Thomas Shawe

The Shaw family of Dudley has many strands but they seem to all lead back to Thomas Shawe who flourished 1510-1530. He died in about 1544 and was probably born about 1490. The evidence revolves around a Thomas Shawe of Dudley who does a number of land transactions, which lead to disputes after his death – although they may not necessarily all be the same person.

There are two important wills in this regard – that of Thomas Shawe of Kingswinford in 1545 and that of Oliver Shawe of Netherton, nailer, of 1559. The name Oliver repeats through the next generations of Shaws in Dudley. A  document of the Court of Chancery dated c1544 (National Archives Kew, C 1/1160/23) shows that after the death of Thomas Shawe, his widow Joan and his brother Oliver are joint executors and they are in dispute with Thomas’s eldest son and heir Richard Shawe. This ties in with will held at Lichfield, probate April 1545, where Thomas Shawe of Kingswinford indeed names his wife brother and son as Joan, Oliver and Richard.

Significantly the land in question in the dispute is situated in Northfield some ten miles south east of Dudley. These lands were undoubtedly those granted in a lease of 21 Feb 1529 by Sir Edward Sutton, 2nd Baron Dudley. (Birmingham Archives (MS 3279/357362) to a Thomas Shawe. Lands in Northfield are a feature that seemingly tie this family together for the next three generations and is extremely useful in reconstructing and authenticating the family tree.

It would seem that this is also the Thomas Shawe, or his father, whose estate gets into an earlier legal dispute with John Dudley dated c1535. (National Archives Kew, C 1/773/30). Here we learn that Thomas’s wife is indeed called Joan and she remarries a John Thomson. We also learn that this Thomas has a sister called Joan married to John Dudley, who may or may not be a descendant of the Sutton family. Here the lands in dispute are even further afield in Warwickshire and Northamptonshire.

It seems also coincidental that yet a third case of a disputed lease involving a Thomas Shawe crops up in the Court of Star Chamber in 1537 (Bundle 21 No 135). This case between a Robert Vernon and John Bradeley involves the lease of Prestwood farm in Kingswinford. Here Thomas Shawe originally obtained a lease from Lord Dudley in about 1520 on the farm for 41 years – but re-leased the land back in about 1530 to John Bradeley. ‘Sir John Dudley the heir of Lord Dudley’ (sic) and later third baron attempted to seize the land back and hence the case went to London and the Star Chamber. This John Dudley (aka Sutton), not to be confused with his cousin John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland was notorious for his cavalier attitude to the Sutton family’s property and was known as Lord Quondam (ie Lord Has-Been). Indeed he sold no less than Dudley Castle itself, only restored by Queen Mary in 1555 after the execution of his cousin and namesake for the promotion of Lady Jane Grey.

In summary, even if there is more than one Thomas Shawe involved in the above land transactions there is identifiably a Thomas Shawe, brother to Oliver Shawe, who holds land in Northfield and has a son and heir Richard. In his will of 1559 Oliver refers to his own two sons John and George and his godson Richard Shawe, who is logically this nephew.

We can assume that this heir Richard Shawe, apprized of a recent family legacy, married the heiress Katherine Jones in St Edmunds on 17 Oct 1545 and shortly after a further Richard Shawe is born (no baptism recorded) and he is the Richard Shawe who leaves a will in 1616. This Richard in turn is the father of the trio of brothers Thomas, Richard and Oliver who appear on a number of important Dudley leases at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

The source of the wealth of the family is difficult to pinpoint. Oliver Shawe, 1559, and Thomas Shawe, his great nephew are both described as nailers, but the inventories in the wills show farming and land. The Shaws become part of the burgher class in the proto-industrial town of Dudley in 1600. The transactions described above show direct land dealings with the Lord of the manor. This may be enabled by the ‘marriage’ of John Dudley to Joan Shaw, Thomas’s putative sister. It may simply be that Thomas Shawe’s ancestors were minor gentry in the area.

Whatever the case, the family were there at the moment at the very birth of the industrial revolution – the will of Oliver Shawe is cited elsewhere as one of the earliest examples of ‘industrial’ activity in Dudley. If the relationship between Thomas Shawe and Lord Dudley’s lands is a little enigmatic, a century and a half later Thomas Shawe’s great great grandson Oliver Shaw marries Alice Jellians, which brought the further descendants directly into the bloodline of the descendants of the Sutton family.


  • Will of Thomas Shaw of Kingswinford, Probate 16 Jun 1545, Lichfield Record Office
  • Will of Oliver Shaw of Netherton, Probate 1559, Worcester Record Office (Brother)