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MARY: MUM & DAD 1720 – 1757

Willy moved to Walsall, five miles south, close to Mary’s family, where baby Elizabeth was born on December 3rd 1719. Mum was pregnant again by the following summer and in mid 1721 their second child, a nameless female, arrived stillborn.

Her parents were probably too callow to grieve – or even overly surprised; dead babies were par for the course in those days – with an attrition rate of about thirty percent it was a fact of life. These dead souls went to baby limbo, un-christened, unnamed and unknown. Their parents just sighed and got on with life in the same cloddish fashion they had learnt from their ancestors, farmed, fucked and farted their way through the seasons, rutting as furiously as their livestock, driven to breed more of the same.

In August that same year the couple conceived another child and this one survived, luckily for two centuries of Triffitts in Australia.

A sweaty encounter in the high summer of 1721, a tangle of limbs and a gasp was all it took to create the makings of a scattered dynasty. This new life was to become the father of the woman who spawned them all.

ELIZABETH WHISTON: 03 DEC 1719

JOHN WHISTON: 08 MAY 1722

*

Little Willy Weston’s third child and first son was christened on 8th May 1722 in St. Matthews in Walsall. Strangely, after at least three successive generations of William Westons in Handsworth, this particular first born son was called John.

Not only was he not called William but he was no longer even a Weston. By then the tribes had divided; John Whiston stumbled into life. Clearly there has been some kind of family ruction; a slight change in the nameusually signals some domestic or religious drama. Like his peers he blundered through puberty, working in the family business, just one of a great many other young men in the district, all lined up in various stages of a Staffordshire adolescence, desperate to make a chance.

Life for a lad in Walsall was a crude affair, the quiet of the country all but overwhelmed in town by the constant flow of commerce. Birmingham was only six miles away. With the money came a flood of men; drifters, merchants, farmers, all intent on both business and pleasure. With the men came the taverns, the cock-fights, the bear-baiting and whores – and a host of opportunities for a youth to get into trouble. John Whiston and his many cousins were probably no exception.

The Walsall mob were always excitable, had been for two hundred years; a diarist in 1520 called them ‘light persons suddenly moved to affrays and insurrections,’ and nothing much had changed. The reputation of the town as a hotbed of riot was well established by the time the assorted Weston men moved in. As far as John Wesley was concerned it was Sodom and Gomorrah.

*

I’ll indulge in this Wesley anecdote. It’s the only snapshot we have of John Whiston’s life and times.

One Saturday afternoon, just a fortnight after John Whiston’s 21st birthday, the preacher John Wesley led a crowd of his brethren down the main street of Walsall. Singing hymns, they walked into the lion’s den and, ‘amidst the noisy greetings of our enemies,’ arrived expectantly on the steps of the market-house.

In the early years of the Methodist revolution John Wesley travelled the countryside with his supporters, spreading his particular gospel, searching for souls. He was used to a rough reception; his wild ideas had seen him bundled out of a dozen towns on these tours but to him, the greater the opposition the greater the challenge, the greater the opportunity to demonstrate the all-forgiving power of his new religion.

On May 21st 1743, in Walsall, ‘the enemy’s head-quarters,’ he and his brethren had a very difficult time of it indeed.

 ‘A host of men was laid against us.’ Wesley wrote in his diary. ‘The floods lifted up their voice, and raged horribly…’

Young Whiston was probably right in the thick of it, raging as horribly as he possibly could. This was exactly what a young buck needed to let off steam, the most excitement he’d had in ages. Wesley stuck to his guns.

‘The street was full of fierce Ephesian beasts,’ he wrote, ‘who roared and shouted and threw stones incessantly.’ The preacher was in rapture. He was Joan of Arc. The missiles didn’t hurt him. He spread his arms.

 ‘I besought them in calm love to be reconciled to God in Christ.’

That line clearly didn’t work; a ‘stream of ruffians’ pushed him off the steps.

‘I rose,’ Wesley said, ‘and having given the blessing, was beat down again.’

Wesley’s masochistic street theatre was, of course, intended as a performance; he was publicly practicing what he was preaching, showing the power of the all- embracing Lord in a simple, basic way to simple, basic people. Pulling himself up off the steps once again he launched into the closing scene; ‘bade them depart in peace,’ and then, in a masterstroke of theatre, headed straight into the pack.

‘I walked quietly back through the thickest rioters,’ he wrote, ‘they reviled us, but had no commission to touch a hair of our heads.’

Despite the show biz John Whiston was probably unimpressed. Like most of the youth of Walsall he cared little for god-botherers, likely found the good preacher and his brethren more entertainment than threat. What Wesley stood for was change – although exactly what that change was, what it represented, why it was needed was unclear to the lumpen, coal-mining clods that demonstrated so violently against it.

There were many certainties in the minds of men like these; life was a succession of certainties – summer, winter, autumn, spring – birth, marriage, children, illness, death. Their position in the firmament was fixed; they did what their fathers did and, as an article of faith, expected their sons to do the same. God watched over them, exercised his tyrannical hand, bringing famine and disease whenever He chose, demanded obedience and suffering, in return promised something better after death. For many of these men this was the best they could hope for. It was certainly all they knew.

*

John Whiston married Ann Reynolds.

Just what part love played in the average country town wedding in 1745 is open to debate; marriage was a pragmatic agreement, the luxury of affection not necessarily required. What was important was the production of children in great quantities. Their union was the meeting-point between two would-be Walsall dynasties, the Whiston/Westons and the Reynolds family with John and Ann the sacrificial lambs to seal the deal. She came from prodigiously fertile stock.

Her family originated just a mile away from Walsall, in Rushall. Records begin in 1660 and by then one William Reynolds, probably about twenty years old, was already breeding with a young lass called Jane. After only two kids in eight years she was replaced in 1668 and Ann Busford took on Will’s prodigious sexual appetite. She began producing the ten children they created, with one appearing regularly every two years till 1703. There were probably three more dead babies, judging by a suspicious gap in the records, but ten is enough for now. William finally stopped inseminating his wife at the age of 63, having fathered at least twelve children, probably fifteen and possibly two more. I assume he must have died – clearly only death would keep him from his wife’s thighs.

Robert Reynolds was their eighth child, born in 1699, and once he married, moved with his brothers John and George across to Walsall at the same time as the Weston boys. There they all had as many children as possible. By the time all their offspring had finished breeding William and Ann Busford had over ninety grandchildren.

Robert fathered ten of them. His first bride of choice was a local girl, Ann Bladen. He was twenty-three when they married in November 1722 at St. Matthew’s in Walsall, she just seventeen. They had four children in the next ten years, one of whom was Anne before Dad left to wed another local girl just before Christmas 1733. Robert and his new wife had six children.

Ann blinked into life in 1727 and with her first breath the next building block of the puzzle falls into place. Ann Reynolds would become the mother of the woman who spawned the Triffitts of Australia.

*

The Reynolds family and the Weston/Whiston clan were firmly established in Walsall by 1740. Each had a surfeit of children, ensuring a profitable future and a great deal of inter-marriage. The Westons were possibly merchants, dealers in saddlers’ and coach makers’ ironmongery or saddlery; saddles, bridles, harnesses and leather goods manufactured in the neighboring towns and villages. By the 1740’s the sons and daughters of these original arrivals were grown and, like John Whiston and Ann, starting to feed on each other.

Ann Reynolds turned 18 on 26th July 1745 and within 5 days they were hitched. Their wedding is the third act of fate that must occur if the Triffitt’s are to survive. For the fourth we must wait.

Mysteriously, between their marriage and the conception of Sarah in May 1753 there were no children. Most newly married couples in that era had a child within twelve months of marriage, the first of a long, long line but not Mr. and Mrs. Whiston. It certainly wasn’t due to infertility; from 1754 onwards our couple churned out children but in those missing eight years there’s not a baby in sight.

Unless they practiced unusual restraint John Whiston must have gone away within days of his wedding, most probably to war. He would have been one of the first of his line, over two centuries of Westons in Staffordshire, to venture more than twenty miles from his family home. Freed of the dead weight of the family name he slipped the loop, somehow escaped the slow, solid plod of the generations and embarked on a most unusual adventure.

Unusual for his kith and kin but, in fact, happening all over the country; England was slowly waking up from its long agricultural slumber, the people were on the move. John was just one of many who broke away. Ann waited stoically at home, her youth fading by the minute, that biological clock ticking steadily away. Seven long years later he returned.

Whatever circumstances dragged them apart, once reunited they certainly made up for lost time. He was thirty-one before his first child was born, his wife nearly twenty-six and they set to with a vengeance. Little Sarah was christened in St. Matthews on 23rd February 1754 and her new mother had scarcely finished breastfeeding when, eight months later, her sister Ann was conceived on a brisk November evening that same year.

Their second daughter was christened on 18th July 1755 and her mother waited all of twelve months before submitting to her husband’s amorous advances once again. The fourth act of fate. From this summer rut they created yet another Whiston girl, a raucous little thing who would be called Mary. This third daughter would prove more trouble than all the rest of them put together.

On 13th April 1757 holy water was splashed on her forehead at St. Matthew’s in Walsall, a blessing that didn’t do very much good at all. Squalling, shrieking her rage, Mary Whiston submitted to her brief ablution and was duly anointed, then christened with the first of her several names. It was already too late. Some cosmic clock had been set in motion. For her sins she would be banished, thrashed, imprisoned and thrust into a unique prison at the bottom of the world. Her particular hard labor, indeed her apparent raison d’etre, was to populate Australia with Triffitts – a terrible sentence with dreadful consequences. If she’d known what was coming she would’ve flung herself back into the font and refused to come out.

*

© NIGEL TRIFFITT 2010

One Comment

Leave a Comment
  1. forumman53 / Apr 28 2012 4:54 am

    Brilliant stuff. It brings the past to life, which is how it should be seen, because it’s part of our reality, even though it is now out of sight to us.

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