communicating with him as he lip-read them too. When I visited as an adult he took great pleasure, and it was mutual, in walking round with me to the Institute and showing me off.
As a child my life was very much marked by ‘the hooter’ of the BU and we did not need a clock. I echo the words of the other lady who also lived in Hunter Road and mentioned the mass of humanity emerging from the factory at closing time. I lost track of the BU after Jack died (he was 92 years of age) and was horrified to hear of what happened to the Company and of course the pension fund. He would have been heartbroken that any such thing had happened to his beloved works. The pension kept him and grandmother in comfort for the whole of the rest of their lives, their needs being very small. My
parents and I moved into rented house of our own in about 1948 but I still spent much time with Jack and grandmother until I moved away to Worcestershire in 1961. I always visited whenever I could for the best oxtail stew ever on a Saturday lunchtime, after a couple of pints at the Institute.
As long as they were able they came to us in Worcestershire for holidays each summer and were welcomed by our three children. My daughter has two of their kitchen-type chairs and is waiting anxiously for me to pop my clogs so she can get her hands on the brass bedstead, mangle, dolly-tub and dolly plunger, all from Hunter Road. A similar era rocking horse came from the neighbours at 42 Hunter Road, Mr and Mrs James, and she has her eyes on that too! What are children like? She will value it all as coming from her great-grandparents.
One last thing I recall about Hunter Road is that it was unadopted and cobbled, and with gas lighting when I was a child. There were great hollows in the road caused by subsidence of some sort and of course being unadopted they stayed and were not repaired. When it rained a lot they made wonderful big puddles to play around.
One last question to anyone reading this. Over the years my mother lost or misplaced many family photographs and one which I longed to have was of the VE or VJ Day street party in Hunter Road, with a loaded table up the middle of the street. The photograph of course vanished. I would love to have a copy of this if anyone has one and will pay any reasonable costs incurred.”

Tony Ingham, May 2019

Date posted: May 27, 2019

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The BUSMC Ltd: Its works and...


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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BU Heritage Panel Unveiled


The launch of the BUSMC heritage interpretation panel project took place on Belgrave Road across the road from the front entrance to Union Works on Wednesday 5th April. 

The City Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, attended and made a short speech. The panel is situated outside IndiKal (87 Belgrave Road). 

Sign post to Happy Memories. Former employees of BUSM join the City Mayor at the unveiling of the new heritage sign on Belgrave Road. L to R Ellen Hewitt, Mick Lambert, Cllr Piara Singh Clair, Karon Pearson, Praful Thakrar, Cllr Adam Clarke, Sir Peter Soulsby, Alan Carlisle, Paul Gill, Sally Coleman and Kathy Gill

‘Sign post to Happy Memories’. Former employees of BUSM join the City Mayor at the unveiling of the new heritage sign on Belgrave Road.
L to R
Ellen Hewitt, Mick Lambert, Cllr Piara Singh Clair, Karon Pearson, Praful Thakrar, Cllr Adam Clarke, Sir Peter Soulsby, Alan Carlisle, Paul Gill, Sally Coleman and Kathy Gill

BUSM panel

Date posted: May 1, 2017

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Info Wanted


Graham Damant –
I have just bought a Pearson sewiung machine and have managed to work out how the basics work and its stitching well. However it would be useful to have a manual, any ideas where I could buy one.

Vishal –

I was wondering if you could help me i am searching for the old BUSM building plans, i need help locating these blueprints as we want to see what the building roof was built from. We are looking at this part of belgrave commercial centre as we wanted to know what the roof was constructed on.
If anyone can help just email in please to I know both would be very grateful for any help

Date posted: October 19, 2016

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BU from the air – 1934


Please click on the link below where there are a number of fantastic aerial photos of BUSMC and its surrounds.

To the centre-right of the photo there are 5 dog-leg roads – the leftmost one of these is Hildyard Road/Macdonald Road, with Ross Walk crossing at the dog-leg. Marjorie Street connects all 5 roads at the bottom.
So the northlight glazed/slated roofs to the left of this is the old IVI, with the area to the left yet to be developed.

(Thanks Stan)

Date posted: June 9, 2014

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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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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.”

Date posted: February 11, 2014

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BU People Book



JPEG Cover

BU People is a 52 page landscape A4 size book made up of contributions from many people connected with BU. This people’s history contains memories, history and many colour and black and white photos. It covers much of the company’s 100 year existence, from early rapid growth through to closure and the workers pensions’ struggle. In between are stories about being an apprentice, the Quarter Century Club, the BU at War, family life connected to the firm, technological excellence and innovation, and pride and satisfaction at working for BU. It serves in part as a snapshot of factory life in Britain from just a few decades ago.


The book is priced at £5 (of which £2 will be donated to LOROS, a Leicestershire hospice charity). It is being sold in the following LOROS shops: High Street Leicester, Queens Road Bookshop, Anstey and Birstall.

Postage within the UK is an additional £2. Therefore please send a cheque for £7 made payable to the BU History Group, to 8 Greenhill Road, Leicester LE2 3DJ. Any enquiries please email

BUHG members Alan Carlisle and Dave Tipton also have a supply.

Date posted: January 30, 2014

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Walter Baynes recounts the story of ‘Clarino’!


“Here is one of the photos I found recently. The story is this… In the early/mid 1970’s BU was involved in the marketing of a new ‘poromeric’ upper material called “Clarino”. It was being promoted as a high quality, breathable substitute for leather and as such was the ideal product for everyday footwear for the successful ‘business man’. We in the Advertising Dept. produced a film to help in the sales of Clarino featuring just such a person exiting his ‘private aeroplane’ before driving off in his Rolls Royce. This scenario gave plenty of opportunities to show close-ups of his smart Clarino shoes! The photo shows cameraman Dick Kursa using a 16mm Arriflex to film the scene whilst the ambient sound is recorded by Peter Minshall on a Nagra reel to reel tape recorder. The location is at the Leicester Aero Club’s airfield at Stoughton. (Several of the aerial pictures of BU’s Headquarter Site were taken using the facilities offered by the Aero Club and their instructors).

The finished film was used by the BU’s Salesforce to explain the benefits of Clarino to potential shoemaking customers. Unfortunately Clarino was found to be wanting in many areas when it came to making high quality footwear. Maybe there is just no substitute for leather.”

The second picture shows Walter at work in the Labelle factory in France.


Date posted: December 30, 2013

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Karen Pearson


Karen Pearson (nee Wignall) poignantly recalls her time at BU – She is pictured here at her leaving do in 1984 – leaving to have a baby!

karen2“My dad worked at the BU so my early memories of the BU were going to the sports days at the BU Sports ground in Mowmacre Hill.   Also attending the Christmas parties and receiving an apple and an orange from Santa. This photo is from 1961 and the BU sports day – Karen wearing a hat behind her brother.


“I started work in 1974 at the age of 16 on a 12 week training scheme along with quite a few other people. We worked for four weeks in three different departments,  I worked in the drawing office for Jack Moulds. I loved working there because it meant using the paternoster lift which was such good fun. I then went into the Research Dept. working for Eric Pearson. I didn’t make it into the third training department because I was offered a permanent position in the Export Department working for David Holmes as an export clerk.

“My early memories of the BU were of how big the place was and how many people worked there. We had our own doctor and nurses in the medical centre, and our own dentist. I even remember we had a bank on site. I loved the third floor with its cushioned flooring, this was to stop anyone disturbing the Directors. We had so many canteens; mens, ladies, works and the Directors. I remember the wonderful trolley services we had each morning and afternoon, fresh filled rolls etc. in the morning, and cream cakes in the afternoon.

“I worked at the BU for 10 years, I got engaged in 1976 and married in 1977.  I never actually changed jobs, but things progressed and changed along the way. My last job before leaving was as a Secretary working for Jim Smith.  I left in 1984 when I was pregnant. I didn’t return after my baby was born but worked at some other places before having my second child in 1986.  In approx. 1992 I saw a job advertised part time at the BU working in Regent Rebuilds for Alan Godwin.  I got the job and my love affair with the BU started again. I moved from Regent Rebuilds and started working for David Evans in the Lasting Department as a Secretary. This has to be my most favourite job – I did all the secretarial work for the whole department, arranging travel for the technicians, typing reports, arranging buffets for the meetings, absolutely anything and loved it.

“That all came to an end I believe when APAX took over. The Secretaries in each Department were put together in a customer service environment. We all hated it – that was almost the worst period of my life at the BU.  


“Then things got even worse in 2000 when the company got into difficulty and the Receivers were called in, I remember that day so clearly – a group of people in black suits came in and told everyone to stop what they were doing.  A while later people were tapped on the shoulder and sent to different rooms. I was in a room with approx. 30 people and we were told our jobs were safe. There was a room of approx.500 people who were all told that they were redundant !! All day people were leaving – it was a very sad day with lots of tears.

“The small group that were eventually left had to work for the Receivers for a while, then four Directors bought the company back and we started again. We eventually moved to brand new premises in Enderby. A few years later the company started failing again and we moved to very small premises in Whetstone, until eventually in 2006, the Administrators came in.  Again we had no knowledge of it happening, more people in black suits.  I was called up first and told that when people’s names were called out I had to take their mobile phones, laptops, car keys and any other BU possessions off them. They were then sent off the premises.    A very small number of us were kept on to wind the company down. I think I was probably one of about six people that were there until the very end. We packed all the tools and equipment up into massive crates and that was that. The End of an Era.”

(You can read about Karen’s dad, Phil Wignall in an earlier post – he is second on the left in this picture at the time he was made redundant).redundant

Date posted: December 5, 2013

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