Finding Mr Shah

Leeds Museums have had a collection of glass plate negatives from the Yorkshire Post sitting for many years in our stores, safely preserved but uncatalogued and inaccessible.  As we begin the daunting task of cataloguing many thousands of images, we are also trying to research the hidden stories of the people captured by the Yorkshire Post cameras.  Often we only have a few (or no) clues scratched onto the negative or written on the box or envelope. Researchers, such as Melyssa Dawson (who has written the blog below), have been ferreting in the local history archives to try and find out more.  This photograph of Mr Shah just recorded his name, address and a date in 1964.  

Mr P.G.A. Shah, Copyright Yorkshire Post Newspapers Ltd.

It turns out that Mr Shah was one of the early pioneer Muslim settlers in Leeds, arriving in England for the first time in 1924 before returning to the Punjab in 1925. He arrived back in England to study in 1933, moving to Leeds in 1943. He then returned to the newly founded Pakistan in 1951 however he came back to Leeds permanently in 1953.

Mr Shah studied engineering in London in 1933 and qualified as a civil engineer, becoming an Associate Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (AMICE) and having Membership of the Institute of Structural Engineers (MIStrE), the letters of which he had after his name in the 1964 South and West Yorkshire and Lincoln telephone directory. Upon qualifying, he moved to Leeds in 1943 to take up work as a mining engineer. Whilst he initially only intended on staying in England to study, he decided to stay, believing ‘English women were much nicer than Indian women’. His studies and work in England led to him becoming a successful architect.

When Mr Shah moved to Leeds in 1943, he moved near the University of Leeds which began a Muslim Community in the area which was short lived. Mr Shah helped in the founding of the Pakistan Muslim Association in Bradford. Alongside this he became the chairman of the Islamic Society in Leeds. As far as the religious beliefs of Mr Shah are concerned, he considered himself as a part of traditional Islam believing that regardless of who you are you should come together in prayer at a mosque. Despite this, his children attended a christian church on Sundays (as well as practicing Islam within the home) and were involved in church activities like the scouts and brownies. His children ultimately married English partners and are agnostic.

In order to find research on Mr Shah I began by going to the local history library in Leeds library and looked through the phone directories for South and West Yorkshire and Lincoln for 1964 where I found his full title, his address and phone number. Once I had done this in then researched the acronyms after his name to try and discover what they stood for. Whilst I was successful in finding one of them by doing a general internet search, the other was slightly more difficult which led to me liaising with curators within Leeds Museums and Galleries. Once I had this information it became much easier to understand what line of work Mr Shah was in. After doing further research using the aforementioned resources, I discovered a paper titled ‘Muslims in Leeds’ from the University of Leeds which discussed the Muslim community in Leeds from when it began. Within this paper, Mr Shah was discussed by way of his qualifications, his reasons for coming to Leeds etc where the vast majority of this research came from.

Researched and written by Melyssa Dawson, research volunteer

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