Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The adopted son - Robert Shaw

Out of all of the individuals associated with the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges and Homes there is one name that continues to frustrate me. This gentleman has a continued presence around the illustrious name of the charity and yet we know very little about him. That person is Robert Shaw, only son of our founder Leonard Shaw and his wife Annie


There is no known photograph of Robert within the collection. He was born around 1871, interestingly in London, the various censuses giving his birthplace as either Marylebone or Paddington. This was perhaps unusual given that his parents lived in Manchester. The April 1871 census gives Leonard and Annie’s residence as 7 Peru Street, Salford. Leonard’s Will in 1902 explains this situation however, as part of his possessions were left to his ‘adopted’ son, Robert.

Through the census’ we can get a good idea of Robert’s life. He lived with his parents until his marriage in 1907, at the age of 36, to Maud Millicent Holmes. He had various jobs from a Gas Engine Fitter in his younger days to an Insurance Inspector and ultimately an Insurance Broker (perhaps his father’s influence). We know he had at least two children. 

Bethesda Committee, 1915

What we don’t know about Robert however, is his original family. Any genealogist who has discovered an adopted child in their research will know how often this would signify the end of the road. Adoptions in the Nineteenth Century were not regulated and if the child was illegitimate it was likely that the mother had little say in the future of her child. It perhaps poses a few questions in respect to Robert. Many adopted children, if possible, went to family members or were adopted within the local community. As far as we are aware the Shaw’s had no family or connections in London. What’s even more surprising is that there were hundreds of orphans within Leonard’s own charity in Manchester. Why head to London to adopt a child when so many of ‘his own’ were in need of a loving family?

It is a question that can perhaps never be answered. As a side note it is also interesting that Robert had very little connection with the charity that his parents had dedicated their lives to. On his father’s death in 1902 he was listed as a committee member, but he had little to do with the management of the homes and it is likely this position was on the insistence of his Mother. His involvement ended a few years later. Of course Robert may have wanted little to do with the organisation that kept his parents so busy during his own childhood.

In Belmont Home however, a resident from the 1930s remembers a plaque which resided in the hall in memory of Robert Shaw. Maybe instead his support was a private affair, still appreciated by the charity. He is a figure that remains a mystery.


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