James Shaw was born on April 11, 1836 in Sutton-in-Ashfield. He joined Nottinghamshire in 1865 as a left-handed fast bowler and occasional right-handed batsman.

In a first class career spanning ten years with Nottinghamshire, Shaw took 642 wickets for the club, with his best figures being 9-86. His batting figures make for far less impressive reading, scoring a total of 467 runs, averaging 4.24. His highest score was 18.