Autobiography of Samuel Theodore Bunning

Samuel Theodore Bunning was born at Cosby near Leicester on November 4th, 1846. His parents were Samuel and Caroline Bunning, both natives of Cosby. During his childhood days his father was employed as Foreman Platelayer by the Midland Railway. S. T. B. attended the village school when there was one, but during his childhood days there was a long time when there was no day school in the village and his father, who had had a decent education for a working man in those days, taught his son to some extent. The father was promoted to be Time Keeper over the Platelayers from Wigston to Wellingborough and went to lodge at Kibworth, returning home each Saturday.

In January 1860 a vacancy occurred at Kibworth Station for a booking clerk. Young S. T. B. applied for the position and on Jan 16 1860 he commenced his duties at a salary of £15 per annum being at that time just over 13 years and 2 months. The Station Master at Kibworth was Mr. Caleb Porter. When ordering uniform for his youthful clerk he ordered him a cotton cord suit. As this had a wonderful effect on the youth’s later career it is considered worth recording. In Dec 1860 S T B was sent to Broughton Astley as Machine Clerk, the Station Master being Mr. Samuel Heath. Having arrived there in cotton cord, when the time came to apply for new uniforms, Mr. Heath ordered him a similar suit. In Feby 62 the youth was ordered to go to Derby for inspection and was then sent to Wellingborough as lad porter at ten shillings a week. From this time he kept himself, never costing his parents a penny. He remained here until 1864, when he was removed to Desborough at 14/- per week, working 14 hours a day 13 days per fortnight. In 1865 he was removed to Leeds but only stayed there a few weeks and then was sent to Shipley near Bradford at 17/- per week. In 1866 he was moved to Kettering but only remained here a few weeks, when he was ordered to see the Superintendent at Derby. He was then appointed Station Porter at Wisbech and had charge of the Booking Office and worked the trains, it being a single line from Peterborough to Lynn. His station master at this station was Mr. Daniel Phipps. In 1867 he was moved to Derby and placed upon the relief staff to relieve station masters. Among other stations he was sent to Collingham where he remained three months and met the young woman who afterwards became his wife. He was again summoned to see Mr. Needham the then Superintendent of the M R C who said he was going to open a new station at Mosley on Nov. 1 1867 and wished to appoint STB as the first Station Master. On enquiring his age the Superintendent was astonished and said he ought never to have been put in charge of signals or appointed to the relief staffs seeing that he had not yet reached the age of 21. Mr Needham said he really ought not to give him the appointment but as he would be 21 in 4 days he appointed him, warning him to be careful as to his duties at all times but especially in the first 4 days as he Mr Needham would be responsible. In April 1868 the Station Master at Collingham died. STB applied for that station as he was desirous of getting married and there was no Station Master’s house at Moseley. His application was granted, and he returned to Collingham and was married on June 27, 1868. In November 1869 the Station Master at Beeston resigned. STB applied for this station and took charge on Dec 8 1869. My salary at Moseley and Collingham was 22 shillings a week, advanced to 24/- on removal to Beeston. Here I remained over 13 years and received advances for 9 years until I reached £120 per annum but could not get any more. Now if it had not been for that cord suit I should never have been in charge of signals, never relieved the Station Master at Collingham where I met one of the best of women. During the whole time I was at Beeston she let apartments. I tried to improve my position by buying and selling property and shares, but as I could not get any further advance in salary I became dissatisfied.

The Beeston Brewery’s premises had been built while I was at Beeston and in December I was offered the position of manager at £160 per annum with house coal and gas. I accepted and took up my duties on January 16, 1883. I at once applied to the Midland Railway Company for a reduction in the rates for the carriage of goods to and from the Brewery. With my directors I had several interviews with the General Manager and Goods Manager of the Railway, but could not come to terms. An action was then commenced against the Railway Co. before the Railway Commissioners, and in about 15 months we got a decision which gave us a 20% reduction. My directors then advanced my salary to £200 per annum, with a bonus of 10 shillings for every £100 I increased the trade over the first year. I then commenced to speculate in securing shops to sell ale off the premises. In this I was fairly successful, my directors increasing my salary at various times from £200 to £1000 per annum.

When I went to the B B Co. my wife and [I] had made £2500, my wife by letting apartments, while I had helped by speculating in buying property and shares and selling them again. At the time the company owned 3 licensed houses, viz. Maltshovel, Beeston, Shakespeare’s Head, Leicester and Royal Oak, Leicester. We also had a number of travellers. I occasionally had applications from parties who were about to take licensed properties for loans to enable them to pay the valuations. As my directors resided at Birmingham they were not able to advise me in time whether they would make the advance or not, but they offered to allow me a good discount if I advanced my own cash, on the distinct understanding that I would be responsible to the Company for all goods supplied.

My first venture was a bad one, as the party filed his petition 3 months after entering a shop with beer license in Nottingham. My good wife remarked she should think that would cure me of speculation, but I am afraid I was too hard a sinner to be cured in this way, so I bought the bankrupt business and put my wife’s sister in to manage it for me. I then bought another business and made a profit of £90. I took a lease for 5 years and thus gained some experience.

About this time my Managing Director, Mr. Showell told me that if I could find some licensed houses he would buy them and thus secure trade for the Company. So I spent a week in Leicester and succeeded in leasing 4 shops with off licenses. Then I came across one that the owner would not lease but offered to sell, and I bought it. It did a good trade and I wrote to my director to tell him what I had done. I told him that as I had no authority to buy I would pay for it myself if he did not approve. He came to Beeston to see me and said this was not the kind of house he wanted. A few weeks later, returning from Leicester late on Saturday evening, I saw the Black Horse public house at Blaby for sale. On the following Monday, I again bought without authority. Mr. Showell again came to see me. After I had given him all the particulars he said, "Bunning, I must take you into my confidence. We have no money, and the share-holders won’t find me a penny. Anyway, we think this place will fail. If in the future you feel disposed to buy property you must do it for yourself and not look to him or to the Company." I reminded him of what he had told me many times; he replied that that was all bluff. So having made a start for myself and being satisfied with my purchases I soon made others and generally they proved all right.

The first 12 years I was a servant of the B B Co. my directors were very good and kind to me, advancing my salary from £160 to £1000. During that time I had secured a number of houses and the Co. had also been able to buy. But now a circumstance occurred which upset all the pleasant associations of the Chairman and myself. Our brewer, Mr Forster, had been with us about 12 years and he and I were great friends. One morning I received from Shakespeare and Co., the solicitors to the Company, a notice signed by the Chairman and another director giving a month’s notice to dispense with Mr Forster’s services. As I had not heard anything against Forster I asked for an explanation. The Chairman thought I was not entitled to this. I therefore refused to serve the notice. I was then told that Forster had been speaking of the Chairman in a disrespectful manner to one of the shareholders and he would not have Forster about the premises any longer. I suggested that the proper way was to have Forster in the office and hear his explanation. The Chairman would not agree to this. Now Forster had married the Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire’s daughter. I pointed out that he had a just cause of complaint and would be sure to carry it to his father-in-law and this might prove njurious to the Company. My protests were of no avail and Forster had to go. Things remained very unpleasant for some months and the directors decided to sell the business, while Forster and I decided to go into partnership and thought of buying a small brewery at Burton. The B B Co directors succeeded in selling their brewery and 3 of the purchasers went to Birmingham to pay a deposit of £25,000. As they were approaching Mr Shakespeare’s office they met a friend who told them that 2/3 of the B B Co’s trade belonged to me and that I would shortly be leaving. They had agreed to buy the business on production of the balance sheets for the last six years, and when they heard this they refused to complete. This information was given to me later by Mr. Shakespeare the solicitor.

Subsequently Mr. Shakespeare came to Leicester to see me and said he thought he could complete the sale if he could come to terms with me, but the firm would not buy unless I would agree to stay as Managing Director for 7 years. They offered me a salary of £1500 per annum. I accepted the offer and a few days later went to Mr Shakespeare’s office to meet Mr Harris of the firm of Craigh, Garden and Harris of 41 Dame Agnes Street, Dublin. After some conversation we came to terms and they agreed to buy my business for £190,000. They also bought the Beeston Brewery Company, paying the ordinary shareholders £23 for their £10 shares.

From original notes found amongst Samuel Theodore Bunnings' papers after his death
Hand copied by Margaret McBride, formalized by Patricia A Bunning

Close this window to continue