Percy Shaw was born at Lee Mount, Halifax on 15th April 1890. When he was two years old the family moved the half mile or so to the house at Boothtown at which he was to spend the rest of life.
Percy was from a large family, his father Jimmy Shaw had three sons and four daughters to his first wife Jane who unfortunately died. Percy was the fourth child of seven of Jimmy Shaw’s second marriage to Esther Hannah.
He attended school until he was thirteen years old. His first job on leaving was at a blanket mill carrying bobbins of wool from the winders to the weavers, which he found uninspiring. Despite his dislike for school, he decided that in order to better himself he would take a commercial course at night school and this completed, he applied for a job in an office as a book-keeper. Realisation soon dawned that promotion would be slow in coming. He found the job of carrying figures as frustrating as that of carrying bobbins so moved to apprentice engineer at a local wire mill which manufactured heald wire – the parts of a loom which hold and raise and lower the warps as the shuttle weaves the weft between them. He never finished this apprenticeship for the low wage he was earning was insufficient to help maintain the family, now depleted as the elder boys had left home to marry. During his late teens and early twenties Percy had several jobs each adding to his experience, welding, boiler-making, and machine tool construction.
In 1912 the dye house where Percy’s father worked closed down which resulted in Jimmy Shaw being un-employed. Jimmy & Percy formed a partnership working from a stable-workshop attached to the house which for many years Jimmy had used for performing odd-jobs and repairs to household implements. Percy helped equip this stanle workshop with small tools which enabled them to undertake many odd-jobs for the local folk. They would take on anything and as a result of that attitude were never short of a variety of work.
In 1914, when war broke out, one local carpet mill was contracted to make khaki puttees. Special heald wires were required for the looms for this job and calling on his earlier experiences at the wire mill, Percy was able to obtain the sub-contract for the supply of these heald wires. Later they were engaged in the manufacture of cartridge cases and shell noses under government contract for the war effort.
Wherever he saw an opening, Percy from an early age, encouraged by his father, had the self-confidence to attempt to fill the niche. After the war the firm of Shaw Brothers moved to supplying precision engineering equipment and subsequently into the field of road & path surfacing.
By 1930 both of Percy’s parents had died and there only remained at home Percy along with his eldest unmarried sister. He remained self-employed laying tarmac drives and paths employing several men in the venture. Hand rolling asphalt proved slow and strenuous, so, long before narrow-type motor rollers entered the market, he made one and achieved tremendous results in a fraction of the time giving him an edge on his competitors.
He still enjoyed his mechanical tinkering which had introduced him to motor cycles and cars. Through his ability to repair these he became one of the few people in Halifax to own such contraptions, which would in turn lead him to inventing his “Catseyes”.
After a long day asphalting he enjoyed nothing better than having a pint of the local brew in the Old Dolphin public house situated in Queensbury village. Although Queensbury was only a few miles away from his home it is positioned in the clouds 1000 feet above sea level. Percy, like all other motorists at that time relied at night upon the reflections of their headlights from the tramlines to see them safely home. The demise of the tram led to the eventual removal of the tramlines thus depriving the motorist of the night-time aid they had so relied upon.
Shaw realised this night-time guide to traffic must somehow be re-instated. His encounter with a cat one densely foggy night proved his inspiration and catalyst. As he made his way home through the village of Queensbury to his home in Boothtown he had to descend down a twisting road. A sharp reflection in his headlights stirred his curiosity and caused him to bring his car to a standstill. On alighting from his vehicle he discovered that this reflection was the eyes of a cat but more importantly that he was travelling down the wrong side of the road, had he continued in a straight path he would have plummeted over the edge of this twisting road.
He applied his spare time to resolving this issue of a night-time guide and after many trials and failures he eventually took out patents on his invention and on 15th March 1935 the company of Reflecting Roadstuds Ltd was incorporated with Percy Shaw as Managing Director.
The development of the company and the “Catseye” reflecting Roadstud was to occupy the rest of Percy Shaw’s life.
Initially it was extremely difficult to persuade the authorities to invest in his invention and it wasn’t until the black-out during the Second World War almost ten years later that his invention was widely adopted and used on UK roads.
By the 1950s he had established manufacturing independence having constructed a Foundry to produce the cast iron base, a rubber processing plant which dealt with the compounding and vulcanising of the rubber insert and a glass manipulation plant for the production and mirroring of the glass reflector.
The 1960s saw the company expand it’s markets overseas. In the Queen’s Birthday honours list of 1965 Percy received recognition for this by being awarded an O.B.E. for services to export. He was interviewed for television by Alan Whicker who revealed his spartan and reclusive lifestyle to the nation.
Percy Shaw had an inventive and engineering mind, a dogged determination, unremitting Yorkshire grit and an impish sense of humour which enabled him to overcome every obstacle along an un-troddden path and illuminating it on the way. He died on the 1st September 1976 at the age of eighty-six.