Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
The Story of Jane Solley
By Lynne Burlingham
This article was originally published in the December 2006 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
Having hit a complete brick wall regarding the parents and earlier direct antecedents of my 3xgreatgrandfather Thomas Solley (c1772-1845) of Richborough, Ash, in Kent, some months ago I decided instead to concentrate on trying to find out as much as possible about the 13 children of Thomas and his wife Elizabeth.
In particular, I wanted to know more about Jane Solley, their sixth born, who was proving particularly elusive. Earlier this year my husband and I decided to subscribe to Ancestry in the hope that it would enable us to sort out at least some of those irritating loose ends that seem to be part and parcel of researching one‘s family history, and indeed it has been a great help in adding to what little I already knew about Jane. From all the information I have been able to gather, I am now 99% certain that the following is Jane’s story. If only the same could be said for her sister Emily, another enigma, but after the 1841 Census she too seems to have disappeared without trace!
Jane was baptised at St Nicholas, Ash on the 11 November 1800. Two siblings play a particular part in Jane’s story, her younger sister Elizabeth and her brother George, the youngest child and my 2xgreat-grandfather. Elizabeth was baptised at Ash on 28 April 1807 and George on the 20 March 1815. When she was about 18 Jane gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, who she named Eliza. The entry for Eliza’s baptism in the Ash Parish Registers says ‘1819 February 7 Eliza d. of Jane Solley of Ash, Single woman’.
A slight digression now to her sister Elizabeth and her daughter Eliza. Their relevance to Jane’s story will become clearer in due course. In June 1834 Elizabeth Solley married bachelor Stephen Martin, Miller of Woodnesborough, at St Nicholas, Ash. Less than a year later Elizabeth died, possibly in childbirth, and was buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Ash on 22 May 1835. A few weeks later on 14 July 1835 a daughter Emma was buried in the same grave as her mother. Several years elapse and then, in April 1839, the widowed Stephen Martin marries Eliza Solley, Jane’s daughter, by Licence at St Martins in the Fields, London with Jane‘s sister and brother-in-law Kezia and Charles Coppock as Witnesses. On the marriage certificate Stephen’s father is named as John Martin, Farmer. Stephen and Eliza had three children, all born in Woodnesborough; Fanny born about 1840, John born about 1842 and Eliza born about 1847. Stephen died in Sandwich in September 1848, aged 40, so would have been born about 1808.
Back to Jane. In the 1841 Census Jane, now about 40, is still living in the family home at Richborough with her aging parents Thomas and Elizabeth and her younger brother George, apparently the dutiful spinster daughter helping to look after her parents, brother and the farm. Also resident with the family at Richborough is a servant Mary Files. She too has her part to play in the story! In August 1842 an illegitimate son William is born to Mary Ann Files of Tilmanstone, who was later to become my great-grandfather.
Thomas Solley died in September 1845 followed soon after in October 1845 by his wife Elizabeth. Thomas’s Will, dated 5 September 1845 (proved 1846) is several pages long but, basically, he left the house contents to his wife for the term of her natural life and, immediately after her decease, they were to be divided equally between his daughter Jane and son George; the Farm and land went to George; and there were various other bequests to his children.
In July 1847, almost two years after the death of his parents (and five years after the birth of Mary Ann‘s illegitimate son William), George married Mary Ann Files at St Nicholas, Ash. In all subsequent Census Returns Mary Ann’s son William bears the surname Solley and his relationship to George as head of the household is given as ‘Son’. When George dies in 1899 his Will specifically refers to William as ‘my eldest son William Solley’.
By the time of the 1851 Census, Jane is no longer living in the family home at Richborough with George and Mary Ann and their growing family and, despite checking and rechecking the indexes, I couldn’t find any trace of a Jane Solley of approximately the right age and marital status.
My initial reaction was that Jane must have died sometime between September 1845, when she was mentioned in her father’s Will, and the 1851 Census, but this search also drew a blank - the only Jane Solley listed in the GRO Death Indexes in that period, who died in 1850, turned out to be only 5 years old! Eventually, using Ancestry and checking the 1851 Census yet again, this time searching under both Jane Solley and Jane Solly, I eventually found who I think must be the right Jane. She is indexed as Jane SOLLY but on the original return her surname is clearly spelled SOLLEY. Jane, aged 49 and born in Ash (of which Richborough was a part), is living in Preston next Wingham several miles from Richborough, where she is House Servant to one William Martin, 44, born Preston, unmarried and a Master Carpenter. Why did Jane leave the family home? Did she fall out with her brother George or with Mary Ann - were two women in the house after George’s marriage to Mary Ann one woman too many, or was this a long awaited opportunity for Jane to lead an independent life? Perhaps Jane disapproved of her brother marrying a former servant. Whatever the reason, she seems to have left the family home some time after the autumn of 1845.
We now move on to the 1861 Census and once again there is no trace of Jane, but nor, oddly, is there any trace of William Martin. Once again I checked to see whether she had died but this time the only possible Jane Solley/Solly I could find seemed to be a Jane Solly, who died in 1858 but she turned out to be a married woman. Unlikely though it seemed, I then began to consider the possibility that perhaps Jane had actually married for the first time some time between 1851 and 1861, although she would then have been in her fifties. In the GRO marriage indexes I found the marriage of a Jane Solly in the June Quarter of 1854 in the Eastry Registration District. Sharing the reference was a William Mortin - could this be a transcription error of Martin? On rechecking the 1861 Census, I soon found Jane Martin, age 57, born Ash, still living in Preston but now the wife of ‘Martin Will‘, 54, born Preston, Builder. No wonder I couldn’t find William Martin the first time round - his name had obviously been written down on the return surname first, followed by his Christian name, under which it was therefore subsequently indexed! The next step was to order a copy of the marriage certificate.
Jane Solly [sic] married William Martin at the Parish Church, Preston next Wingham, by Licence on 28 June 1854. Both are ‘of Age’, he a Bachelor, she a Spinster, both resident in Preston at the time of the marriage. His occupation is Carpenter and his father’s name is given as John Martin, Farmer. Jane’s father is given as ‘G Solly, Farmer. However, given that two of the witnesses are George Solly and Mary Ann Solly, my guess is that these are Jane’s brother George and his wife Mary Ann, and that, as Jane’s father Thomas had been dead for many years, George gave Jane away and his details were therefore entered in the column for ‘Father’s Name and Occupation’. It would seem that if there had been a family rift of some sort causing Jane to leave the family home at Richborough some years previously, this had now healed.
In 1871 Jane and William are still living in Preston. His occupation is now given as Builder employing 4 men and 1 boy. Living with them is a John Martin, age 28, born Woodnesborough, occupation Builders Clerk. His relation to William as head of the household is given as Nephew. Given John’s age, he was probably born about 1842/43. Interestingly, Jane’s daughter Eliza and son-in-law Stephen Martin lived in Woodnesborough in the 1840s and had a son John born about 1842. Could William’s nephew John be one and the same John Martin? In which case, Stephen and William must be brothers, and John would also be Jane’s grandson! I have found a Family Group Record in the IGI for a John Martin and his wife Mary Farrier of Preston. Among their 10 children are a William, baptised 26 May 1805, Preston and also a Stephen, baptised 9 October 1808, Preston. These details do seem to fit with what I have found out about the William Martin and Stephen Martin in this story, so I am about 99% certain that the connection is correct.
Given her sister’s and daughter’s marriages to Stephen Martin, perhaps Jane had known William for many years before leaving home after her parents’ deaths and going to live with him as his ‘House Servant’ and eventually marrying him. Could it have been a marriage of convenience or was it really, perhaps, a case of a happy ending to a long standing relationship? The romantic in me would like to think the latter!
Once again there was no trace of Jane in the 1881 Census, or of a William Martin that fitted the bill of age, occupation and place of birth. However, I did find the entry for the death of a Jane Martin in the December Quarter 1879 in the Eastry Registration District, aged 78. The death certificate confirms that Jane was the Widow of William Martin, Carpenter and that she died at Preston on 15 October 1879. Present at the death was her grandson John Martin, which adds to the evidence for the relationship between William Martin and Stephen Martin. William must have died between the time of the 1871 Census and Jane’s death in October 1879, but I have yet to follow this up.
Return to The Sole Society Home Page