RETIREMENT The Holly Leaf (December 1937)

Miss Constance Ada Renshaw B.A.  was a member of staff at the Sheffield Pupil Teacher Centre from 1917 to 1937.

Life for most of us is a busy round of multifarious activities and of vain attempts to crowd into the day more than it can comfortably hold.  We accommodate ourselves to changing conditions;  we are absorbed by the eager present and have little opportunity to ponder the mutabilities of the past.

Two years ago we had among us one whose strenuous activities seemed not likely to be interrupted.  Yet a painful and dangerous illness removed Miss Renshaw for a time from our midst.  Since her return last Easter few will have realised the gallant struggle she has made to resume her duties.  It is to be sincerely hoped that her enforced retirement will bring her a renewal of health and an increasing measure of happiness.

Miss Renshaw's connection with the former Pupil Teacher Centre has been a long and distinguished one;  but that amazing versatility which she showed as a teacher had already been manifested in the course of her School and University career.  A poet is not always associated with physical prowess, although Keats, so essentially a poet's poet, was known to have been of a pugnacious disposition in his childhood.  Probably the greatest satisfaction that Miss Renshaw will derive from the memory of her School years, both at the Central Secondary School and, later, at the Pupil Teacher Centre, is that she was repeatedly the champion in the art of throwing the cricket ball, in the races on Sports Days and in gymnastic displays.  Her artistic powers received early recognition when she won a Drawing Prize as the best student in that subject.  Another aspect of Miss Renshaw's manifold talent was revealed during her University career.  When the Sheffield University Dramatic Society produced the "Electra" of Euripides, Miss Renshaw had the distinction of being chosen to play the title role.  The Sheffield Telegraph on that occasion paid warm tribute to her histrionic powers:- "Miss C. A. Renshaw as Electra . . . Was magnificent.  She conveyed that sense of unutterable sadness and fatality, the majesty of loneness and fire of an unchangeable resolve that attaches to Electra.  She played with unfaltering power.  Her elocution, too, a vital point in a Greek play, was by far the best of any of the performers."   Miss Renshaw's reputation as a speaker of verse was also acknowledged and appreciated by Mr. A.J. Arnold, a former Principal of the Pupil Teacher Centre.

Her outstanding brilliance as a teacher was already recognised when she joined the Staff of the Centre.  In this connection it is interesting to note, as further proof of her versatility, that she was first appointed to teach Music and English, and has, in her time, taught almost every subject in the curriculum, even including Arithmetic and Needlework, which last she evidently regarded as a huge joke.  During her career as a teacher she lectured to the Honours Students of the Sheffield University on "The Teaching of English in the Schools," and received, too, the distinction of being invited by Professor Herford to lecture to the English Association of the University of Manchester.  Those students who have had the privilege of attending her classes will realise what a loss Miss Renshaw's retirement means to the teaching world.  In addition to her peerless capabilities as a teacher, she was an inspiring influence and commanded the fullest admiration and affection from her pupils.  That this influence is a lasting one is evidenced by the many tributes that she has received and still does receive from old students, who have not forgotten how much they owe to her.  She is indeed one who gives of her very best, and it will be with pride that present students will look back on the days when they learnt to love poetry from the lips of one who is herself a poet.

This phase of Miss Renshaw's career is by no means unknown, especially since the publication of her latest volume of poems, "Lest We Forget."  That she is a poet who has won the praise of discerning scholars and critics is evidenced by the tributes she has received from such distinguished men of letters as Sir Edmund Gosse, Professor Herford and Sir Arthur Quiller Couch.  Some of the poems in her earlier volumes first appeared as Prize Poems in the Bookman and the Poetry Review.  A signal honour paid to Miss Renshaw was the selection of one of her poems, "Yorkshire Ways," to appear in a Gift Book presented to H.R.H. Princess Mary.  Another, "The Lure of England," first saw publication as a Prize Poem in the Poetry Review under the editorship of the late Stephen Philips, and has since been reprinted in various anthologies of war poetry.  Miss Renshaw is also one of the few women poets who have broadcast their own work.

Although so many of her poems have immortalised the beauties of Yorkshire and Derbyshire, Miss Renshaw is not merely a local poet:  her interests and sympathies are widespread;  the members of a Poetry Society in Jamaica are amongst her most enthusiastic admirers:  the late J. Lawrence Lambe, literary executor of Swinburne and Watts-Dunton, and intimate friend of these poets, as well as of Bridges and Hardy, himself a poet, critic and playwright, has written in terms of the highest praise concerning Miss Renshaw's poetry.  I have her permission to quote the following:  "I like your sonnets," her wrote, "as well as any in the Petrarchan form that I have ever read.  In your case, as Schiller says, early practice has made the master.  It is the wonderful ease, spontaneity, beauty and inevitableness that delight me, as well as the softness and harmony . . . There is such a peace about your work - a vast peace like that which seems to brood over the clean, wind-swept moorlands which you love to well."  As a further mark of h is appreciation Mr. Lambe wrote a poem of 360 lines, which he addressed to Miss Renshaw.  In his appraisement of her art his poetic instinct leads him to fathom the inspiration that she, as a teacher, must be to her pupils:-

"There you have built a cloud-capp'd home
With many a tower and pleasure-dome,
And no more sacred river ran
In Xanadu of Kubla Khan
Than your bright stream that trickles down
From Yorkshire fell to Sheffield town,
True Heliconian fount.

But when your state is laid aside,
Each fruitful morning you provide
Increasing store of daily bread;
Sowing in many a curly head
(Or are they bobbed? - How should I know?)
Great thoughts and beautiful that grow
Like larkspurs in a garden bed,
Lighting the landscape of their minds."

We as a School should be proud of our association with a poet whose genius has called forth such a graceful tribute as the above.

In bidding farewell to one who has been so long connected with the School and with the Holly Leaf - Miss Renshaw was on the committee from the time of its inception - we are indeed losing a valued colleague.  Even the youngest student who attempts in vain to convey to his neighbour a hurried note, or to frame with his lips an inaudible message - for nothing escaped Miss Renshaw's keen eye and ear - will realise that he respects her the more for her splendid management and discipline.  But she made her pupils feel too that she was a friend and a kindly adviser in time of need.  The gift of friendship is indeed hers;  a loyalty and self-sacrificing devotion that challenges the best;  a courage that compels admiration, together with a frank and not always flattering directness of speech, for Miss Renshaw scorns hypocrisy.

In closing we can but express the wish that many useful years are in store for her.  Though her teaching days are over;  though she may no longer display the physical prowess of her schoolgirl career;  nor, in all probability, resume the wizardry of her "crying violin," she still retains the magic of her pen.  What Mr. Arnold wrote of "England's Boys" is equally true of her later work.  It "shall not be ashamed when it measures swords with its rival volumes . . . In the gate of Fame."

 

Miss Constance Ada Renshaw B.A. died aged 73 on May 30th. 1964 at 57 Bingham Park Road, Sheffield was a member of staff at the Sheffield Pupil  Teacher Centre from 1917 to 1937.   - OBITUARY