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

George Christopher Solley

Esteemed in Public Life, but distrusted by some of his Family

By Keith Parry

This article was originally published in the December 2001 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.

My maternal grandmother, Pauline Selina Cook (formerly Solley), was the step-niece of George Christopher Solley. She was only two years his junior and died in 1960, aged 88 years. Her parents, William and Charlotte, had thirteen children of whom four died in their infancy. I recall meeting five of her siblings, Sydney, Ted (Edward), Nell (Ellen), Mill (Amelia) and Tom (Thomas), the grandfather of Lynne Burlingham.

George Christopher Solley had continued to farm Richborough following the death of his father in 1899. It was in another of his roles, that of an auctioneer and estate agent, that I met him in 1937. Although only six years old, I was aware that the family did not trust him. I visited the office of George Christopher Solley with my mother, as my parents were about to rent a property which he managed. He was a smart tall impressive gentleman with bushy sideboards and a winged collar. I remember that on being given the first payment of rent, he commented that there was no need of a rent book as we were all family. My mother’s comment was to the effect, ’I am sorry Uncle Chris, but my husband will insist that we have a rent book!’

A short time later, my parents wanted a mortgage to enable them to purchase a property. The local building society was the Isle of Thanet, whose sub-office was with George Christopher Solley. To avoid having any dealings with him, the application and payments were made at the main office of the society in Ramsgate, although doing so at Sandwich would have been more convenient.

My grandmother was very proud of her Solley ancestry, and spoke with nostalgia of Richborough and the old days. I greatly regret not asking her questions in some depth, about the family and her early life. By implication, I concluded that some of the distrust of George Christopher Solley by the family, was related to his dealing with their inheritance. This became clearer through my later research and my appreciation of how the family perceived the situation.

George Christopher Solley was held in great public esteem, a councillor and later an alderman for many years, three times mayor, justice of the peace for both the Cinque Ports and the Borough of Sandwich. Essentially, he was an entrepreneur, but seen by some of the family as being a wheeler dealer. By the standards of today, some of his business ventures would be seen be in conflict with his many public roles.

He was a man of considerable intellect, whose knowledge of the East Kent area was greatly respected. George Christopher Solley was regarded as being a good public speaker, who held strong views on many subjects, such as the payment of church tithes. His direct action in the non-payment of the tithe resulted in sheep being seized from his farm at Richborough. Some of his papers, which are held in the care of Kent County Archives, could well merit research.

We need to look back to the middle and late nineteenth century, when considering the potential source of tension within the Solley family. George Solley of Richborough had married his second wife Selina Spooner, who was twenty-four years old and twenty-three years his junior, in 1866. There were seven children by his marriage to Mary Anne Files, who had died in the previous year. Their eldest son William was married in 1866, to Charlotte Taylor. They were the parents of my grandmother. George and Selina had two children, George Christopher and Constance, born in 1869 and 1875 respectively. Neither of them ever married.

After the death of their father in 1899, at the age of eighty-four years, George Christopher and Constance continued to live at Richborough with their mother. George Christopher also continued to farm the land. Selina and her son were joint executors of the Will. It contained specific bequests to Selina and George Christopher, with Selina receiving the income of the estate during her lifetime. On her death, the proceeds of the estate, which had been held in trust, were then to be equally divided between all of the children of George Solley.

It was a further nineteen years before Selina died in 1918. With the lapse of time, much of the estate may have been assimilated by George Christopher into his own, intentionally or otherwise. I do not know whether payments were made from the trust, or if any, amounts were far less than expected, but it would seem that the family of William and Charlotte believed that they had been unfairly treated. It was evident that George Christopher and Constance were more affluent in their lifestyle, with both continuing to live at Richborough.

George Christopher Solley, who died in 1941 at the age of seventy-two years, left his entire estate to his sister Constance. The press report of his funeral service, that took place at Ash Parish Church, listed the mourners present. These included many representatives from local government, the professions and the farming community, Those from the family included only Constance and two other Solleys. Many others from this still numerous East Kent family were conspicuous by their absence.

When Constance, the last surviving child of George Solley died in 1957 at the age of eighty-two years, she left here entire estate to her domestic servant. This event marked the end of the Solleys at Richborough.

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