by Jennifer Ball
This article was originally published in the April 2008 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
Last year in the April edition of Soul Search I wrote about my maternal grandparents William and Victoria Sole who married in St. John of Wapping Church on 31st March 1907. The photographs included with this article are from their family album. I am descended from Edward Sole born 1798 in Herne Kent and Rosanna Drayson born Woodnesborough Kent 1806 and their son Edward born 1830 died Stepney 1884. For earlier photographs than these see 2007
The three children of the marriage, Vicky, Connie (my mother) and Bill grew up in New Tower Buildings situated in the High Street and, apart from St John's Wharf opposite, on the edge of the River Thames. The river provided most of the men in the area with work. There were many trades including labourers, which were delineated between dock, wharf, ships and general to stevedores, lighter men, boat men, rope makers, caulkers, carpenters, sack makers, sail makers, wharf clerks and mariners.
My Grand dad Sole was a Colonial goods sampler when he married and a dock foreman later in life. It was a close knit community. When his father Edward Sole who had been born in Woodnesborough, Kent married Sarah a widow from Folkestone in 1876, the couple had made their home in Tower Buildings just to the rear of where New Tower Buildings would eventually stand. Edward, a mariner, was soon working as a stevedore and the couple's two sons and a daughter were born there. The 1881 census also shows Edward's brother James Sole and his three children living just round the comer at 17 Bird Street, but by 1891 James and the children, together with his new partner are also living in Tower Buildings. The daughter from Sarah's first marriage met and married Harry Bennett who can be seen aged seventeen living with his parents in the building and by 1891 they too have set up home there in number 59.
When Edward Sole died in 1884 Sarah married again and continued to live in Tower Buildings, but by the 1901 census she is shown living with her third husband John Stevens, her two sons and two further daughters in the recently built New Tower Buildings.
Searching the area around a census address was certainly a useful exercise as far as I was concerned and added much to my knowledge of our family history. I had thought that our association with the buildings had begun only with my grandparents move there soon after their marriage but in fact my grandfather was simply following a family tradition.
The tradition continued because two of his children Bill and Connie went on to marry partners from Old Tower Buildings and for a few years made their homes there.
My father and his parents were Pembrokeshire Welsh and lived in the East End because my Grand dad Morgan was a ships carpenter. My memories of the time include Sunday morning trips with my father to the Tower of London where for me the ravens were always the draw, Petticoat Lane street market and London Zoo where Guy the gorilla and I would stare into each others eyes. During the week I would accompany my Nanny Morgan to Watney Street market or the little beach below Tower Bridge or to the nearby park where the plane trees wore little black bobbles and I would be lifted into a swing. Wherever we walked in London I would try to drink from one of the lead cups attached to each of the fountains we came across - and there were many! I would help my grandmother to clean the brass ornaments from the mantelpiece and to hang the washing on the clothes lines up on the roof among the chimney pots. She would let me stand on the wooden Ewbank carpet sweeper as she pushed it over the floor. The front room of the flat was rarely used but contained a china cabinet which housed many of the treasures that my Grandfather had brought back from his around the world trips. Two parrots should be mentioned here but these were housed in a cage on top of the bookcase in the living room and allowed to fly around on occasion.
Nanny Morgan died as the war started in September 1939. Our flat in Tower Buildings was bombed in 1940 and my baby brother and I were evacuated for a while with other children from the area. My father must have taken the loss of our home as a personal affront because he joined the R.A.F. shortly after and became a pilot with Bomber Command.
We returned to the buildings in Wapping many times over the years to visit our relations but for us life in the East End was over. My Grand dad Morgan returned to Pembrokeshire when he retired and the links were finally severed when my Sole Grandparents died in 1956 and 1960.
However, those Sole links to Tower and New Tower Buildings in London's East End stretch back nearly a hundred years. They are worthy of commemoration.
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