Cats Eyes (Road Studs) – Made In Yorkshire | Volume 15

What are Cats Eyes (Road Studs)?

Cats Eyes are a reflective safety device that is used to mark the road making it easier to see whilst driving. Find out how a near accident in Halifax led to one of the most famous road safety features in the world.

The Beginning

Percy Shaw was born in 1890 at Lee Mount in Halifax. He was the fourth child and second son of James Shaw and Esther Hannah Morrell.

Esther was James’ second wife. Percey also had seven half brothers and sisters from his father’s first marriage.

The family was expanding. When Percy was two years old, they moved to Boothtown Mansion.

He and his siblings subsidised their father’s £1 wage. They sold vegetables from their garden.

Percy left school when he was 13. He soon found work as a labourer at a cloth mill where he carried bobbins of wool from the winders to the weavers.

This led him to learn book-keeping at night school. He then took a job as a book-keeper.

Later, he found an apprenticeship with a wire drawer. He didn’t like the low wages so took many unskilled engineering jobs instead.

In the 1930’s, Percy’s parents died. Him and his oldest unmarried sister ran the household.

Percy began making a living laying tarmac paths and drives. He now had several employees.

This point in the story becomes unclear. There are several versions of what happens next.

The first version is the most famous. Shaw was driving through Clayton Heights from the Old Dolphin at Ambler Thorn towards his home in Halifax.

A cat was sat on the fence during a long bend. When his headlights shone on the cat, the cat’s eyes reflected them back at him. This saved him from veering off the road and down the steep drop below.

The second version is from an interview with Alan Whicker. Percy said that on a foggy night he wondered if he could move the reflective studs from streets signs to the road surface.

The final version was told to the children who visited the factory in 1970’s. He said drivers used the reflective surface of tramlines to follow the road on dark or foggy nights.

Becoming what it is today

In 1933, Percy Shaw invented the reflective road studs. He called them ‘Cat’s Eyes’.

He decided to patent the design in 1934. In the following year, he formed the company Reflective Roadstuds Limited in his home town of Halifax.

The original design was first laid at the crossroads of the BradfordWakefield and Halifax-Leeds Road at Drighlington. After a few days of rain, mud obscured the glass reflectors. 

Percy adapted his designs to resolve this issue. When vehicles passed over the rubber mounting, they would depress therefore cleaning the beads. This was effective when the metal housing filled with water.

Originally all of the parts were manufactured elsewhere. They had to bring them together at Percy’s factory.

In 1939, the company changed the way the ran. Instead, they produced everything themselves.

The businesses big break came during World War Two. A national blackout made the road studs a necessity.

In the 1960’s Cat’s Eyes were shipped across the world. Percy Shaw became known as the man behind this new motoring innovation.

This led him to receive an OBE in 1965. Eleven years later, Percy died aged 86.

At the businesses peak, the factory employed 130 people. Each year they made over a million road studs.

The factory is still located at the same site in Boothtown, Halifax. However, the workforce is reduced.

It is the inventiveness and grit of a Yorkshireman who has saved thousands of lives across the world.