How SOALS came to Lewisham
By Lizzie Love
This article was originally published in the November 1997 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
July 1997 ‑ my phone rings. "Ralph Soal here. l've got the bible here in front of me," My heart somersaults.
Well. ‑ you know how it does.
Ralph is a once‑removed second cousin. Five months earlier, we were barely aware of each other's existence. I had met his father William when I was five but I became 'mislaid' soon after that (don't ask!).
It seems nobody was sure what Mother had done with me and they did not like to enquire. In February, I wrote to a number of phonebook SOALs, had a huge response and ended fifty years as a semi‑detached relation.
Ralph was about to start on the family history, quite unaware of the Innes Collection, my mother's thirty years of research bequeathed to the SoG. Hardly surprising: I did not know either until last Year. Very secretive, my Mum.
The oldest family document we have is this fragile bible inscribed. "Sarah Lloyd ‑ her book ‑ 1817". In it she records her marriage to Edward Soal and the births of their children. Transcripts of Sarah's entries had circulated for a while but proof lay, with the descendants of Sarah's Youngest grandson Ernest Reginald Soal, Greengrocer and Fruiterer, of Lewisham, Kent. Now it had been revealed.
Edward Soal and Sarah Lloyd were my great‑great‑great‑grandparents through their eldest grandson, also named Edward.
Edward‑1 was born 14 March 1782 in a place unknown. He married Sarah at Loughton Parish Church, Essex, on 14 June 1824. Edward was an ostler and fifteen years older than his bride. The PR entry confirms the spelling as SOAL and for a man who claims to be illiterate he handles a pen with skill. No clumsy cross but a sunwheel of four strokes with a distinct hub. We know nothing of them before this time and they seem to have left Loughton as suddenly as they came. The witnesses, Charles and Jane Harris may hold the key..
Their next stop was Boughton‑under‑Blean, Kent, where Edward‑1 was a farrier, possibly attached to an inn there. Their daughters Mary (1825), Sarah (1828), Eliza (1830), and son Edward‑2 (1832) were born in Boughton. A baby was stillborn in 1836 and William, my great‑great‑grandfather, followed in 1837 just a month too soon for GRO registration (curses!). William was baptised in Gravesend, and the last child, Emma, thought to be a twin, was born there in 1840.
Mary is thought to be the mother of William Kelly Soal (1852) and Sarah married Stephen Letchford in 1853.
On 13 July 1856 at 10 Garden Row, Gravesend, with daughter Eliza attending him. Edward‑1 succumbed to bronchitis. He was 74 and had been widowed five Years. Eliza wed William Marlow, son of a shipwright the following year. Edward‑2 disappeared completely. "Eaten by natives" said one of the aunts. Nothing more is known of him.
Williarn eventually made his way to Kentish Town where on 29 July 18622, he married Mary Ann Harknett of Broxbourne, Herts. William is described as a miller of Millwall, Poplar and it was there at 9, Alfred St, that Margaret Sophia (1863), Sarah (1864), Edward‑3 (1866), Mary Arm (1868) and William Charles (1870) were born.
Docklands was being redeveloped (not for the last time) and with five children in tow, the family, moved over the river to Lewisham, a village then, where seven more were born: Elizabeth Jane (1873), Henry Stephen & Alfred Thomas (1875), Albert George & Ernest Reginald (1878), Edith Rose (1880), and Ruth Emily (1883). Of the twins, only Ernest Reginald survived, reaching his eighties as did most of the others.
In Lewisham, William at first worked at the mill tending the standing engines that drove the machinery. Rumour has it that, with an expanding family, he asked for a rise and when it was refused, walked out and started his fruiterers business, Two more generations of SOALs traded in fruit, vegetables, flowers and also coal in Lewisham and Ladywell, surviving two world wars and the long hours and heavy lifting that is a small trader's lot.
William died on 8 January 1900 in Lewisham. His will, made seven years previously is the earliest we have to date. It names his wife Mary Ann as sole executrix and beneficiary. In 1902 his eldest daughter Margaret Sophia made a will, a mini‑census of the family, packed with names and addresses, a priceless bequest to us all, and a lesson to will‑writers everywhere.
Now isn't it amazing what a greengrocer's daughters got up to in Victorian times? Did they sit over the shop doing their embroidery? No. Did they spend their time in sacking aprons polishing the apples and weighing out the King Edwards? No, they did not.
Well, not for long anyway.
The will reveals that Sarah is in Tooting with husband William South, (a Salvation Army officer). Nurse Mary Ann, still single, is at the Sanatorium, Osborne House, loW. Elizabeth Jane, also unmarried, is at Metlahkatla, British Columbia, a remote mission occupied largely by loggers, gold prospectors, native Americans and Chinese cannery workers. Finally, Edith Rose, who eventually went to sea, lives at Park Fever Hospital, Catford, not far from Ruth Emily and their mother who had moved from the shop.
William's widow, Mary Ann died in 1912 in Lewisham and Margaret Sophia died in 1919 at Brighton where she is thought to have had a boarding house. Sarah South moved to Dedham, Essex and lived to be 92. Ruth, in 1907, married John Douglas Payne who died at the third battle of Ypres.
William's three sons all followed their father into greengrocery. William Charles moved away to Barking, Essex but Edward‑3 and Ernest had shops in Lewisham, one each side of the bridge. I descend from Edward, and Ralph descends from Ernest, whose daughter Ivy Doris was custodian of the precious bible. These will need articles of their own as will the intrepid aunts, so watch out for pieces in which...
1. Three tragedies bring to an end the line of William Charles.
2. Mary Ann becomes personal nurse to Queen Victoria and is present at the end of an era.
3. Elizabeth Jane, under a wandering star, spends 20 years on the NW Frontier.
4. Edith Rose becomes nurse., stewardess on an ocean liner and marries the captain.
Ah' Nursing isn't what it used to be. Nor are vegetables come to that, but that's progress.
Main Sources ‑ The Innes Collection at SoG and Mrs Innes private papers.
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