Developing an edge

Reader and top blog friend David Evans is really cooking on gas at the moment – I’ve received some great guest articles from him, and I’m really loving the writing style. Fresh from his stories of Cecil Arthur Burton and Levi Cooper, this week David recalls the door to door blade grinders, who often used to ply their trade throughout the UK. this is a fantastic piece, and I get the feeling that the author enjoyed writing it as much as I did reading it. This also interlocks neatly with my appeal for information about door to door tradesmen of the area.

Without further ado, it’s over to David…

One of the many travelling knife-sharpeners that used to be a common sight in these parts. Picture kindly supplied by David Evans.

Hi Bob

There were some interesting characters to be seen in the streets in Walsall Wood and the other villages aroundabouts, many years ago. One of the most enthralling was the Knife Sharpener, who, unlike the gentleman in the photo, was a swarthy Irishman who would cycle round and knock on people’s front doors and ask – and I wish I could imitate his wonderful rich Irish brogue accent:

‘Doo Ya warnt anny knoives sharrpnin?’

Then, back in the road , an unforgettable scene ensued.

His cycle miraculously and magically transformed at the flick of his wrist, and of the wedging of a foot into the wheel, and became a ‘mobile technician’s workshop’. He then sat astride this contrivance, and, as the man pedalled furiously, the sparks really did begin to fly. The sounds were those of an imaginary mythological beast being wrestled by some would-be Greek Hero. Both made agonising noises, the beast groaning and lurching, spitting smoke and spark in equal measure, the Man from the Emerald Isle sweating profusely and uttering phrases which we could never find in the dictionary.

The young children stood transfixed, terrified, with big eyes and open mouths! This was not a time blink or run away.Time to stand your ground and face the danger!

Then, as quickly as it had started, the ‘fight to the death’ was over. The breathless, sweating victor had killed the beast with a plunge to the heart with the knife which he held aloft in his hand.

And all that remained was to give him his payment, collect the sharpened, but greatly reduced blade, and go home.

I often wonder what became of this man from ‘across the Irish Sea’?

with best wishes

David Evans

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5 Responses to Developing an edge

  1. Mick P says:

    Lovely piece, thanks David, and to Bob for hosting. By the way – and as I’m sure David is aware – the signore in the picture is almost certainly in Italy and it looks very much like Rome, and we still get such characters about the city today.

  2. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    Many thanks to Mick P for his note. This was the only photo on the net that came near to the Irish man we knew. Rome is very fortunate..and very beautiful ! Don’t ever let it change! Best wishes, David.

  3. David Oakley says:

    Hi Bob, Very interested in the knife-grinding piece, but Walsall Wood had at least one local knife- grinder in the 1930’s. His name was Jack Tolley who lived at number 153 Salters Road, four doors down from my own home. Jack’s grinder had a front wheel and two rear legs and was pushed around the village, wheelbarrow style. Power was provided by a foot treadle. Jack liked a pint and could be found in King Street Club most lunchtimes. He would often come home from these sessions, fetch an old accordion out and regale us kids with his repertoire of old songs. A bearded, elderly man in a well-worn flat cap Jack enjoyed life in his own fashion and must have been around 70 in the mid-thirties. It was known that in earlier days he had been a “stone breaker”. Anyone who is familiar with “The Thirty-nine Steps” by John Buchan will know what that entailed.
    Best wishes
    David Oakley.

  4. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    Many thanks to David, please .I can vaguely remember Jack Tolley’s name only. He was mentioned a few times by my uncle Stan who also lived nearby in the 1930s,I have sent Bob a “net” photo of that sort of wheelbarrow grinder and I hope this can be added to the page so that readers in other countries may see what it must have been like.

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