General Metal and Holloware

John Shaw & Sons 
(Wolverhampton) Ltd.

Fourth Avenue, Bushbury

The City archives contains a cache of documents relating to this firm (call no: DB24). This is one of the most important business archives in the city's collection and would be suitable material for anyone who wishes to carry our a project on this large Wolverhampton concern. In the meantime, I have made these notes to accompany the exhibits. They come from various sources, including the outline history of the firm which appears with the archive's handlist and which was, presumably, prepared by the archivist who made the handlist.  My account may be subject to much correction and addition, especially if someone does a proper job examining the DB24 archive..

The note above appeared when these pages first appeared on this web site, many a long moon ago.  Now (January 2009) I have belatedly caught up with the fact that someone is working on this archive of the firm. This highly commendable work is being done by Andrew Popp, now of Liverpool University.  He has already published some results:  "Building the Market:  John Shaw of Wolverhampton and Commercial Travelling in Early Nineteenth Century England", Andrew Popp, Business History, Vol.49, No.3, May 2007, 321-347.  So far as I can tell this is a valuable contribution to business history, especially the role of the factor and the commercial traveller;  but I can be quie sure that this is a fascinating addition to Wolverhampton's local history.  I have made some amendments to the following pages in the light of this article;  but I await the publication of further article by Andrew Popp, including maybe a book about John Shaw, with eager anticipation.

John Shaw (shown in the photo to the left, thanks to Alex Chatwin) was born in 1782, apparently in Penn.  It know when or where he set up in business but his company later always claimed to have been established in 1795.  It is just possible that he started in business at the age of 13 if, for example, he had started work at that age by making his own lines at his father's forge.  The first hard evidence is a stock book in the city archives, dated 1805.

He travelled the country on horseback, selling his wares. In those days it was quite common for the senior member of a firm to do his own selling. In due course his son became their salesman and was joined by other non-family members.  It now seems that, in the first half of the 19th century at least, the firm acted solely as factors and did not make anything themselves.

On one of these trips, in the period 1811-13, he met his future wife, Elizabeth Wilkinson, in Rochdale. 

They had at least four children:

John Shaw, 1816 - 1839
Thomas Wilkinson Shaw, 1820 - 1887
Edward Dethick Shaw, 1822 - 1886
Richard Edwards Shaw, 1826 - 1898

The eldest son, John, died on a business trip to India. The memorial to him, on his parents' tomb, records that he died at Simla. He would have been in Simla either because the Indian government was there on its annual retreat to the hills or because he had gone there when he was taken ill on the plains.

 However, his presence there shows that the business was extending in all directions.

Shaw apparently operated from premises in George Street.  In 1815 he went into partnership with one Henry Crane, and the firm was known as Shaw and Crane.  This partnership lasted until 1848 when it split up, Shaw continuing in George Street and Crane setting up on his own account in Darlington Street.    The firm was now called John Shaw and Sons.

The success of the business is evidenced by the fact that, in the 1830s, Shaw was able to buy Oxley House, a mansion on the Stafford Road.

By the middle of the century the company is said to have had a turnover of half a million pounds a year, an enormous sum for those days.

Around 1852 he acquired premises at 64 Church Lane, where it appears that he was actually manufacturing pots, pans and coffin plates, and probably other things, as well as continuing to act as a factor.  If he had indeed become a manufacturer, it would be interesting to speculate on why he took this step.

John Shaw became active in local affairs. He was a prominent member of the Queen Street Congregational Church, (which, it might be significant to remember, was a church largely attended by the working classes); a founder of the Wolverhampton Library; and his is one of the names which appears on the petition for incorporation of the town in 1848; he was also a magistrate.

John Shaw died on 15th August, 1858 and was buried in Merridale Cemetery in a tomb of some magnificence.  It is the gothic chest tomb shown on the right of the photo above. (The choice of Gothic may be a bit odd.  It was not a very common style for tombs and non-conformists generally associated it with the Church of England and preferred something more classical in feeling).

His three remaining sons continued his example of expanding the family firm and being community leaders in the Congregational interest.

It seems that T. D. Shaw and E. D. Shaw concentrated on the family business whilst R. E. Shaw, the youngest brother, gave most of his time to the church.

 May's history of the Queen Street Congregational Church gives them a good deal of space.

Thomas W. Shaw.

"Mr. T. W. Shaw and Mr. E. D. Shaw were merchants greatly respected in the town, who carried on the well-known business of John Shaw & Sons, in Church Lane. They were wealthy men, and generous supporters of the church and its institutions, and also of the charities of the town. They together subscribed one-third of the entire cost of the new chapel.

Mr. T. W. Shaw was for a time a superintendent, and Mr. E. D. Shaw a teacher, in the Sunday school, and each of them lent his support and counsel to the minister and his work at Queen Street. Mr. T. W. Shaw was the first chairman of the directors of Tettenhall College.

Mr. R. E. Shaw, while not taking so commanding a position in the business of the town, took a more prominent part in the work of the church than his brothers. 

Edward D. Shaw

He was of a quiet and retiring nature, and a tireless, patient, and scrupulously conscientious Christian worker. Like Mr. S. S. Mander, he was for many years a second pastor to the church. For the greater part of his life, he was the teacher of the senior male class in the Sunday school, and many young men owed their bent in life to contact with his truly Christian personality. It was his custom for years every Sunday, at the close of his afternoon class, to take two or three of the young men home with him to tea, and he sought in closer intimacy to make friends of them and to bind them to Christian ways.

For forty-four years he was a member of the church, and served it as secretary and deacon. He was also for many years treasurer of the Sunday school, and the honoured and beloved lay-superintendent of Heath Town branch church. The three brothers died during the pastorate of Dr. Berry, leaving gaps most difficult to fill.

Richard E. Shaw.

A marble tablet in the chapel, erected by their Queen Street Congregational Church fellow-members, commemorates two of the brothers. The inscription is as follows:

"Erected by this Church in memory of Two brothers, Thomas Wilkinson Shaw, Died January, 1887, aged 67 years, and Edward Dethick Shaw, Died February, 1886, aged 64 years, Members of this Church. One in service. United in life eternal."

In memory of Mr. R. E. Shaw, the church has affixed a bronze tablet to the wall of the chapel, near the seat usually occupied by him, and inscribed thereon are the following words:

"To the glory of God. In grateful and affectionate remembrance of Richard Edwards Shaw, who was for forty-four years, a beloved member of this Church, filling many of its offices with rare fidelity, and adorning them with unobtrusive grace and piety, who fell asleep in Jesus July 12th, 1898, aged 72 years. Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere. This Church owes much to his patient labour as a deacon and secretary through many years. The branch Church at Heath Town is a perpetual memorial of his wisdom and zeal. The Sunday School honours him as one of its oldest and most effective teachers. Through a life of varying fortune he ever placed first things first, giving to God’s service the most and best of a noble life. This memorial is the loving tribute of his fellow-members in this Church, who give God thanks in his behalf, and who pray that the fruit of his faith and work may multiply through those to whom he gave instruction and bequeathed example. In Christ he lived; in Christ he died; in Christ he lives evermore."

The new chapel, to which the brother subscribed one-third of the cost, is the Queen Street Congregational Church. (Samuel Mander was another very large subscriber). T. W. Shaw had laid the foundation stone (and, having done so, he jumped up on to it and delivered a lengthy address, despite the "slight showers" which fell. The reference to R. E. Shaw’s "life of varying fortune" is unexplained.

T. W. Shaw and E. D. Shaw were also amongst those who set up Tettenhall College, the main purpose of which was to provide a non-conformist education in the style of the Church of England public schools that were then beginning to thrive. In 1862 T. W. Shaw became the first Chairman of the Midland Counties Proprietary Company (the joint stock company the founders had chosen at the business-like vehicle for their school) and E. D. Shaw was another founder. Geoffrey Hancock refers to them both as "merchants and bankers".

Jones' history also records of T. W. Shaw that "for about a quarter of a century he was Chairman of the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Banking Co., being highly respected for his integrity and business ability." Exactly what that business ability was, we do not know and it is impossible to say what the company's great expansion was based on. Hard work, obviously. But what else? Was it good salesmanship, better production methods, better design?

When Edward and Thomas Shaw both died the firm was converted into two limited liability companies.  The one, T. E. Thompson & Co. Ltd., took over the firm's representation in India and the far east. Thompson was one of the firms commercial travellers in this country and had been sent to India to set up an "indent" business there - taking orders locally and sending them back to England to be fulfilled direct. The other, John Shaw and Sons (Wolverhampton) Ltd. took over the UK end of the business.  

This invoice heading, dating from 1910, provides us with some interesting information about the company.
It shows a drawing of what must be their building. It is the building now known as Amar House, which stands on the corner of Broad Street and Fryer Street, with the main entrance, in Fryer Street, sporting the best Victorian tiled hall and staircase in Wolverhampton.

Whether or not Shaw's built this building is not known but it would obviously have provided offices and show room space.

Possibly, to judge from the horse and wagon emerging from the more prosaic part of the building, warehousing or even manufacturing space. But the windows along Broad Street, of what would probably have been the showrooms, are not full of goods, but blanked off, suggesting at least some change of plan from the original designer's intentions.  The date of the building is unknown but the Archives suggest that Shaw's moved there in 1899.

This business card dates from the turn of the century.  It and the invoice heading reflect the scope of the company's operations in that they mention not only a London branch in Holborn, but branches in Montreal, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Calcutta.

There are also agents in "Valparaiso, Havana, Buenos Ayres, Transvaal Colony, etc.". 

It is clear that by this time Shaw's was not just a factor selling other people's goods, but was firmly into manufacturing as well.   But part of the explanation for their expansion also seems to lie in take-overs, for the invoice heading gives a long list of the firms who are incorporated in Shaw's, together with, in most cases, the dates of their foundation and the dates of their incorporation:

J. & W. Hawkes, Birmingham, established 1831, incorporated 1896
William and Henry Bate, Wolverhampton, 1849, 1899
Onions & Co, Birmingham, 1906
Owen & Fendelow, Wolverhampton, 1770, 1899
Owen & Fendelow are mentioned as themselves incorporating:
Windle & Blyth, Walsall, 1853
Henry Stuart & Co, 1877
Plimley & Co, 1888

In 1919 the firm became a public company.

The next source I have is a "Catalogue of Tools for All Trades", issued by John Shaw & Sons, Wolverhampton, Ltd., in 1939. 

The first thing to note about this catalogue is its back cover, which shows an artist's impression of what is described as "Six acres of Manufacturing and Distributing Efficiency" and referred to as "the new home of John Shaw & Sons Wolverhampton Ltd and associated companies".

Their address is "Fourth Avenue, Bushbury".

The premises are clearly those built for Clyno cars and opened by them in January 1928 and closed again, on the company's liquidation, in 1929.  Shortly after that, advertisements, showing the works empty and stripped of machinery, advertise the property for sale. The advertiser is Alfred Herbert of Coventry, who are machine tool makers, not estate agents. Presumably they had bought the premises and contents from the liquidators, stripped out the machinery and were trying to sell off the land. It may have hung around their necks for some while if Shaw's are still describing it as their new home in 1939.

The Archives suggest that the move had been made "by 1937".  They also record that they took with them to the new premises Jenks Brothers Ltd. and the British Tool and Engineering Co. Ltd., (Britool) who had both been taken over by Shaw's in that year, 1937, Jenks Brothers Ltd. being the parent company of Britool.

It seems that Jenks Brothers rented one half bay at the works and Britool rented nine and a half bays.  

A paraffin blow lamp, marked with the Governor trade mark. The catalogue clearly reflects Shaw's as both manufacturers and wholesalers. They say that they are exclusive distributors for Governor, Lamb, Trojan, Onions & Co, E.C.Atkins, Kelly Registered and Bridgeport. These are almost certainly their own trade or band names, deriving from their own earlier business or from the firms they had taken over. They also list numerous brands for which they are wholesale distributors, including many of the most famous. One of them is Britool. The names of Jenks seems to have vanished.  Indeed in later years one sees Britool catalogues and advertisements and local people refer to the Bushbury works as having been Britool's.  

Their last years in Wolverhampton are, at present, obscure.  It seems that at some time in the 1970s the firm was taken over by James Neill Holdings plc of Sheffield.  It is not known when Shows/Britool moved out of Bushbury but none of the three companies is now present here.

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See the products from two catalogues