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.