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

Found - A Lost SOLE (Part 1)

by Sid Robinson

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

As a boy, I had had some idea that we were related to the Soles who lived in a place called Kelshall, but to me any place more than walking distance away might as well have been on the moon, so I wasn't interested.

I had heard that two of our aunts ‑ Dad's sisters ‑ when children in the 1890s had visited the Soles, and afterwards had said that the Sole children had slept in a small room with an earth floor in a little cottage, and that they were dirty and nitty. How dirty they had been remains a matter of opinion, because the young aunts had been brought up spotlessly clean and tidy by Grannie Robinson. Without any doubt these aunts, when grown up many years later, must have considered us Robinson children dirty. I know that I had always used every subterfuge to remain unwashed ‑ for washing in those days was a Spartan ordeal ‑ and Ivy and I were sometimes nitty.

In the last year of the Great War of 19148 our aunt Kate, Dad's sister, returning from a visit to the Soles in Kelshall, brought back a pair of boys' leather breeches her uncle Daniel Sole had given her, thinking that "they may do for young Sid". These had belonged to his youngest son Arthur who had outgrown them but not outworn them. This act of kindness was to cause me unhappiness, as told in my book.

It may seem unbelievable, but forty‑three years were to pass before I thought of the Soles again; much of that time I had spent overseas. Our father was not interested in his relatives, did not encourage visitors, and as far as I know never maintained any contact with the Soles, but when he was quite old, and I had retired, I asked him about them.

He confirmed that his father John Robinson had changed his name from John Sole born in Kelshall in 1855, one of ten children of John Sole born in 1826. Unfortunately I cannot recall if he had told me why he had changed his name. Perhaps Dad did not know. Everything Dad had told me I wrote on odd scraps of paper. It was a miracle these survived nearly another twenty years when they were invaluable in preparing the family tree for my book. With the help of Anne King at Kelshall and the County Archivists I was able to trace us Robinsons from Grandad John Sole back through a male Sole line three hundred years, to a William Soull born in Buckland, Herts in 1695. 

It was only when Don Steel and Fred Sole, after reading my book suggested that I become a founder member of the proposed Sole Society did I decide to try to find out more about Grandad Robinson who had changed his name from Sole although there was nobody left I could ask.

Examination of the available Census records shows that John Sole aged six, a scholar, was living with his parents and brothers and sisters in Kelshall in 1861. He was still there in 1871, aged fifteen, working in the fields. On the basis of what I knew I hoped I would not find John Sole in Kelshall 1881 Census returns and I did not find him. He had been married ‑as John Robinson aged 25 ‑ in 1880 in London, to Anne Ports of Billington.

The certificate survives. Dad was born in 1881. My Dad had told me that he and the rest of the family went to Kensworth in 1891, where his Dad, John Robinson, became landlord of The Sugar Loaf Inn. The Kensworth Census for that year confirms it and he declared his place of birth as Kelshall. The family all left Kensworth for Enfield in 1894.

It was at this stage of research that I gave up. I was convinced that Granddad had been John Sole but I wished there had been some written evidence. No official change of name had been registered.

Many months passed then something unexpected happened. I received a letter from Mrs. Susan De Courcy Rolls in Brentwood requesting a copy of my book which Don Steel had recommended her to buy. I learned that she had descended from Goodman Sole, my Granddad's eldest brother. Susan is a very keen family history researcher and we chatted on the phone. I must have mentioned Arthur Sole whose breeches had been sent for me when we were boys because Susan said that she had known Arthur briefly before he died. She had known his wife Beatrice better, who had shown her a very old, small, notebook ‑ a diary ‑ with many miscellaneous entries. There was one on a page headed 1898 that read:

John Sole died 13th June in Enfield.

Indeed, our Granddad John Robinson had collapsed and died of a heart attack in Bush Hill Park, Enfield on 13th June 1898 aged 43 years. Grandma would have notified Granddad's relatives of her tragic, sudden loss and of course only referred to "John" in her messages, without mention of surname. To the relatives in Kelshall ‑ many of who were alive then, such as her father‑in‑law John Sole and her four brothers‑in‑law Goodman, William, Edward and Daniel with their numerous children ‑ it would have been John Sole who had passed away and that is the name they would have written in their family bibles or diaries.

Some other confirmation of Granddad's change of name may, of course, be found in the future but I am now satisfied that I have found a Sole who might otherwise have remained lost.


Since I wrote this article, Susan De Courcy Rolls has put me in touch with Arthur Halls of Stotfold. He is the son of Sarah Halls nee Sole, the daughter of Daniel Sole, my Granddad Robinson's younger brother. It seems that the Kelshall Soles referred to the Robinsons as the London family Soles. Arthur has had passed down to him a print of a photograph ‑ reproduced in my book ‑ of the Robinsons taken in London in 1891. I hope to learn more from Arthur shortly. 

Return to The Sole Society Home Page