Charles Shaw (potter)

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Charles Shaw (1832 – 5 March 1906) was an English potter, born in Tunstall, Staffordshire.[1][2]

He is notable for his autobiography (When I was a Child), published by Methuen in March 1903 under the name "An Old Potter". Shaw was a staunch Liberal and believer in free trade, who intended to warn of the dangers of protectionism. Fellow Liberal Robert Spence Watson wrote the book's introduction, calling it a reminder of the condition of child labour in the 1840s and as an inspiration to improve children's conditions. However, despite Watson financing 1500 copies, Shaw's autobiography did not sell well.[1] The novelist Arnold Bennett used the book as a source for Clayhanger (1910) and it was republished in 1969, since when it has received more attention and is valued both as a moving firsthand account of child labour in the pottery industry, and as a narrative of his ‘pursuit of knowledge under difficulties’, inspired by the values of self-help and his religious faith, which enabled him to escape from a life of manual labour. The book vividly illuminates many aspects of Potteries social history, such as popular recreations, life in the workhouse, and the riots of 1842, in a way unequalled by any other source. The popularity of ‘history from below’, and academic interest in working-class autobiographies, have established When I was a Child as not only an essential source for Potteries history, but also a classic of its kind and a memorial to its otherwise obscure author.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Robert Fyson, ‘Shaw, Charles (1832–1906)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 18 April 2010.
  2. ^ Charles Shaw Autobiography

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • W. H. Chaloner, ‘When I was a child by “An Old Potter” (1903)’, Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society, 40 (1975–6).
  • D. Stuart (ed.), People of the Potteries (1989).