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Richard Hall - Memories
of accompanying my father - and his work

BU factory
The B U built in 1926 in Station Road
My father, Frank Hall, was born in Leicester in 1900. He started to work at the age of 14 for the British United Machine Company in Leicester, where his father was a salesman. As WWI had started, the BU factory was not making shoe machinery but was being used to make munitions, shell cases I understand. After the war he continued to work at the factory and was engaged in making shoe machines which the company leased to shoe factories. In 1924 he was sent to work at their Rushden Depot in Station Road as one of their mechanics whose job was to visit the shoe factories and repair machines which had broken down. He specialised in maintaining the Goodyear Welt sewing machines although not to the exclusion of the many other types of machine. They must have been a very fit bunch as they travelled to the factories by cycle with a heavy toolkit strapped to the carrier on the back and the Rushden depot covered a wide area which included Wollaston, Bozeat and Raunds. It must have been unpleasant in bad weather and not without its dangers, especially during the war.  My father was once blown off his bicycle by an exploding Flying Fortress as he cycled past Chelveston airbase.

The mechanics were very well known by the workers in the shoe factories and even the bosses of the firms were not averse to picking their brains to find out about new developments and new machines. Unfortunately I can only recall the names of a few of the employees at the BU in Rushden. Two have already been mentioned on the website, “Chip” Randall who worked with dad and Mollie Powell who was the secretary to Mr Strudwick, the manager. There was also Dudley Penn, who ran the stores, and had a photographic memory of his empire, and Jack Perkins who was foreman a year or two before my father retired.

1927 driving licence
When my father first moved from Leicester he lived in “digs” at 125 Glassbrook Road but he married a girl from Leicester in 1928 and they moved to a newly built house in Prospect Avenue where I was subsequently born in 1935.

During school holidays I was occasionally allowed to accompany him and I managed to visit several of the Rushden factories. On Saturdays we sometimes ventured further afield as while the factories were closed he was expected to attend for the small boilers, which I think were used to make steam to melt the wax for the thread, to be pressure tested to comply with the appropriate legal requirements.
He saw many changes in the shoe trade, one of them being the abandonment of the system of overhead shafts, pulleys and belts to drive the machines and the replacement by individual electric motors. At one time the factories nearly all had their gas engine to drive the shafts and these gradually disappeared. Just as well as the old system was dangerous, it was not unknown, if a machine seized, for it to be pulled into the air by its belt. The BU machines weren’t actually bolted to the factory floor as this would have made them fixtures and fittings of the factory and the BU would have lost ownership of them. Instead they were held in place by metal plates bolted to the floor which allowed them to be leased without loss to the BU  if the shoe firm went bankrupt or changed hands.
mmembership card
Membership card
He was also involved in installing machines in what was to be a major change in the industry, the introduction of moulded footwear. Instead of the many operations around the factory to produce a show the upper on its last was placed in a machine with a plastic sole and heel and they were bonded together. One man could operate several machines together and was therefore producing the same number of shoes as the many men around the factory carrying out their individual operations. I think the first factory to embrace this method of working was the Newton Road factory of John White which mass produced shoes constructed in this way for Marks & Spencers.
The BU rewarded its employees for long service by membership of their “Quarter Century Club” and membership was open to all from managers to floor sweepers. They were treated to an Annual Dinner in Leicester and sported a triangular lapel badge.
Club members' card

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