Our 125th Birthday

Arthur Gerald Shaw, son of the Bishop of Waltham and keen cricketer, established Shaws as a limited company on the 14th February, 1897. The previous few years had been tough on Arthur. His uncle, William Shaw, had bought the Belthorn and Whitebirk Collieries in 1890, but died just three years later. William was a typical Victorian entrepreneur, with fingers in many pies. Alongside the collieries, he had been a director of three fantastically named businesses: the Hazel Mill Spinning Company, the Calf Hey Weaving Company and the Haslingden Gas Company. He never found time to get married and have children, so nephew Arthur was left to run the whole operation.

It must have been an immense challenge. Nevertheless, Arthur had a capacity for hard work and a good head for figures, and quickly mastered his responsibilities. But it was Arthur’s discovery of a rich stream of fireclay in the spoil of the Whitebirk Colliery that would change his life. There must have been some knowledge of clays and ceramics in the family, as Uncle William had considerable success trading local china clay, both in England and the United States. Fireclay is different to vitreous china clay, however. Harder to work with, slower to dry, longer to fire (and requiring a much hotter kiln), fireclay rewards the patience of its maker by producing an immensely hard, dense ceramic. Arthur immediately saw that this waste material could be turned into something of value.

Arthur started with glazed architectural bricks. These glossy coloured bricks were an immediate success, and examples can still be seen today. Many London underground stations have Shaws glazed brick exteriors, and the famous Wrigley Building in Chicago is clad in over 250,000, applied in six progressively lighter strands, drawing your eye to the top. Almost immediately Arthur experimented with sinks - a growing market, as rows of urban terraces were still being constructed to house the workers of Victorian industry. We know of Shaws sinks still in daily use that were made in Shaws’ first five years of operation.

By 1900 the business was doing well and Arthur’s life must have achieved a better balance. That year he played cricket for his local team, Haslingden, as they won the Lancashire League Championship. In one memorable fixture that season he faced the legendary W.G. Grace. In the Summer of 1904 he married Miss Amelia Robertshaw. Perhaps he saw something in the name. His brother and business partner was Robert Shaw. (His other brother Miles, also a business partner, married Amelia’s sister, keeping things nicely in the family.) 

We like to think that Arthur, a quiet and undemonstrative man, would be proud that his business continues to thrive, 125 years later.  Especially since the methods and standards he insisted upon are still followed today. Many of our sinks have been manufactured, essentially unchanged, for more than a century. 

Our anniversary is not just an opportunity to look back, but also to plan for the future. This year we will make more sinks than anyone at the factory can remember. Our new Gallery collection offers, for the first time, decorative and abstract designs to enhance the front of our Butler and Shaker sinks. Look out too for new coloured sinks – a gorgeous matt Black and a sophisticated Grey. 

On 14th February there will no doubt be some small celebration at the Shaws factory. And to mark 125 years since Valentine’s Day 1897, we have imagined what a Shaws sink might look like in the shape of a heart. It’s just for fun (we have no plans to make them) but let us know if you like the idea! It certainly wouldn’t faze the resolute and unflappable – but also rather romantic – Arthur Gerald Shaw.