Did the village maiden wait for years to wed her lifelong true love?
Ruth Wedrald was born during a Century of great changes within England. The Scottish Rebellion, under Bonnie Prince Charlie, had been finally crushed at Culloden Moor only 23 years earlier.
George III – the first of the Hanoverian kings to have been born in England, had been on the throne for about 9 years, and England was once again at war with France, in spite of the humiliating defeat which John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, had inflicted on the French in 1704, and the Peace Treaty signed in 1713.
On the home front it was a time of great prosperity. The Aristocracy dressed in the styles of Beau Nash the architect of, among other elegant buildings, the beautiful city of Bath. It was the time of Robert Adam the architect, and of the talented Landscape Designer Capability Brown. British military might had conquered India and Canada. Great Trading Companies had started. The Wealth of the World was at our feet.
The Arts were represented by Hogarth, then Gainsborough, George Stubbs and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Music was by Handel, Purcell, Telemann, J.S. and C.P.E. Bach. Both Mozart and Beethoven grew and flourished during Ruth’s life. Dr. Samuel Johnson’s Great Dictionary was published in 1755. It was the time that inspired such poets as Wordsworth and Coleridge, to be soon followed by Keats, Byron and Shelley.
Captain Cook was about to discover New Zealand and Australia. Canals were about to be built, steam power to be utilised, and the Industrial Revolution starting to explode. What a time to have lived! Ruth lived then. Ruth was born on February 12th 1769 into a rural farming and lead mining community in the heart of Wensleydale, Yorkshire. It was a harsh, hilly and isolated area.
She was the 2nd eldest child of Thomas & Esther Wetheralt who already had a son Thomas. Thomas senior, who arranged her christening, was not only illiterate, but must also have had a speech impediment, so she was entered on the Parish Registers as Ruth Wedrald. Twenty months later, another happy event, her sister Esther was born on the 4th October 1770. We can imagine the family enjoying a happy, if, by our standards, somewhat austere, existence. But after Ruth’s third Christmas, and shortly before her fourth birthday, a tragedy struck these little girls; their Mother died giving birth to her 4th child Nancy, and was buried on the 14th January 1772.
We can only guess at what happened next. Perhaps the children were looked after by their Maternal Grandparents, or by their Aunty Margaret – the only sister their father had ever known, his elder sister having died before he was born. What we do know, however, is that on the 28th September 1774 their father married a Widow named Mary Smith. He was then approaching his 28th birthday. Ruth was five and a half, Esther almost four and Nancy nearly two. Perhaps Mary brought children of her own to the union, but in any case Thomas and Mary went on to have 5 more children, John in 1775, Jane in 1777, Anthony in 1779, James in 1782 and then Mary died giving birth to Anne in 1784.
The mists of time have drawn a veil around these sisters. The next thing that we know about Ruth is that some time near her twenty-first birthday, while yet unmarried, she became pregnant, and gave birth to a son, John Wetherall, on the 21st October 1790. Four years later, the 15th September 1794, she presented John with a sister, Elizabeth Weatherald. Outside the Dale, England was once again embroiled in a war against France, but this time not against the King, but against the newly – born Republicans, still bloodstained from the Guillotining of their Aristocracy.
Then on the 11th June 1797 my ancestor William Weatherald was born. On the 9th June 1799 she had another son whose name, significantly, is recorded as Thomas Cockbone Weatherald. Franz Schubert and Donizetti were, incidentally, also both born in that year. She celebrated the beginning of the Nineteenth Century by having a daughter, Ann Wetherald, on 3rd June 1803, two years before Nelson’s great victory at Trafalgar, and added to her family on the 12th November 1809, Brian Wetherald, who sadly did not survive to his first birthday, but was buried in 1810 on the 10th August.
Now we encounter a curious circumstance. Ruth, having given birth to 6 children out of wedlock, and being 45 years old, with an eldest son approaching his 24th birthday, decided to marry. So, on the 16th May 1814, a year before Wellington’s glorious victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, she was joined in Holy Wedlock to Thomas Cockbone, a labourer. Here is indeed a mystery. Her third son, who next month would celebrate his fifteenth birthday, was named after her new husband. Let conjecture run riot! Were all the children his? Was it he who at the age of 38 wooed this young girl and seduced her on the Daleside? Why had they not married sooner? Was he already married and had to wait for a wife to die before he could marry his true love? Was he perhaps a soldier or sailor who waited until, at the age of 62, all his wars were over before he settled down? As he was described in the Parish Marriage Register as a labourer, rather than soldier, perhaps not. All that we know for sure is that they lived together for about 9 years during which time a son, Obed Cockbone, was born on the 7th February 1815, and the 24-year-old daughter Elizabeth was buried on November the 15th 1818.
Peace was restored to Europe, Faraday invented the Electric Motor, and work was progressing towards the imminent commencement of the Steam Age and the ubiquitous Railway Companies. Beethoven, a year younger than Ruth, was composing his Missa Solemnis and his great 9th Symphony. Ruth died on March 16th 1823, a month after her 54th birthday. We don’t know how the events of the world outside Wensleydale affected Ruth. We don’t even know if she ever set foot outside her local area. It is possible that, being a country girl, daughter and wife of farm hands; she may have known very little of what was happening. She was probably illiterate, so any news reaching the village would have to be read out. Perhaps an occasional traveller or Peddler brought word of battles, victories, discoveries, the splendour of Court, great buildings, fine fashions, music and paintings. Or maybe she lived her life knowing nothing of these.
Thomas Cockbone lived on for a further 13 years, and died on 8th March 1836 aged eighty-three.
I am her (their) great great great great grandson.
N.B. With slight literary licence as the dates quoted were actually baptismal and burial dates. However it was normal in those days to baptise children very soon after birth. Actual birth and death dates were not usually recorded until July 1837.
© J.L.Weatherall 2005