Percy Shaw

Percy Shaw O.B.E.

"I was born at Lee Mount, Halifax on 15th April 1890. When I was two my family moved to the house at Boothtown where I spent the rest of my life. I attended school until I was 13 then took up my first uninspiring job at a blanket mill. I never took to school but having tasted work decided that in order to get somewhere I should go to night school. That I did and I landed myself a job as a book-keeper. This proved just as uninspiring as the earlier job. It was going to be a long slog to get where I wanted to be. By the time I was in my early twenties welding, boiler-making and machine tool construction gave me more experience as well as more tedium. Then in 1912 the dye house where father worked closed down making him unemployed. So Dad and I formed a partnership working from a workshop attached to the house which enabled us to go 'round local folk doing odd jobs. We never shied away from a job and so we were never short of work.

In 1914, war broke out and one local carpet mill was contracted to make khaki puttees. Special heald wires were required for the looms for this job and despite a lack of enthusiasm for my earlier employment I was able to use some knowledge gained to secure the sub-contract for the supply of these heald wires. Later we were engaged in the manufacture of cartridge cases and shell noses under Government contract for the war effort. Wherever I saw an opening I had the confidence to make good for myself, this was down to my Dad's teaching. After the war the firm of Shaw Brothers moved to supplying precision engineering equipment and then into the field of road and path surfacing.
By 1930 both my parents were dead and there was only myself and my older sister who remained in the family home. I was self-employed and able to employ others to lay tarmac drives and paths. Hand rolling asphalt was slow and strenuous. So I put my thinking cap on and came up with a narrow-type motor roller long before anyone else thought about the idea, so I was well ahead of my competitors. After a long day asphalting I used to stop for a pint at the Old Dolphin Pub in Queensbury village. One night I was making my way home through Queensbury to Boothtown and anyone who knows that road, knows that it's like a dog's hind leg. Suddenly, out of the darkness I saw a small but bright reflection in my headlights. I stopped the car and got out. Two things surprised me. First, that the reflection was from a cat's eyes and secondly that I had been traveling on the wrong side of the road and could have easily come a cropper. From that day on, in my spare time I worked to re-invent the 'cats eyes' that had saved my life that night. Finally I was ready to patent my invention and on 15th March, 1935 Reflecting Roadstuds Ltd was started with me as Managing Director. My life was taken up with the cats eyes but it would take almost another ten years before they were widely used on the roads in the United Kingdom. The blackouts of the Second World War played a big part in getting them accepted.
By the 1950s I had achieved manufacturing independence, producing the cast iron base, a rubber processing plant and a glass manipulation plant for the production and mirroring of the glass reflector. In the Queen's Birthday Honours list of 1965 I received an O.B.E. for services to export."

Percy Shaw died on the 1st September 1976 at the age of eighty-six.

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