Posts filed as 'The Work'



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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BU Engineers! Specs on,...


Take a look these photos please. It’s a machine of some sort that was made by BU. Ronnie Jones acquired this it… “The machine came from a clearout in a firm I worked for some years ago, Robert Lunt & Sons in Liverpool. They were a major saddlers in the past, from about the mid 1800s and switched to tarpaulin manufacture as the leather industry declined. It’s one of those things that gathers dust on my shelf, of no practical use to me but looked too interesting to end up in the scrapyard, which is were it was headed! It was only recently that I managed to clean the badge enough to make out the wording. I’ve attached a few more photos to assist the identification. Looking forward to having this little mystery finally solved!”



Date posted: November 12, 2014


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Business Cards..


Paul Price discovered these in his garage the other day..


Date posted: May 30, 2014

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Starting work at BU in the


Thank you to G.F. Densham for keeping these documents safe for so many years and for sharing them with the BU History Group.


Date posted: March 21, 2014

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BU Advertising, 1970s



Memories of the BU Advertising Department, from Walter Baynes. As well as machinery, BU also made and sold vast amounts of shoe making machinery.

“Dick Kursa is cameraman and Peter Minshall on sound recording – A businessman exiting his private plane, before driving off in his Rolls Royce and wearing shoes featuring ‘Clarino’ uppers. BU marketed Clarino, a poromeric upper material, as a synthetic substitute for leather, having many of leather’s high quality properties.
“Filmed at Leicester Aero Club it was an exciting sequence to shoot and looked stunning in the finished programme. You saw the plane land, taxi, the chauffeur driven Rolls pulls alongside, business man gets in and is driven off. At every opportunity there is a close-up of the stylish, expensive looking pair of shoes! Those were the days!”

Date posted: March 10, 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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Eric Johnson



Date posted: February 20, 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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Doug Gill


Doug Gill passed away on Friday January 10th. There will be service of remembrance at St Peters. Church Langton. Leicestershire, on Friday January 31st at 1.30pm.

His friend, Peter Wright, has written these words about Doug’s BU career.

“Doug joined BU as a Management Trainee in 1962. He was appointed to London Branch as a representative in 1963.

He was appointed as assistant manager to the much bigger Leicester Branch in 1967

He was promoted to Manager of Bristol Branch in 1971.

He was appointed Manager Branch Administration, responsible for all the UK and Eire branches in 1973.

In 1975 he was appointed Sales Manager Machinery Division responsible for all UK and unrepresented territories worldwide except Eastern Europe, which continued to be controlled by David Gorrod.

He was appointed to the Board of Management in 1975

Representation in unrepresented territories worldwide was formalised in 1977 with the formation of USM International and Doug became Director of Sales.

In addition to his USMI responsibilities he was appointed Manager of the Scandinavian Affiliate Companies for both machinery and materials in 1980.

He was appointed Sales Director Europe for the Texon Materials section of BUSM in 1987, a position which he was holding when the United Machinery Group bought the Texon Group in 1990 and which he continued to hold until 1993.

It was Doug’s suggestion that after the purchase of Texon that UMG Shoe Materials should be renamed USM Texon, a suggestion which was approved at Board level.

In 1995 USM and USM Texon were split into separate companies with senior staff also being split between the two companies. Doug joined Texon as Sales Director and remained in that position until his retirement.”

Date posted: January 24, 2014

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