Ickleton as our Ancestors Knew It
By Janet Hurst
This article was originally published in the April 2005 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
My husband Mike’s father descends from the Soole family of Ickleton. I investigated the line years ago and much information has since been added by others to the family tree (see the Sole CD-ROM). I wrote an article about the Ickleton Sooles in Soul Search in 1993. This is available on the Sole Society website for anyone who is interested.
I have not done much digging into this family for years, but I was a local history researcher before getting hooked on genealogy and I’m always keen to learn about our ancestors’ lives. I keep an eye out for any publications or resources on the villages where they came from. A fairly recent (but expensive!) hobby is collecting postcards of Cambridgeshire villages. Cards of Ickleton seem to be a bit thin on the ground, unless you want views of the parish church. However I did strike lucky with a couple of street scenes which are reproduced overleaf.
For anyone who is interested to see the conditions of village life of yesteryear, they will probably come as a bit of a shock. Both cards are dated on the back 1909; one was postally used and the other has a pencilled annotation. The photographs may be older than this, as postcard publishers notoriously re-used old pictures. These were issued by Guy of Saffron Walden, who probably went round the villages taking the photos himself. Even though we cannot date the photos exactly, we are only talking about 100 years ago – the era when the grandparents of many of us were growing up. However there’s a good chance that the houses will have been there for many years before they were photographed.
First of all, note the state of the roads. No tarmac and no pavements in those days, just lots of mud and muck thanks to the main means of transport – the horse. Not to mention the farm animals that also used the thoroughfares. Imagine the smell in the summer! Secondly look at the condition of those quaint cottages. They are quite dilapidated. Their inhabitants would probably die of shock if they knew the modern value of the properties.
The people on the cards are also fascinating. On one card there is a lady on the right holding a baby, and a second lady by a perambulator containing another infant. Note how close the long white apron is to the filthy road surface! In the distance there is a horse and trap, but a more modern means of transport – a bicycle – is propped against the hedge on the left.
The card with the four men and horses and traps is particularly intriguing. Presumably the two chaps in long aprons were repairing something on the horseless vehicle, so were they village carpenters or wheelwrights or blacksmiths? More tantalisingly, were they members of the Soole family? The Sooles were carpenters in Ickleton going back to the 18c and in the 1891 census Thomas Soole, aged 60, was a carpenter and postmaster. His two sons, George 27 and Albert 18, were also carpenters. Was that tatty wooden shed on the left their workshop?
It was at this stage that I got out my Ickleton file. In the early 1990s when I carried out the research I had been able to locate three houses owned by Richard Soole (grandfather of Thomas) on the 1814 enclosure map. In 1992 I visited the village and took photographs of the sites. Schedule number 37 was the house and carpenter’s shop, but these buildings had gone when I took the picture, replaced with a more modern house and a bungalow. However the view on the card and my photo look uncannily similar. This makes it very likely that the men in aprons were Sooles, although I doubt shall be able to prove it. Unwittingly, have I bought a card with family members on it? Does anyone have photographs of George or Albert that could be used for comparison?
I have also included two views of the parish church. These are useful as they show the building as it was before the dreadful fire of 1979. They also have people in them. Who is the man in the bowler hat? The card was posted in 1907. Some youngsters and their hairy dog are standing by the gate in the other picture. On the back is written in pencil July 1924, but I have no idea if that date is accurate or not. The Sooles were confirmed Anglicans, holding the role of parish clerk over the generations, although I do not know if this was still the case in Edwardian times. Even if the people in the cards are unrelated to our ancestors, seeing the church where they worshipped every Sunday contributes to a more rounded family history.
Postcard fairs are held all over the country and you can also buy cards over the internet. You may not be as lucky as me and find a card with possible family members on it but you might have some cards in your family archive, where the messages on the back can often help your researches. But if you find any more street scenes of Ickleton, please give me first refusal!
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