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British Industrial History

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James Henry Shears

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James Henry Shears (1788-1855) Coppersmith

1788 Born son of James Shears

Joined his father's business - James Shears and Sons

1820s During a period of national economic euphoria, James Henry Shears speculated in a number of concerns which often had little connection with the family company's core business. In some of these his brother, Daniel was also a partner, but probably only in a passive capacity.

The first of these was the Real del Monte Company which was formed in 1824 by John Taylor (1779-1863), the mining engineer and entrepreneur, to operate silver mines in Mexico. Shears was closely involved and was one of the directors of the company.

Another company formed by Taylor later in the same year was the British Iron Company; Shears was one of three managing directors, together with Taylor and Robert Small, until 1826 when he was obliged to resign as a result of dissatisfaction among the shareholders at the management of the company.

Also in 1824 Shears formed the Llangennech Coal Co to work the coal under an estate to the east of Llanelli in south Wales. This estate had been leased from Edward Rose Tunno (1800-1863), a rich young man whose income appears to have derived from slave plantations in Jamaica. In this concern Shears was joined by his brother and by two London merchants, Thomas Margrave and William Ellwand. The property included the derelict Spitty copperworks which the Shears brothers (on their own) proceeded to re-open in 1824.

The following year, on the opposite bank of the river Llwchwr, they built a new zinc works at Loughor (or possibly re-activated an existing one) where they intended to produce zinc using the recently granted patent of 1824. These two enterprises were obviously intended to be complementary to one another in providing the materials required for the manufacture of brass, part of the core business of James Shears and Sons.

Shears, Margrave and Tunno further collaborated in acquiring mining property in Cornwall in 1825; Shears is also believed to have had interests in copper mining in north Wales.

The copper and zinc works proved unsuccessful. The zinc works was offered for sale in 1825 almost as soon as it had been completed and the copperworks closed in 1831. Copper prices had fallen steeply since 1825 and the Llangennech Coal Company was proving more costly than had been expected since difficulties were being experienced in reaching coal in a new pit that had been started in 1825. Despite this the partners in the Coal Company, with seven others, formed the Llanelly Railway and Dock Co in 1827 to build a new deep-water dock in Llanelli and a railway to connect it to the new pit then in the process of sinking. An Act of Parliament was obtained in 1828 (9 Geo. 4 c. xci) but work on the railway and dock did not start until after coal had been proved in the pit in June 1832. Shortly afterwards, in December 1832, the Shears brothers withdrew from the Coal Company but James Henry Shears retained an interest in the coal industry, becoming involved with the Broadoak colliery at Loughor in 1834.

A likely factor contributing to Shears' disengagement from the Llangennech Company was the situation in which the affairs of the British Iron Co were then placed; this must have required much of his attention and finance. Immediately after its formation the company had invested heavily in taking out mineral leases, in setting up new ironworks and in buying new ones. Following dissatisfaction among the shareholders Shears was compelled to resign as a director in 1826 but he continued as one of three trustees of the company's property. The most serious issue concerned the Corngreaves estate near Dudley in the west Midlands for which the company had paid an excessive price at a time of high iron prices in 1825. Following a collapse in the market Shears and his fellow trustees commenced legal action to have the contract revised. The case with appeals lasted from 1826 until 1838; the final result was against the company and led eventually to its collapse.

At the time of his death in 1855 James Henry Shears lived at Streatham Hill.

Daughters of James Shears

As well as his two sons who succeeded to the management of the business, James Shears had several daughters, three of whom married brewers, which demonstrates how close the relationship between coppersmiths and brewers was. Rebecca Shears (1786-?) was married to James Spurrell (1776-1840) and Hannah Shears (1790-1882) to Charles Spurrell – James and Charles were brothers and members of the Spurrell family of Norfolk; they were also senior employees at the Anchor Brewery, Southwark. James Shears's youngest daughter, Lydia (1794-1855), was married to John Gray (1791-1826) of the Gray and Dacre Brewery, West Ham, Essex.[18]

As further evidence of the close relationship between the coppersmiths of the Shears family and the brewers of the Spurrell family, James Shears's eldest son Daniel Towers Shears married Frances Spurrell, the youngest sister of James and Charles Spurrell (so three Shears siblings married three Spurrell siblings). Furthermore, Rebecca, the eldest daughter of James Spurrell and Rebecca Shears, went on to become the wife of another important brewer, James Watney.

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