The SAULs of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset
By Maureen Storey
This article was originally published in the November 1998 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
Of the four west country counties of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset, only Cornwall has a significant number of SAULs. The IGI for Cornwall and Devon has now been charted though there are no families of any size in Devon. There are only a few SAUL events recorded in the Somerset and Dorset sections of the IGI and these have been noted but they reveal no family groups. In Cornwall the name initially appears most commonly as SAWEL(L) but this gradually changes to SAWLE. The families are concentrated in the south of the county, between St Austell and Falmouth, particularly on the Roseland Peninsula, the largest family group being that in the parish of Gerrans.
Most of the charts we have are based on the IGl, the only real exception to this being Gerrans where the parish register itself was consulted in the hope it would throw some light on a couple of problems. It proved to be of some help but not much. Although there is a continuous run in the register from the mid-1500s, as with most other registers, both the information given in each entry and its legibility vary considerably over the years; the earliest entries are crystal clear, but large sections of the seventeenth century register are virtually illegible (on film at least). The first SAWEL entries are for marriages in the late-I500s and, as it is during this period that the register gives the names of the fathers of both bride and groom, the first SAWEL marriage takes the family back to a Walter Sawel who must have been born in about the 1530s. There are three problem areas in the Gerrans charts: two periods when there were at least two George Sawles having children baptised concurrently, where it is not always possible to work out whose child an entry is (and in one case it is not clear who one of the Georges is either) and another period where the parents' names are not given in the baptism entry. All the baptisms and marriages in the Gerrans register have been charted but as most of the pre-1800 death entries just give the name of the deceased and the date of burial, it has not been possible to 'kill off' many of the SAWLEs. 'George Sawle buried' does not help much if there seem to be five possible Georges, aged between 1 and 60!
Other information on the charts comes from:
The most frustrating family is probably that of St Austell in that they were obviously there for a couple of hundred years but so far we have been able to construct a fragmentary chart for them. They were well-to-do and there are several early wills for them at the Cornwall Record Office though none after the early 1700s. However, as they are still listed in the , gentry section of 1839 Pigot's directorv for St Austell as living at the same place, Penrice, perhaps later wills were proved in the PCC. Further investigation is needed.
There appears to be considerable confusion between SAWLE (and SAWELL) and SOWELL in the Cornwall sources. There are some entries in the Gerrans PR which are clearly written as SOWELL in the register which appear as both SOWELL and SAWELL in the IGI and there are some entries for other parishes which are listed as SOWEL(L) but which seem to fit into SAWLE families. For the Gerrans entries at least it would seem these are all really SAWELLs but for other parishes it is not obvious whether this is true. In particular, in St Just in Roseland - this is a neighbouring parish to Gerrans - we have a medium-sized SOWELL tree, but there do not appear to be any SAWELLs there at all. It is possible that the St Just family are really part of the Gerrans SAWELLs. The only other largish Cornish SOWELL families come from Penryn (near Falmouth) and St Keverne (on the Lizard). Both of these families appear relatively late (mid-Iate 1700s) so it is possible they are SAWELL families whose name was corrupted to SOWEL when they moved away from their home parishes. Further research is needed.
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