The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

Two Years On: The All Souls Collage


By Don Steel

This article was originally published in the November 1993 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.


All Souls Day (2 November) 1993 saw the second anniversary of our foundation. It seems an appropriate time to publish a new edition of Geoff’s variants chart and to see how far we have now got with regard to finding the origins of the surnames in which we are principally interested and how some of the variants link with each other. The chart now groups similar variants, helping to show how so many spellings have gradually emerged. Although for convenience the various surnames are separated out and we have different co­ordinators for these, some variants (marked with an asterisk) appear on more than one surname list. Rather than a series of discrete columns, our interests might be better represented as a collage with our surnames and variants all intermingled and overlapping. You start, travel and end where you please. How about SEALE to SELL to SALE to SALLE to SAUL to SAWLE to SAWELL to SEWELL to SOOLE to SOLE to SOLEY to SOLLEY to SULLY! It is often impossible to tell where one name stops and the next one starts.

However we may choose to group the variants, we are now reaching a very interesting stage where all the co­ordinators are coming to very similar conclusions: that in the 16th and 17th centuries there were relatively few families bearing these surnames, and they are confirming some of the general impressions put forward in my article in the first issue of Soul Search.

As Janet Hurst described in Soul Search No 3, we now know that the SOOLEs of Ickleton, Herts, from which she and Canadian member Tom Richards are descended, derive from the 16th century Valery SOLE of THRIPLOW, Cambs.

Fred told us in the last issue of Soul Search that his earliest known ancestor was Matthew SOLE, who married at ELMDON, Essex in 1700, a lady baptised in 1668. Although his baptism has not been found, an Anne SOLE of THRIPLOW, widow, married a George Rand at ELMDON on 16 Sept 1672. Since Valery's grandson, Matthias, was buried at Thriplow on 11 May 1671, it seems very likely that Anne was his widow and Matthew was their son, moving to nearby Elmdon with her when she married George Rand. If Matthew was the same age as his wife or perhaps a year or two older he would be 3 to 5 years old when his father died, and 4 to 6 years old when she married again. With such a young child early remarriage would be essential. So this highly probable link would take Fred's Cambridge and Chatteris branch back to Valery as well. Valery is beginning to look like the patriarch of a whole clan.

Not far from Thriplow is HENLOW, Bedfordshire, where William Sole married Joan Allen in 1605. From them descend the SOLEs or SOALs of STOTFOLD and MEPPERSHALL on the Beds‑Herts border (17th century), DUNTON and WRESTLINGWORTH (18th cent), EYWORTH (18th‑19th cents) and GUILDEN MORDEN (19th cent), the last four all on the Beds‑Cambridgeshire border. This stem is represented in the society by Don and Lou Sole of Leawood, Kansas. Also at HENLOW, Gregory Sole, the elusive ancestor of Barbara Swinburne, Anna Pye and me, first surfaces about 1800. He probably belonged to this stem.

The KELSHALL (Herts) SOLEs go back to THERFIELD, another parish on the Herts‑Cambs border. Although the relationship of the THERFIELD, BUNTINGFORD, BUCKLAND and KELSHALL SOLEs to each other is as yet still shaky, the probability is strong they all go back to THERFIELD where the earliest Sole baptism was in 1646. Therfield is about half‑way between THRIPLOW and HENLOW.

It seems clear we are now getting close to tying together a whole group of families on the borders of Beds, Herts, Cambridgeshire and Essex.

In the Rivers and History article, I talked about the 16th century SOLEs of Tingrith and Flitwick in central Bedfordshire. The latter had links with both Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire since Chancery Proceedings of 1624 show that George Sole the elder of Flitwick bought from his brother John Sole of Toddington, warrener, in 1598, a messuage in Hertingfordbury, Herts. One witness to the deed, Hugh Barfoot, also a warrener, lived in Stecher ‑ presumably Stetchworth ‑Cambridge on the Essex border. George's son was married at Abingdon Piggots, Cambs, which is not far from Thriplow and Therfield and not a great deal further from Stetchworth.

We saw in the Rivers article, SOUL families at Bromham in the 16th century and at Olney from the 17th, were linked by the Ouse, and, much nearer its mouth, there was also a SOLE family at STRETHAM, Cambs, where the old Roman road, Akeman Street crossed the Ouse, close to its confluence with the Cam. This was a much more extensive family than I had thought. Family tradition claims kinship with the armigerous Kentish family of Bobbing Place near Sittingbourne, though I have my doubts. What is certain is that there were precious few SOLE families in these three counties in the 16th century and it is by no means unlikely that all of them descend from a single man who lived, perhaps, in the 14th or 15th century. If the tradition in the Stretham family of a Kentish origin did turn out to be true, and was not just a concoction by an unscrupulous 18th century herald or wishful thinking by a nouveau riche Stretham Sole wishing to claim kinship with an armigerous family, Stretham, in a strategic trading position not far from the mouth of the Ouse in the Wash, could be the ultimate source of all the Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, and Cambridgeshire families, which would mean they all went back to the Kentish Soles. But in my previous articles, I have suggested other possible derivations.

Rosemary and her sub‑co‑ordinator John Slaughter have been having a similar kind of experience with the SAULs. If, as Rosemary's report in the last journal would suggest, all the Cumbrian SAULs do indeed derive from the Solway Firth parish of HOLME CULTRAM ‑ the very name of which is Norse (from holm, "small island", particularly used for a hump of land in marshes) and which was among the first areas of Viking settlement in Cumbria ‑ it would support my suggestion that in Cumbria, SAUL might well be derived from a Norse personal name. As I mentioned there, Ekwall's Dictionary of Place Names gives a Norse name SULA as the root of SOULBY, though Soulby was in Kirkby Stephen parish in Westmorland, a long way from Holme Coltram. Barber's British Family Names (1903) gives as one of the origins of SAUL, the Norse personal name SJOLFR, a contraction of SAE‑ULFR (sea wolf). But whether the eponymous ancestor was SULA or SJOLFR, it is looking as if we might be talking about a single ancestor with a Norse name. Now I know exactly where the Cumbrian Sauls came from, I think this derivation is rather more likely than my alternative one from SALH, sallow (a bushy kind of willow).

John Slaughter's work points towards a number of Norfolk SAUL families as deriving from the Mundesley area of Norfolk in the 17th century. Mundesley is only about 15 miles from the parish of SALLE (pronounced to rhyme with call, hall etc) from which the Norfolk Sauls almost certainly took their name. SALL is, incidentally, spelt without the 'V' in my road atlas, in The Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names, in Lewis's Topographical Dictionary and in the Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers but my Ordnance Survey Atlas gives it as SALLE and so does John Slaughter in his report, saying it has only recently acquired the 'c'. Maybe both spellings are still accepted. Having now searched the printed Index to Norwich Wills 1370‑1550, 1 now have no doubts at all that the Norfolk SAULs derive from SALLE, for in this early period there are seven SALL or SALLE wills and not a single SAUL one. Clearly the SAUL spelling developed only after the Biblical name was pronounced the same as the place ‑ it would earlier have been King Sowl, and Sowl of Tarsus ‑ and probably in places too far from SALLE for the place name to be familiar. When an illiterate said his name was SALL (pronounced SAUL), the vicar or clerk simply wrote down the Biblical name he was familiar with. This spelling change would seem to have come in the 16th century. The first SAUL entry (actually SAULL) in the index of PCC wills (the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, a national court for people who had property in more than one jurisdiction) is 1554 for a cleric who had lands in Lincolnshire, Sussex and Dorset. Three earlier ones ‑ all London ‑ are for SALL(E). In the Commissary Court of London, the first SAUL will (actually SAULE) is 1504; earlier ones are all SALLE.

In chronological order, the seven Norwich SALL or SALLE wills came from Illygh Monachorum (1376) which I cannot identify, Oxnead (1381) four parishes east of Salle about half‑way between Norwich and Mundesley, Great Ryburgh (1457) about six parishes due west of Salle, Happisburgh (1458) a few parishes to the south‑east along the coast from Mundesley, "Waytonsham", perhaps an old form of Wiveton (1477) due north of Salle along the coast from Cromer, Horstead (1530) just to the north of Norwich and five parishes to the south‑east of Salle, and Hainford (1547) between Horstead and Salle.

A little further away, Richard McKinley's Norfolk and Suffolk Surnames of the Middle Ages cites a bondman called Robert Salle as resident in 1207 at Burnham. There were several Burnhams, all in the same area, but Burnham on its own almost certainly must be Burnharn Market near the north coast of Norfolk, not far from the Wash. McKinlay's source was Dodwell's Feet of Fines for the County of Norfolk 1201‑1215, a royal record of land transactions. This is an early surname reference for a villein, though there is no certainty it was hereditary. Robert or his father most probably came from Sall, 20 miles away, but he could have worked at the local hall, a possibility McKinlay does not mention. McKinlay cites Robert alongside a number of other examples of villeins bearing the surname of a place some distance away and suggests either that serfs were moved from manor to manor or else that freemen moving onto a manor were sometimes reduced to villeinage.

Leaving aside the parish I have not identified, these seven parishes are all within a 20‑mile circle centring on Salle. It is interesting that if this circle is divided into three equal segments, a north‑western, a north‑eastern and a southern, John Slaughter has found that by the parish register period, nearly all the Sauls are in the north‑eastern one, the other families presumably either having died out or moved, perhaps to Norwich or along the coast.

Even more interesting, whereas in Bedfordshire the rivers seem to have been most important in terms of migration, in Norfolk it was clearly the roads. Every one of the places listed above is close to a main road leading from Norwich to the coast. Salle itself was on one of the two east to west roads from the east coast. A few miles west of Salle, on its way to Kings Lynn, this road passed through North Elmham, ancient capital of the Kings of East Anglia and proud possessor of Norfolks first cathedral before the See was transferred first to Thetford and then to Norwich. In medieval times, Norfolk was one of the most economically developed parts of England and it must have been easy to get from Sall to almost anywhere in the north of Norfolk. Except for Burnham, the earlier identified places are within 10 miles; the later ones are 10‑15 miles from Salle with a trend towards the coast.

Of course there is no presumption that anyone went directly from Salle to any of the various places where the surname crops up in wills. The route might have been a tortuous one. For example, in 1430 John Larwood, a cleric, asked to be buried at Wiveton, but his surname was derived from a locality in Horstead parish and was well established there. (McKinlay, pp.86‑7). Could some 15th century Sall have accompanied him from his birthplace as a servant? Or could Michael Salle of "Wavtonsham" (1477) be descended from the villein Robert of Burnham, not too far along the coast from Wiveton?

In my first article I cited Bardesley's Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames (1901) as giving as an example under SAUL:

The surname of the famous knight commemorated by Froissart (1332‑1348) is variously written DE LA SALE, DE LA SAULE, DE AULA or DE HALLE

Bardesley, quite understandably, uses this reference as an example of a second origin for SAUL ‑ the first was the Biblical name ‑ "at the saule (i.e. Sale) from residence therein as owner or servitor, O.E. sel, a hall; Fr salle." But was he right?

Froissart was a medieval chronicler and according to him Sir Robert de la Sale was “one of the biggest knights in all England". A form of his surname not mentioned by Bardesley was DE SALLE. He came from Norfolk and was said to have been the son of Edmund, son of a Roger de Salle. When he fought against Litester's East Anglian rebellion in 1381, the rebels said he was "no gentleman born" but the son of a villein (medieval serf). In 1369 he bought Oxnead, a parish roughly half‑way between Sall and Mundesley, soon after killing the miller there. He was killed in the 1381 rebellion and his will was the 1381 Oxnead one mentioned above. He left a brother, John de Salle, a taverner of Norwich, whose social status certainly supports the rebels' claim about Robert's lowly origin.

In The Romance of Names (1922), a mine of information and interesting speculation about the development of surnames, Ernest Weekley, talking about the surname HALL says, “If Hall's ancestor's name had chanced to be put down in Anglo‑French as DE LA SALE, he might be known as SALE or even as SAUL." But I simply do not think it operated this way round. If a man used a surname derived from the vernacular, I doubt if the way the scribes chose to translate it made the slightest difference to him or his progeny. DE LA SALE might perhaps sometimes have been a scribe's translation of HALL but it might also be a normanisation of a name which sounded similar. In Sir Robert's case, there is little doubt in my mind that his surname had nothing whatever to do with being at a hall. When a scribe writing in Latin wished to translate Robert's name, he did so as DEAULA (of the Hall) much as he might have translated mine (Steel) as CHALYBS without giving a thought as to its actual origin. When he was writing in Norman­-French, it was DE LA SALE as mine might have been DEL'ACIER. There are plenty of examples of this type. The most imaginative was perhaps LILBURNE latinised as DE INSULA FONTIS ("of the island of the stream") as though the origin of the name was the Norman/English hybrid DELISLE BURN.

Even the plainer DE SALLE, unlike the later French usage of "de" ‑ the "particule" as it was called ‑ did not indicate higher status; it simply meant "OF SALLE in a document written in Norman‑French. This is something much misunderstood by users of printed medieval sources who imagine that because the early instances of their surname often have a "de" in front of them, that their ancestors must have been gentry. But it simply meant someone who came from a certain place, and should be translated “of”. Since landowners figure more frequently in national or local government records than other people, they may well have owned the place they came from, but it cannot be assumed. Oxnead is so near SALL that it seems pretty certain to me that Sir Robert's surname was derived from there. If the names on Robert's alleged pedigree are genuine, it seems likely that it was Robert's father, Edmund, who came from Sall. The rebels said that Robert was the son of a villein and this is very likely indeed for this is just the time when villeins were being given their freedom as a result of the shortage of labour following the Black Death of 1349. If villeins were not given their freedom, they simply ran away and their new employer, chronically short of labour, asked no questions. The Honeycombe family used for the BBC series, were an example. The earliest Honeycombe of whom we have a record was a serf. In 1356, William de Honyacombe, a freeman, took possession of the 22 acres of Honeycombe in the parish of Calstock, Devon, "which John de Honyacombe took in villein convention at the last assession" (in 1349). Like John de Honyacombe, Sir Robert's DESALLE ancestors would seem to have been villeins. The second half of the 14th century was also the period when the surnames of the common people were becoming hereditary. Clearly the origins of the Norfolk SAULs are to be sought in this period.

Quite possibly the 17th century Mundesley Sauls were related to the two DESALLE brothers ‑ maybe even descendants of the tavern keeper, John ‑ but it is most unlikely we shall ever be able to prove it. Also, of course, unrelated people may well have gone from Sall to the places round about (and also Norwich) at different times and several of these may have left descendants using the surname.

As I pointed out in my first article, alternative spellings like those for Sir Robert bring the SALE surname into the picture. SALE researchers collect SALLEs ‑ the clue to the Norfolk origins of Sir Robert was, in fact, given to me by a SALE ‑ and once we have done our homework, examples of cross‑over between SALE and SALLE may well turn out to be quite numerous. The committee discussed the status of the SALE surname and while they fully supported Geoff’s decision to include all SALEs in the IGI in our database and my charting of SALE families as I came across them, they felt that we had quite enough surnames to cope with at the moment as major interests. So while any SALEs who feel their interests overlap with ours will be very welcome as members, we shall not be overtly seeking for the time being to enrol them or to include SALE material in the journal in any systematic way.

That said, SALE and its variants remain on Geoff’s variants list as a grey area in which we take an interest. We can review the situation at a later date in the light of the evidence.

Only one SALE appeared in the Norwich wills index and that was a Suffolk one.

The Index Society volume Wills at Chelmsford 1400‑1619 covers not only the Essex jurisdictions but the Archdeaconry Court of Middlesex and Commissary Court of London (Essex and Herts divisions). So as well as one SAULE and four SALEs in Essex, they include two SOLEs, a SOWLE, three SOLESs and a SOOLES all from the Bishops Stortford area of Hertfordshire. These slot into families we know about from the IGI. More than any of these were the 14 SELLs or SELLEs, 9 of them from Littlebury, right on the Essex‑Cambs border, and the very next parish to Elmdon, where Fred's ancestor came from. Indeed, Fred has given me a batch of SELL entries (or perhaps SOLL) from Elmdon itself around 1700. The earliest of the Littlebury SELL wills was 1521, but there was a 1482 one from Chingford, and a 1517 one from Loughton. The Littlebury and Chingford/Loughton ‘pockets’, though widely separated, are both on the old road from London to Cambridge and Norwich. The SELLs may have travelled from one to the other along the road, but I am struck by the fact that just off the road about half‑way is Hertford, where there was a settlement at SELE (SELA in Domesday), the name now preserved, I think, only in the Sele Farm Estate in Hertford, a modern housing estate where, it so happens, my brother lives. Whether of not they take their name from SELE, I rather doubt if the Littlebury/Elmdon SELLS are in any way connected with the Elmdon SOLEs though we cannot be sure until more work has been done. Although we are not studying SELL in depth, as with SALE, we are, as a precaution, including them in our database.

Let us move on to another variant (or allied surname ‑ take your pick!). In her short article in this issue of Soul Search, Helen Allen quotes a Cornish surname dictionary to the effect that the Cornish SAWLEs and SOWELLs probably derive from a Cornish personal name SAWEL. However, the SOWELLs may well take their name from Sowell Farm in Kentisbeare parish in Devon. As for SAWLE, the relationship to the first name SAWEL may be at second hand through one or more of the place names TRESAWLE which Helen lists.

It would, perhaps, work like this. At a very early date a man with the Christian name SAWEL had a farm which was then called TRESAWEL. (In Cornish Tre = homestead). Centuries later, a family from Tresawle bore the place‑name as its surname, the "Tre" subsequently being dropped. Detailed work on the Cornish SAWLEs may throw more light on this. But the SAWLE spelling is not uniquely Cornish. A John SAWLE appears in the 1296 Subsidy Rolls for Sussex, so we do not yet know whether all the present‑day SAWLEs are of Cornish origin or not.

With over 200 variants of "our" surnames on Geoff’s list, I thought we must be unique. However, in The Romance of Names, Weekley says that Dugdale, the 17th century antiquary, found more than 130 variants of MAINWARING among the parchments of that family. So although not so long ago, I sent our enthusiastic Australian member Glenda Manwaring a history of the Manwarings which I came across in a catalogue, it won't help her to switch her attention from SAUL to her husband's family. It is just as soggy a surname as ours!

The second part of this article will appear in the next issue of Soul Search and will look at progress on the SOLLEY and SEWELL surnames.

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