~ Families and People ~
Gornal's Famous
John Johnson Shaw
We may have to look hard to find a famous person that was born in Gornal, however one such person was John Johnson Shaw, an amateur scientist who co-invented the Milne-Shaw Seismograph, an instrument for detecting and recording earth tremors.
His father, William Henry Shaw ran a Grocer's and Pawnbroker's shop at 11 Church Street, Lower Gornal.
William was from Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire but how he came to have business in 1870's Gornal is unknown, but Mary Saunders Johnson, who he would marry a year later, was living and trading as a pawnbrokwer in Church Street, Lower Gornal in 1871.
William Henry Shaw married Mary Saunders Johnson at St. James church, Lower Gornal on 2 July 1872, Mary was born in West Bromwich, their son John was born on 27th December 1873 at 11 Church Street, he later took on his mother's maiden name as his middle name and let himself be known as John Johnson Shaw.
Initially John went to Redhall School in Gornal, but after a short time went to live with other family members in Birmingham so that he was able to attend King Edward VI Grammer School there.
It appears that his parents parted company, John's mother Mary moved away from Gornal, and in 1891 he was living with his mother and his three sisters Mary, Jessie and Dorothy at 35 Spring Hill, Birmingham, whereas his father William Shaw had married again and had a pawnbrokers shop at 18/19 Louise Street, Gornal Wood in 1891.
John Johnson Shaw with his invention.
First apprenticed as an Engineer, as well as continuing on in the family pawn broking business, he became an enthusiastic amateur scientist and inventor, including having a keen interest in Seismology.
In 1896 he struck up a friendship with Professor John Milne who had established a laboratory on the Isle of Wight.
Milne was a notable geologist and an acknowledged expert on earth tremors, he had recently returned from Japan where he had spent several years studying volcanoes.
During that time, Milne had already developed his own seismograph.
John Johnson Shaw was so inspired by Milne's work, he set about building a much more sensitive instrument in his own workshop back in West Bromwich.
Using his engineering training to good effect, Shaw's instrument was initially fabricated from household items in true amateur fashion.
The refined instrument became known as the Milne-Shaw Seismograph and was so sensitive that it could detect earth tremors across continents.
He married Maud Elizabeth Cater from Manchester in 1900, they were living at 166 High Street, West Bromwich in 1901.
On October 13th 1908, Shaw's instrument detected that an earthquake in Mexico had occurred.
The Milne-Shaw Seismograph became the world's standard earthquake recording instrument, he assembled the machine at his home in West Bromwich and they were sold and used around the world.
His friend Professor Milne died in 1913.
John Johnson Shaw continued with the family pawn broker business, which had extended to a chain of shops around Birmingham and the Black Country.
He was awarded a CBE in 1931 for his contribution to science.
John Johnson Shaw died at West Bromwich & District General Hospital on 23 May 1948, following an operation for the amputation of one of his legs, which unfortunately he didn't survive.
It is not known how much association he may have had with his birthplace after his move to West Bromwich, but there were still family connections back in Gornal.
It appears that his father, William Henry, re-married in 1891, his new wife was Nellie Jane Pearson from Rowley Regis nr. Dudley, around this time the business moved to 18 & 19 Louise Street, Gornal Wood, he was in trouble with Sedgley magistrate in 1906, an account appears in the Old News section
Nellie Shaw still had a pawnbroker shop in Church Street, Lower Gornal in 1940. [Kelly's Directory].