Six weddings and a Ring

The story of Ian’s Wedding Ring

From childhood I heard the story that Grandad’s wedding ring was made out of two rings.

I don’t know how correct that is. I like to think that the metal was from two previous wedding rings and at the time that I wear it, it has been through six weddings

The first wedding was between Josiah Tay and Matilda Beckley in 1883

Matilda was the sister of Granny Beckley. The Beckleys lived in Tipton in the Black Country. Josiah Tay was a Birmingham wholesale butcher.

Josiah and Matilda had 7 children: Josiah, Edward, Joseph, Maurice, Gordon, Lydia and Mary. Gordon was the person we all knew as “Uncle Gordon”. Gordon’s eldest son Philip drowned.

Granny Beckley had two daughters: Ruth (whom I knew as “Grandma”) and Hannah, whom we called Aunt Nance.

Hannah was married twice, first to Francis Naylor. They had a son, Francis, who sadly died aged 11 after he fell from the back of a lorry where he had climbed up unseen by the driver and was hanging off the tailgate for a lark.

Aunt Nance divorced her first husband. At the time this was a big scandal, when divorces had to be granted by Act of Parliament. She then married William Clarke, whom we knew as “Uncle Bill Clarke”. They lived in Deakins Road, Hay Mills.

In later years, Ruth and her sister Nance fell out from time to time, and I remember on one occasion when I was a kid, their not speaking to each other for several years, even though they only lived a few hundred yards away from each other.

When Ruth Beckley was a young teenager, she had what appears to be some kind of minor nervous breakdown. It seems she saw a man have a convulsive fit. It is not known whether he died, or if he did, whether she saw that.

To help her get over it, she was sent to live for a while with her Aunt Matilda and Josiah Tay in Birmingham. There she became Matilda’s companion housekeeper.

Eventually, Matilda became ill and Ruth nursed her until Matilda died.

After Matilda’s death, Josiah married Ruth Beckley in 1913. At the time he was 50 and she was 18.

I like to think that that was the second wedding that the ring went through. Most likely, Josiah’s first ring went to his family and his marriage to Ruth saw a new ring start it’s 96 year journey.

However, in those days there was a question mark over the legality of their marriage. In 1913 the law didn’t allow marriage between an uncle and niece. Josiah and Ruth were not related through blood, only by his first marriage to Matilda, so it was a bit of a grey area in their case.

A few years later the law was changed to remove that ban, so in 1920 Ruth insisted that she and Josiah go through another marriage ceremony to make absolutely sure their marriage was legal. That was the third wedding.

During their married life, they had one child together, a boy, Howard, who died aged 13 months.

Ruth helped Josiah run the business She was very intelligent and as it turned out a good business women, even though she had little formal education.

Josiah died in July 1933, leaving Ruth Tay a quite well-off widow aged 38.

Meanwhile John Henry Deffley (my Grandad) had married Annie Pratti in about 1917. That was wedding number 4 in this version of the story of Ian’s wedding ring.

John Henry was the eldest of 17 children born to Jack and Annie Deffley. Jack was Irish Catholic.

Annie Pratti was the daughter of Harry and Nelly Pratti. Harry was Italian and possibly also Catholic.

It is not known whether John was baptised in the Catholic faith, although many of his brothers and sisters were and some of them were very religious. Nor is it known whether his wife Annie was Catholic. In any case, their three children, Annie Beatrice (my and Ruth’s mom, born 1919), Elsie Lily (Aunt Else, b. 1921) and John (b. 1922?, d. 1924?) were not.

John’s first wife Annie died in 1924 when Annie Beatrice was 5 and Elsie was 3.

Elsie spent most of the next 12 years in hospital. When she was 2, Elsie had an accident that badly injured her hip. The injury became infected and turned tubercular, requiring extensive periods in hospital.

John was a widower for 10 years until he met Ruth Tay, Josiah’s widow, and they married in 1934 when Annie Beatrice was 15 and Elsie was 13. The story goes that Ruth Tay took Josiah’s wedding ring that possibly had been through three weddings, and John Henry’s ring that had been through his first wedding, and had the them re-made into a new wedding ring for John, the fifth wedding in the series.

There is a picture of John and Ruth in their wedding clothes in a garden setting. That wasn’t their actual wedding day. I don’t know if any photos exist of their actual wedding, or if any were taken. That picture was taken a few days later when they got dressed up and posed for a “wedding” photo.

John and Ruth did not have any children of their own. In 1945 they adopted a little girl whom they named Ruth. I grew up knowing that Ruth was adopted and that made her my Aunt and it made her my mom’s and Elsie’s sister. All through that time, her actual parentage was unknown.

It wasn’t until after Annie Beatrice’s death in 1991 that it was confirmed that Ruth was Annie’s daughter. So she was in fact my half-sister. How this came about and how it was discovered is a separate tale and is really Ruth’s story.

Grandad’s ring was lost for two or three months in the River Avon at Twyning in about 1936 or 37.

Grandad was a keen fisherman and kept a caravan on “The Sling” at Twyning. At the start of the course fishing season the river was in flood. Grandad was at his pitch, throwing groundbait into the river. Because it was cold and wet, and his hands were slippery with the groundbait, one time when he threw a handful in, his ring slipped off and went in with it.

Try as he could, he couldn’t find it in the brown, murky water and the mud beneath. It seemed that it was lost forever and Grandma (Ruth) gave him hell over it.

The season passed, and Grandad went fishing most weekends, but there was never any sign of the ring.

One day towards the end of the season, Twyning’s village goose “Auntie” escaped from its compound near the Fleet Inn and went waddling off up the river bank. Bert the Ferryman chased it. The ferry in those days was a large punt that ran along a wire stretched across the river at the end of the lane that leads down to The Fleet.

Somewhere there is a photo from the 1930s or 40s of Grandma (Ruth) standing in the punt holding Bert’s punt pole. I can just remember Bert who was still the ferryman in about 1950.

So Bert chased after Auntie the goose and caught her half a mile or so up-river from the Fleet. Just as he grabbed her and turned to go back, he noticed something glinting at the edge of the water which by now had receded to its normal level. Sure enough, half buried in the mud was Granddad’s ring. It was glinting and flashing in the sun as the waters lapped over it.

Next time Bert met Grandad just before the season ended, he said goodbye and held out his hand to shake Granddad’s hand. When Granddad took his hand away, his ring was sitting there in his palm.

That is the ring that I now wear, that I inherited after Grandad’s death. My marriage to Ann in 1972 was the sixth wedding in the story of that ring.

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