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
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
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
1874 aged 55 years, also of Hannah Renshaw relict of
the above-named who departed this life
aged 65 years. So he giveth his beloved sleep.
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
to view full-size image
The Sickle Grinder
Out of the envelope he springs
His eyes looking into mine
As if he’d just said something
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
So I can see his lips, a bird
Did he write Samuel Renshaw along
His calling, Sickle Grinder, abode
At some minute in 1857?
This is a poster for his services
The photographer’s note to
Or a family heirloom.
I can not leave it there.
I google: Samuel Renshaw Sickle
Ridgeway has a site. In two
seconds he’s become
"Also of the above named Samuel
Who departed this life 19/9/1874
So, younger than me when he with
Met the Grim Reaper with his
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
I’d presumed it was America,
The magazine being American,
But looking further
It’s not so far from home, it’s
Makes me think of Peaks and
Charlotte Bronte and Elizabeth
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
They’re all locals born at
And him listed as 41, sickle
Ten years earlier he’s a grinder
Only Alice and Ruth were born then
And in 1841 he was single, 20,
By 1871 he and Hannah
Have been busy making lots of
little Renshaw men,
Frederick, Edward, Leonard and
The name will carry on. The girls
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
Used thee and thou.
Look at his magnificent arms,
Look at the working dust on his
The muscles and veins of arms at
The strength in those arms to woo
steel and find an edge by day,
To hold and find a gentleness to
love at night.