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Bignells Ltd

Transcribed from a pamphlet produced for Bignells Ltd (undated)
in the offices
Inside the offices at Bignells Ltd

Mr Arthur J Bignell and his son, Mr Eric W Bignell, started as manufacturers’ agents for men’s footwear in London, in conjunction with Mr A W Gilbert and Mr G S Gilbert. Within six years they had built up a company employing 1200 and an output of 2,250,000 pairs of boots and shoes a year. The aim of Mr Bignell and his son was to market a range of British made mass-produced footwear to meet popular demand for low-priced but distinctive shoes. (Much of this was being imported, especially from Czechoslovakia, and central Europe.)
Mr J J Colson was the company cashier
Eric Bignell
In January 1937 a public limited company, Bignells Ltd was launched with three factories at Kettering, Wellingborough & Rushden, and these were controlled from a central office in London. Expansion soon followed and they acquired the Poplar Boot Company from Mr O L Lawrence of Raunds (4,000 pairs a week) and Messrs Cunnington’s of Crabb Street Rushden (2,500 pairs a week). By 1940 they were making over 25,000 pairs of boots and shoes every week, and to keep a closer control on the manufacture they brought their offices to Imperial House, Rushden. Mr O L Lawrence, Mr S T Beal and Mr J J Colson (cashier) joined the office staff and Mr W G Johnson was in charge of export trade. Agencies in the British Empire - Africa, Canada & West Indies – were soon followed into the USA. Goodyear welted was the speciality at the old Cunnington’s factory and with its up-to-date machinery they soon trebled production there.

The welfare of their staff was also catered for with the opening of a hostel for young people who had left home to work in their factories and a canteen was run to provide meals for the factory and office staffs.

Newsclip 03 Sep 1940 Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph

“Big Bites From Bignells”
Fifty Guineas from each Factory
In making a contribution of 250 guineas to the Spitfire Fund Messrs. Bignells Ltd. the well known boot manufacturers and their directors have made out five cheques as equal donations from each of their factories in the district.

The Rushden fund therefore receives 100 guineas, the Kettering, Wellingborough and Raunds funds 50 guineas each.

“We have little doubt” writes Mr Eric W Bignell “that the operatives in our factories will give freely themselves to swell this magnificent effort on your part”.

advert Kettering factory
An advert when they had six factories in the county
The Kettering Factory

Top centre of this 1950s picture is John Cave and Sons Ltd, factory built in 1901, and later extended. The grass area below is the land of their 'Comonwealth Sports Ground'. Also in this view, bottom left of centre is the old open-air swimming pool.

Across the road from the sports ground is the factory of Wilkins & Denton (formerly Bignells) and near the bottom right corner is part of the Jaques and Clark factory.

At the bottom the railway track and the old British United Shoe Machinery factory, now occupied by Hunt's Printers.

Rushden Echo & Argus, 30th January 1948, transcribed by Kay Collins

180 Attend Dance
A dance at "Imperial House," Rushden, on Friday evening, was another in the series being successfully organised throughout the winter months by Bignell's sports section.

The Modernaires played for dancing till midnight, and the girls of the staff served refreshments.

Among the company of 190 was an R.A.F. party from the Yelden station. [Chelveston airfield]

Arrangements were made by the committee, with Mr. P. F. Marks in charge.

Rushden Echo & Argus, 28th May 1948, transcribed by Kay Collins

100 Given Notice at Rushden - Factory May Close
About 100 employees of Messrs. Bignells', Ltd., Rushden, who work in the York Road factory, were given notice last week-end.

The factory may have to close down—it is hoped only temporarily, though—because of the amount of stock in hand.

"I think you will find that other people will do it now" said Mr. W. Gilbert, a director.

"They have been hanging back waiting for somebody to start.

"The position is this: We have a fair number of shoes in stock and until we are certain of the position we cannot see our way clear to carry on."

One particular kind of heavy footwear was made at the York Road factory and at the present this type was unsaleable.

It would probably be only a temporary measure, until the firm could see what the Government intended to do about coupons.

"We have got stocks of them and we don't feel dis¬posed to increase stocks at the moment," he said.

"If the position improved the works would re-start production and in the meantime, as many employees as possible would be absorbed into the other factories

"We are working this week and quite a number of people will be working next week. We hope that the position will have improved in the next two weeks," he added.

Rushden Echo & Argus, 11th June 1948, transcribed by Kay Collins

Factory Birthday Surprise
Miss June Beales was the most surprised employee of Bignells Ltd., the Rushden boot manufacturers, on Thursday morning when the machinery of the York Road factory suddenly slowed down.

She was summoned from the office to appear before the workpeople, who left their machines and gathered round her. Mr. Walter Bateman climbed on a box and took charge.

June, more surprised than ever, stood looking on until congratulated by the "chairman," she realised it was a 21st birthday ceremony.

Mr. Bateman said he was "very pleased and much moved" to make the presentation to their fellow worker in the office on behalf of the staff and employees. He referred to Miss Beales' seven years with the office staff and her work as a Sunday School teacher at the Independent Wesleyan Church.

The gift of a cheque was then acknowledged by Miss Beales.

Miss Beales came to Rushden from London in 1940 and resides at 82, Portland road.

Rushden Echo & Argus, 9th May 1958, transcribed by Kay Collins

Shoemen visit States
Touring part of the United States and visiting some of their customers are two representatives of Bignells Ltd., Rushden shoe manufacturers.

Mr. Ernest Gilbert, the managing director and Mr. Patrick Marks, the export manager, flew to the States on Friday and will return in about three weeks' time on the Queen Elizabeth.

In New York they saw a large trade fair, the Popular Shoe Show, at the Hotel New Yorker. No itinerary was planned when they left, but they have connections in many of the large American cities and will probably do a lot of travelling.

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 29th August 1958, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Branch to Close - 12 Redundant?
The Rushden shoe manufacturing company of Bignell’s, Ltd., is soon to make its second branch factory closure within two months. The bottom stock cutting department in Station Road, Rushden, will be closed down shortly but it is not known when this will be.

A few weeks ago the making and finishing department at High Street, Raunds, was closed.

The closure of the two branch factories is part of a general reorganisation within the firm. Work will be transferred to other branches and under the new set-up it is expected that no loss in production will be felt.

Twenty-four people are employed at the Station Road department. About half of these will become redundant and the others will be absorbed into the York Road factory which will deal with the work previously done in the other premises.

It is likely that the Station Road premises will be sold.

When the Raunds branch was closed at the beginning of July, more than thirty employees received their notice, but some were re-engaged with the firm at Rushden.

One branch still exists at Raunds. There are still three factories at Rushden, Kettering and Wellingborough each has one factory.

Eric Fowell, 2007

Imperial House in Duck Street had formerly been a billiard hall; it was built in the early 1930’s by Mr D. E. Mitchell (possibly from Kettering). It was bought by Bignells Ltd in 1937, who remained there until 1962. Wilson & Partners sold it in November 1963 for £7,000, when it became the offices of Wilkins & Denton and in 1974 they renamed it “Totector House”. Their two main factories were in Station Road, but there was an alleyway leading from the back of the offices, at the bottom of Carnegie Street, alongside one of the factories to its main entrance in Station Road. The black iron gate beyond the office was into Horrell’s shoe factory, and this was also taken over by Totectors later on.

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