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Samuel Renshaw


Editor's Note: On 20 August 2009, we received an e-mail from Charlotte Jackson. She had ordered, from America, a magazine called The Threepenny Review (volume 117, Spring 2009). As she opened the package, the magazine fell open at the back page, on which was an enormous photo, entitled Samuel Renshaw, Sickle Grinder 1857. In her words: “I got no further, I sat and stared at it and then wrote the following poem while looking him up and finding out about him.”

As the poem explains, she located Samuel on David Bowler’s Ridgeway website, where there are census returns and headstone transcriptions. One headstone in the Chapel reads:


In memory of Edward Walter son of Samuel and Hannah Renshaw who departed this life February 26th 1856 aged 1 year. Also of an infant daughter. Also of the above named Samuel Renshaw who departed this life September 19th 1874 aged 55 years, also of Hannah Renshaw relict of the above-named who departed this life August 28th1888 aged 65 years. So he giveth his beloved sleep.

Click thumbnail to view full-size image of headstone (then click to further increase size, if necessary)

Charlotte has kindly sent us a copy of her poem, which is printed below, together with the photograph of Samuel. This photograph is reproduced by kind permission of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), which can be found at www.sfmoma.org

Click thumbnail to view full-size image


The Sickle Grinder




Charlotte Anne Jackson



Out of the envelope he springs

His eyes looking into mine

As if he’d just said something profound.

With his forefinger he cradles the razor edge of a sickle

Arresting me with that stare

Demanding me to discover him

Strip the layers

Apron from smock, kerchief, cords.

Hat tilts like a sailor’s sou'wester, head inclined.

He shaves his moustache but not his whiskers

So I can see his lips, a bird flying.

Did he write Samuel Renshaw along the blade,

His calling, Sickle Grinder, abode Ridgeway,

At some minute in 1857?

This is a poster for his services perhaps,

The photographer’s note to remember him,

Or a family heirloom.

I can not leave it there.

I google: Samuel Renshaw Sickle Ridgeway.

Ridgeway has a site. In two seconds he’s become

"Also of the above named Samuel Renshaw

Who departed this life 19/9/1874 aged 55,"

A Methodist.

So, younger than me when he with his sickle

Met the Grim Reaper with his scythe.

Worn out was he, ground down,

Insufficient carborundum to sharpen a blunt mid-life?

Ridgeway I find out is the scythe and sickle centre

Where the reaper does his shopping.

I’d presumed it was America,

The magazine being American,

But looking further

It’s not so far from home, it’s Derbyshire

Makes me think of Peaks and elegant travellers

Charlotte Bronte and Elizabeth Bennett.

And here he is, Samuel in 1861, at home at Ridgeway Moor

With wife Hannah and daughters Alice, Ruth and Harriet,

And son Samuel only two,

A gap suggesting there have been some deaths.

They’re all locals born at Eckington

And him listed as 41, sickle grinder.

Ten years earlier he’s  a grinder of sickles,

Only Alice and Ruth were born then

And in 1841 he was single, 20, Sickle G.

By 1871 he and Hannah

Have been busy making lots of little Renshaw men,

Frederick, Edward, Leonard and Harry,

The name will carry on. The girls have flown.

The census page is one sickle grinder after another.

In the church registers they’re described as Sicklesmiths.

So he was 37 in the photo, a husband, father, recently bereaved.

He’d have spoken soft, Ahh do, Ey up,

Used thee and thou.

Look at his magnificent arms,

Look at the working dust on his fingers

The muscles and veins of arms at rest,

The strength in those arms to woo steel and find an edge by day,

To hold and find a gentleness to love at night.


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