Thomas Shaw-Hellier

Thomas Shaw was baptised on 1 Oct 1732, the son of Thomas Shaw of Sinder Hill, Sedgley. His father is incorrectly given in some nineteenth century publications of Staffordshire families as James Shaw (1710-1776) of Dudley, an attorney by training. This was in fact his father-in-law as in about 1756 Thomas Shaw married Mary Shaw, James Shaw’s eldest daughter. 

Significantly James Shaw was a close friend and advisor of one Samuel Hellier (1699-1751), whose son, also Samuel was to become close friends with Thomas, although he was three years older than him. The story is therefore of these two boys who both attended the Free School in Birmingham and subsequently both went to Oxford University.

Thomas Shaw Hellier

Thomas Shaw matriculated at Queen’s College Oxford on 29 Oct 1750, which was the college Samuel Hellier (snr) had attended in the 1720’s. However. Samuel (jnr) matriculated at Exeter College in 1753, where his guardian had strong connections – his father dying in 1751. We know also that Thomas had affiliations with Exeter College as late as 1756.

The close relationship and parallel education of both boys is thus a little enigmatic but is crucial to the future development of the family. Both young men studied theology and the law but it was Samuel who, in his father’s footsteps was eventually called to the bar. As far as we know he never practised. Samuel Hellier, who was to become Sir Samuel Hellier in 1762 shared his father’s passion for collecting and his correspondence shows that this took up most of his time. Thomas went into the church and his ecclesiastical career shows a steady accumulation of offices and parishes – Enville, Claverly, Tipton and lastly St John’s Wolverhampton. He was noted for his absence in some of these parishes. He was also the personal chaplain to the Earl of Stamford and Warrington, who resided at Enville.

Thomas married Mary Shaw in about 1756, possibly in Oxford,  and they had at least four children. Documents in the Dudley Archives dated 1777 indicate clearly that Mary Shaw’s father was James Shaw, attorney, and easily dispels confusion with her father-in-law.

Sir Samuel Hellier, himself, never married and died childless in 1784. In his will, he bequeathed all his estates and chattels to his “good friend” Thomas Shaw. The bequest was made on the condition that Thomas Shaw took up the arms of the Hellier family and changed his name.

Sir Samuel Hellier’s wealth had been considerably augmented in 1782 when his elderly grandmother died, aged 99.  She was the dowager heiress of the Huntbach estates in Staffordshire. Some of his grandmother’s lands had to be sold to pay off Sir Samuel’s considerable debts, incurred we can assume on creating his collections. However, his world renowned collection of Musical Instruments and the Wodehouse in Wombourne passed intact to Thomas Shaw. Much of his collection of coins, jewellery and fossils by this will ended up in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Thomas Shaw was named as the sole executor of Sir Samuel’s will and he duly changed his name to Thomas Shaw-Hellier by Royal Licence in 1786. He was by then the Perpetual Curate at Claverly and also serving Vicar of St John’s Wolverhampton. When he died aged 80 in Wombourne in 1812, he was a wealthy clergyman and left a complicated will that his grandchildren were to pick over for the next thirty years. This had important ramifications on the family of his granddaughter Mary Evans (nee Shaw-Hellier).

It is not clear why Sir Samuel left absolutely everything to Thomas Shaw. It has been speculated that Thomas Shaw was the illegitimate son of Samuel Hellier (snr). This is mainly founded on the fact that he attended Queens College Oxford, the college of Samuel Hellier (snr) whilst the Shaw family would not appear to have the status or motivation to send their eldest son to University. However, Samuel Hellier had married three times and both father and son left detailed records, including letters and diaries. Sir Samuel had no children, no siblings and no close relations. He manifestly disliked his grandmother calling her the ‘old woman’ and blamed her for not providing him with sufficient funds to marry. It seems that on balance we should take it at face value that Thomas Shaw was his ‘good friend’ – the phrase used in his will.

The Oxford Alumni (Foster) confirms that Thomas Shaw’s father was indeed Thomas Shaw from Sedgley. This is further corroborated by a significant marriage in the Dudley Parish registers on 2 Oct 1729 between a Thomas Shaw and Ann Elwell. Elwell is a name that appears later in family middle names. It is extremely likely that Thomas Shaw was related to his wife Mary Shaw. However, whilst the lineage of Mary Shaw is readily traceable (she was indeed a third cousin of Sir Samuel Hellier), that of Thomas Shaw is much harder to trace.  One branch of the Shaws was directly descended from the Wodehouse family of the Woodhouse in Wombourne and it is likely that Thomas came from that line but it is not clear how. With the distant relationship to Mary Shaw through a common great great grandparent Henry Gough (1561-1655) and Thomas Shaw’s own presumed descent from Walter Wodhouse (d c1560), this could have added a further rationale for the choice of Thomas as sole heir to the Hellier estates and the Woodhouse in particular.

The wealth and inheritances that Thomas Shaw accumulated in his long life are in some cases still visible today. Sir Samuel’s Musical Instrument collection was sold and presented to museums by Thomas Bradney Shaw Hellier in the 1890’s. The most prestigious piece the Hellier Stradivarius, is now back in a museum in Cremona. The Hellier book collection remains intact at the Wodehouse today in the possession of the Phillips family who inherited the house by marriage.

The only book we have from this period is Mary Shaw-Hellier’s Prayer book – this is dated 17 Nov 1789.

Portraits of the Rev Thomas Shaw-Hellier and his father-in-law James Shaw, amongst others, still hang in the Wodehouse, Wombourne. These appear to be painted by Thomas’s younger  brother the artist James Shaw (1736-1784)

Thomas Shaw-Hellier died on 10 Jul 1812 and was buried in the Hellier Family vault in St Benedict, Wombourne. He wrote a will, probate 16 Dec 1812, that left his considerable estate to trustees for the benefit of his grandchildren.

Family of Thomas SHAW-HELLIER and Mary SHAW

Husband:Thomas SHAW-HELLIER (bap.1732, d.1812)
Wife:Mary SHAW (b.c. 1735, bur.1806)
Children:James SHAW-HELLIER (1759-1827)
Thomas SHAW-HELLIER (1761-1803)
Mary SHAW-HELLIER (b.1763, bur.1831)
Theophilus SHAW-HELLIER (b.1766, bur.1824)
Marriagec. 1757

Husband: Thomas SHAW-HELLIER

Father:Thomas SHAW (1702-1786 )
Mother:Ann ELWELL ( – )
Baptism1 Oct 1732Sedgely
Education1748Free School Birmingham
Education20 Oct 1750Queen’s College, Oxford LLB Matriculation
Occupationbtw 1765 and 1812Perpetual Curate of Claverley
Occupationbtw 1780 and 1790Incumbent of St John Woverhampton and Tipton
Name Change18 Jul 1786Royal Licence from Shaw to Shaw-Hellier
Will7 Jul 1812Codicil to will later contested in house of Lords 1837 – Shaw v Rhodes, Evans v Hellier
Death10 Jul 1812Wodehouse, Wombourne
Burial21 Jul 1812St Benedict, Wombourne

Wife: Mary SHAW

Name:Mary SHAW
Father:James SHAW (bap.1710, d.1776)
Mother:Sarah BENDY (c. 1705-1782)
Birthc. 1735
Possessions17 Nov 1789 (age 53-54)Prayer Book inscribed Mary Shaw-Hellier
Burial20 Oct 1806Wombourne

Child 1: James SHAW-HELLIER

Spouse:Elizabeth BADDELEY (bap.1766, d.1835)
Birth3 Oct 1759Dudley, Worcestershire
Baptism16 Nov 1759 (age 0)Dudley, Worcestershire
Occupationc. 1810 (age 50-51)Manager Netherton Colliery
Occupationbtw 1822 and 1823 (age 62-64)Steward Penn Common Race Meetings
Death2 Jul 1827 (age 67)Wodehouse, Wombourne
Burial10 Jul 1827St Benedict, Wombourne
Will12 Dec 1827 (age 68)

Child 2: Thomas SHAW-HELLIER

Spouse:Mary TUBB (1765-aft1814)
Birthc. 1761
Residence1803 (age 41-42)Magdalen Hall, Oxford
Death20 Jul 1803 (age 41-42)St Aldates Oxford
WillJan 1804 (age 42-43)Letters of admin intestate

Child 3: Mary SHAW-HELLIER

Spouse:Richard YATES (1767-1816)
Birth21 May 1763Dudley, Worcestershire
Burial24 Sep 1831Wombourne

Child 4: Theophilus SHAW-HELLIER

Name:Theophilus SHAW-HELLIER
Birth10 Aug 1766Dudley, Worcestershire
Baptism25 Sep 1766 (age 0)St Thomas, Dudley
Burial28 Apr 1824St Benedict, Wombourne