Burton Nursey: Head of Bungay firm for seven decades

FOR more than 70 years, Burton Nursey, who has died peacefully aged 93, was the head of one of the country's oldest established businesses, Nursey of Bungay.

It was one of his proudest moments in his long career when the family leather and sheepskin company celebrated its 200th anniversary in September 1990.

Under his leadership, the business, in Upper Olland Street, Bungay, gained a world reputation around the world for specialist sheepskin clothing.

He developed a passion for the business, which was to prove vital when his father died. Aged just 12, Samuel Burton Nursey, who was born at the family's home in Olland Street, was determined to take on the family business.

The widow, Hilda, had no direct experience of the business which had passed from father to son for 150 years. She quickly took up the reins and expanded it until the outbreak of the second world war.

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Her son, who went to a nearby kindergarten, was a boarder at Bracondale, Norwich, for seven years. But he had already started working in the family business as a seven-year-old, making deliveries or running errands.

He was able to combine school with work although, at that stage, it was still a 'two men and a boy operation,' relying on many outworkers in the town and the Waveney Valley. Having left school at 16, he spent a year in Ipswich to gain practical business training and then returned to work for the family concern.

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He had been in the Territorial Army for a year when, in August 1939, he was called up as a member of the Suffolk Yeomanry, based at Beccles Drill Hall.

He was to serve for the duration although he was granted three months' compassionate leave to run the business while his mother was ill. Returning to Woolwich depot, he was sent to Belgium during the period of liberation but his posting to the Far East was cancelled after the atom bomb was dropped on Japan. He returned to Bungay on December 7, 1945 on his third wedding anniversary. He had married Bridgett, who was born and brought up in Great Yarmouth.

In the late 1950s, Nursey & Son was made a limited company and he became managing director. The business, more of a leather merchants and glove manufacturer, increasingly specialised in sheepskin clothing, from about 1961. By 1972, the company was employing more than 200 outworkers in and around Bungay making gloves, hats and slippers and was one of the country's largest producers of coats. It also employed about 70 men and women at the Upper Olland Street factory.

'We pride ourselves on the high quality of our goods,' he told the EDP in 1972, the year in which he had been installed as the town reeve. His mother was the second woman to hold the 1,000-year-old office as town reeve in December 1953, almost 20 years before her son.

Nursey of Bungay was supplying about 100 stockists in Britain and abroad, with key export markets in Scandinavia and also across Europe, the United States and Canada. It had showrooms in London, Stockholm and Copenhagen and in the 1960s had pioneered the sheepskin coat.

Speaking on the eve of the firm's bicentenary in 1990, Mr Nursey said: 'We had 35 years of fantastic progress. At one time we had 85 skilled crafts people here; now it is down to 54.'

Cut-price imports and demand for ever-cheaper clothing were to be major challenges for the business.

Mr Nursey held a number of key posts including national chairman of the Leather Clothing Manufacturers' Association.

He was a strong supporter of the Institute of Directors, often attending the annual rally at the Royal Albert Hall, London. He helped to found the Bungay Chamber of Trade and Commerce, serving as secretary for many years and also as president.

A member of the Waveney Lodge of Freemasons, he enjoyed gardening and shooting. A former president of the Bungay Young Conservatives, he served for six years on the former urban district council.

His only son, Timothy, also joined the business, working alongside his father for many years.

Mr Nursey's wife, Bridgett, predeceased. He leaves a son, Tim, and four grandchildren. A service of thanksgiving will be held at All Saints' Church, Earsham, on Friday, August 10 at 3pm.

Michael Pollitt

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