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




from Diana Kennedy


 This article was originally published in the August 2008 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society



Newspapers can provide a wealth of information about our ancestors and when I found the Ipswich Journal on line I spent many a happy hour trawling through it for Sewell names, finding references not only for my own ancestors but also for the Sole Society records.


 The Ipswich Journal as a local newspaper not only provided articles from Suffolk but across the country and from abroad. There were of course the usual birth and marriage announcements and obituaries, these often providing a missing date for the records. There were also Sewells mentioned in meetings, criminal proceedings, advertisements and notices of the sale of property and households. Every piece of information can add interest to our Sewell records and help build up a picture of our ancestors.


One obituary that caught my eye was for Jonathan Sewell: 

On 20th September 1823 at Wood, County Virginia, North America, Jonathan, fourth son of Mr John Sewell, of  Kelsale, in this county, few young men have lived more respected, or died more lamented. (Ipswich Journal, Saturday 10 Jan 1824) 


This Jonathan belonged in my own family tree and the only information I had for him was his baptism in 1791. I had no idea what had happened to him, but still have no idea as yet why he went to America. There is no mention of a wife or family and I assume he stayed unmarried.

Advertisements for the auction of property and households give a lot of information into how our ancestors lived and their working lives. 

Michaelmas Sales, to be sold in Auction by Stopher and son at East Green, Kelsale

On Wednesday October 4th 1854 at 12 o’clock

The valuable Live and Dead Farming stock, part of the household furniture, Brewing, Dairy, and washing requisites, late of the property of Mr Daniel Sewell, composing two capital chestnut cart mares, useful bay harness colt, 5 handsome prime milch cows, colours red, 4and 5 years old, 2 year old steers, 2 breeding cows, quantities of fowls, capital light close light buck wagon, 2 good ¾ load carts, night soil cart, (new), with trough, strong luggage cart, gig, foot plough, harrows, good jointed roll, hand chafe-cutter, 32 and 16 stave ladders, wheelbarrow, the usual hand tools, cart and plough harness, (hogs) seeding engine, and troughs, 4feeding hods, corn chest, etc.


The Household furniture will include4 post and other bedsteads, mattresses, featherbeds, and bedding, chest with drawers, 8day and 30hour, clocks, elm and other chairs, mahogany dining and other tables, corner cupboard, fire irons and fenders, glass, earthen, stone and tin wares, copper and iron saucepans, boilers, frying-pan, capital 40gallon copper, 18,do., brewing tubs, and underback, well-seasoned beer casks, pork tubs. The dairy Articles: good ¾ barrel churn, butter keeler, cheese tub, partition milk trays, 10 milk keelers, butter scales and weights, cheese boxes, with other useful and valuable articles, the whole described in catalogue, which will be duly circulated. (Ipswich Journal, 23 Sept 1854)

The sale of farming land for property development is of course nothing new, as this advertisement from 1837 shows.

Aldeburgh, to be sold in the month of August.

A very desirable estate: comprising a small Genteel Residence, and 22 acres of superior arable land, adjoining the Turnpike-road, and commanding interesting views of the German Ocean, (now known as the North Sea) and the River Alde. This property is in the occupation of Mr John Sewell, and his undertenants, and will be sold in lots for the convenience of persons desirous of erecting Mansions or small villas, to partake of the salubrious air of this fashionable bathing place.

Further particulars may be had at the offices of Mr J. Fretwell, Surveyor, Oxford: and Mr Cavell, Solicitor, Saxmundham and Yoxford, where plans of the different lots may be seen. (Ipswich Journal July 15, 1837)

Some of the criminal proceedings against our ancestors seem petty almost comical: 

John Mills (on bail) charged with stealing on 28th March last, 2 fowls, the property of Joseph Sewell, of Yoxford.

Mr Cooper prosecuted, Mr Palmer defended the prisoner.

In this case it approved that the prosecutor had some fowls stolen from his coop on the 27 March last, which were found the following day in a cart, at the Crown Inn, Woodbridge, in the possession of a poulterer named Proctor, who had bought them from the prisoner for 3s 3d. The fowls were produced in court and identified by the prosecutor – one having a bent foot, the other yellow legs.

Mt Palmer addressed the jury on behalf of the prisoner, and the Chairman summed up the case; after which the jury, in a few minutes, returned a verdict of guilty: 3 months imprisonment. (Suffolk Trinity Sessions) (Ipswich Journal July 7 1849)

At Halesworth Petty Sessions: 

Stephen Mayhew, of Middleton, a servant to Wm Sewell, of the same place, farmer, was brought up in custody charged with having on the 21st June, at Middleton, stolen 4 hen’s eggs value 3d, the property of his master. Prisoner pleaded guilty and his master stated that he had lost a great many eggs, yet he wished the bench to deal leniently with him. Prisoner was sentenced to 1months imprisonment with hard labour. (Ipswich Journal 25 Jun 1881)

In the 1881 census Stephen Mayhew had a wife and five children, the youngest just four months old.


Others, as today, seem to have made a career out of crime. In January 1877 Frederick Sewell with Philip Read, were committed to the Assizes for highway robbery with violence on the highway at Snape.  So far I have not found a mention in the paper of the trial, but in March 1878, in the report of the Visiting Justices to the County Gaol, a Major Rouse brought up the matter of the criminal Frederick Sewell who had been committed to the local Lunatic Asylum in Melton. The Governor had requested to the Secretary of State, that Sewell be sent to Broadmoor Lunatic Asylum. But the order came for him to be sent to Melton. Major Rouse went on to say that: 

Sewell was a very dangerous and violent man and in consequence of the great liberty given the inmates, he escaped and might have murdered his wife and children. He felt bound to draw the attention of the Court to the danger arising from sending criminal lunatics to an Asylum like that at Melton, where the inmates were treated as kindly as possible and where great liberty was given them.

Frederick Sewell appears to have been released from the asylum, for at the Halesworth Petty Sessions in April 1880 he was on a charge of stealing pheasants and again committed to the Assizes. This was not to be an end to his criminal career, for in February 1881 at Saxmundham he was charged with having trespassed on the land of the Duke of Hamilton in search of game. This time Sewell was fined £2.8s.6d as he was an old offender. This was not quite the end of Frederick, for in June that year his wife Clara died in childbirth with their sixth child. At the inquest, witnesses came forward to state that in the previous weeks Clara had been seen covered with bruises. The Coroner however returned a verdict of death by natural causes due to blood poisoning. Frederick and his remaining family then seem to disappear from the records.


On a lighter note, John Sewell of Crosby, West Cumberland, took on a wager: 

John Sewell was said to be upwards of 50 years of age and weighs about 15 stone undertook, for a trifling wage, to walk 48 miles in twelve hours, between Cockermouth and Bridgefoot. Mr Sewell walked the distance in 11 hours and 5 minutes and won the wager. (Ipswich Journal Saturday 22 June 1805)

Coroners recordings always have a sad side and record the many pitfalls open to our ancestors, although seem a little bizarre. The following headline drew my attention: 

‘Death from the bite of a cat’. An inquest was held on Tuesday morning by Mr Langham on the body of James Richard Sewell, aged twelve years, who was bitten by a cat on July 14. The cat had had kittens in Holiday Yard, Ludgate Hill, and the neighbours had drowned them. The mother made such a noise subsequently that the women gave the deceased a penny to drown her. He caught the cat, and she bit him. The boy died on Wednesday morning in St Bartholomew’s Hospital of hydrophobia of a malignant kind. The jury returned a verdict of Accidental death. (Ipswich Journal 11 Sept 1785)

Another inquest provides a tragic cautionary tale: 

At an inquest before J.E. Sparrow Esq., Coroner - On Saturday last at Knoddishall, near Aldeburgh, on the body of Mr James Sewell, a respectable farmer, of that parish, age 33. It appeared that on the previous Wednesday, the deceased was in his garden with his gun, when he was asked by one of his children to restore a toy, which had become lodged on the pump. Unfortunately, however, Mr Sewell incautiously used his gun, when, raising the butt end to the pump, the piece went off, and the contents were lodged in his abdomen. He walked into the house, and proceeded up stairs, stating that “He had shot himself, and was a dead man.” The best surgical advice was procured, but on Friday morning Mr Sewell expired. The Jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death.” By this deeply afflicting occurrence, five children have been deprived of a father. (Ipswich Journal, 14th July 1849)

James Sewell left not five children but six, as his wife Rebecca was pregnant with their sixth child who was born soon after his father’s death. 


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