ADA ELLEN SOLE - THE CAPTAIN'S LADY
By Colin Aris
This article was originally published in the August 2007 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
All Sailors have a girl in every port, so the saying goes, and it would appear that Captain Walter Henry Curtis’ girl in the port of Ramsgate was Ada Ellen Sole, daughter of Henry and Sarah Sole (nee Goodban).
Captain Curtis was born in Gravesend in 1864, the son of James Curtis, a Thames Waterman and his wife Sarah (nee Waylett). He enlisted as a boy in the Royal Navy and the 1881 census found him aboard HMS Cruiser, a training ship, in Dover Harbour. In 1895 he gained his Master Mariner’s certificate and became skipper of the Steam Tug “Challenge”. Lloyd’s Register for 1899/1900 lists him as skipper of the Paddle Tug “Conqueror”, a handsome twin funnelled vessel built by Eltringham & Co of South Shields in 1897 and belonging to Thomas Sandford.
The “Conqueror” led a double life, plying its trade as a tug in the winter months between Gravesend and Dungeness and turning its hand to cross-channel passenger traffic in the summer. It could, indeed, have been on one of these continental excursions that Walter and Ada first met. Born in 1880, Ada was considerably younger than her gallant sea captain and the blossoming romance was somewhat hindered by the not insignificant presence of Walter’s wife, Isabella! Lionel Sole once recounted to me the story that his father (Ada’s brother, Harry) had, on more than one occasion, accompanied his sister on excursions to Boulogne to act as a decoy and chaperone.
Walter was Isabella’s third husband and it is probable that the two families, the Curtises and Bartholomews, had been friends for many years. Did Walter marry Isabella as a result of this friendship? Was it simply a “marriage of convenience” to provide a man about the house and a father figure for Isabella’s two children? It is impossible, across the chasm of time, to be absolutely sure about such personal details. It is, however, easy to surmise that Ada’s presence in Thanet (she was, around that time, in service with the family of a Dr Thornton in Margate) influenced his decision to move from Gravesend to Ramsgate in 1905!
Walter and Isabella’s new home was in Southwood Road, in a newly built house called “Pakefield”. Later, the story goes that, on retiring from the sea, Walter took a pub, the Vale Tavern, which is at the junction of Grange Road, Southwood Road and Vale Road. I have yet to find any documentary evidence of this or of a subsequent tale of Isabella drinking herself to death behind the bar of the pub! It is true, however, that she passed away in 1916 and that Ada and Walter were married the following year. I will leave it to the reader to add any significance to this apparent haste! Daughters Kathleen and Olive arrived in 1919 and 1922 respectively.
Ada was, by then, in her thirties and, when once asked by Kathleen about the long wait to be married, she replied that there were many would-be suitors over the years “but I just had to close my eyes and see Daddy’s face, and I knew there could be no-one else”.
Walter died in 1936 and his passing caused something of a family dilemma. He and Isabella had previously purchased a joint plot in Ramsgate Cemetery so they were re-united in death. This prompted Ada to instruct Kathleen that “When I go, you take me to Barham (crematorium). I’m certainly not going up to the cemetery with those two!”
Below is a photograph taken in the 1930's of Ada Ellen SOLE (1880-1996) and Walter Henry Curtis (1864-1936), and also some extracts from The Conqueror's log:
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