The Septvans and Solleys
Pilgrim's Guest House, Sandwich
By Bill Solley
This article was originally published in the April 2002 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
This ancient building, No.39 Strand Street, has its origins in Norman times when it stood well back from the quayside and the River Stour.
Over the years additions were made and it became connected with No. 41 but leaving a small courtyard between the two buildings. Where No. 39 overlooked the courtyard a large window was inserted, having two rows of eight casements, each divided into eight leaded panes. Included in the upper casements two coats-of-arms related to the local families of Septvans and Solley or Solly.
Some years ago I met the late G.F. Fretten who had long association with the town and was engaged in writing a local history. To my surprise he presented to me a tentative family tree and records back to the sixteenth century. This had resulted from his efforts to prove a marriage between a Septvan and Solley/ Solly. He was unable to establish the provenance or date of the window but suggested a time later than a plaque in the wall dated 1606 with initials F.B. However, this article is intended to place on record the contents of the coats-of- arms in the hope that at some later date more information may come to light.
To clarify later descriptions it is intended to view the window from the room rather than from the courtyard and therefore a double or impaled coat-of-arms appears in the third upper casement from the left with a single shield in the third upper casement from the right.
In order to appreciate the heraldic terms it should be explained here that the person holding the shield in front of him would call the right-hand side the Dexter and the left-hand side the Sinister. As far as the viewer is concerned these positions will be reversed.
Dealing with the left-hand double coat-of-arms, this shows on the Dexter side ‘vert a chevron per pale and gules between three fishes naiant argent’ (a green shield with a chevron half gold and half red between three silver fishes swimming). On the Sinister side ‘a shield azure with three winnowing fans or and crescent’ (a blue shield with three gold winnowing fans and gold crescent).
The fish would appear to be soles and this name appears quite often in East Kent, including a reference in the Domesday Book ‘Ansfrid holds Soles (Court) from the Bishop - value before 1066 – 100s; later 20s; now £6. Aelmer held it from King Edward.’ Soles Court in the parish of Nonington is no longer standing and I have been unable to trace any records such as plans or photographs. Sometimes sole is referred to as a muddy place but the National Bibliography Vol. LIII (1898) states that it stems from Soules, near St Lo in Normandy and that persons from that area moved to East Kent and settled at Soles Court. There are a number of Soles in East Kent and G.F. Fretten told me that the name is sometimes pronounced with the ‘e’ hard, as Solley/Solly. I have been unable to find a direct link and the alternative spelling Solley/Solly could have come about by recording names phonetically. This still happens today.
The family was investigated at some length by George A. Solly when he was at Darwin College, University of Kent at Canterbury and in 1973 used the parish of Ash-next-Sandwich for a thesis on economic and social history. George Solly kindly passed on to me a great number of records to add to my searches through the Bishops’ Transcripts in Canterbury Cathedral and Mormon lists from Bristol’s main library. It was not possible to match all of these into an authentic tree and matters were still more complicated when I discovered the existence of another Solley family as recorded on a carved screen. This gave the initials of ten with the possibility of four more, sons and daughters of a John Solley of Pedding.
Comments from the College of Arms refer to the Heralds’ Visitation of Worcestershire in 1682/3 when there was a family of Solley at Orleton in that county holding arms such as those in the Pilgrims’ window. Although the right to these arms was not proven at that time there were Sollys at Hindlip in Worcestershire and at Stratford near London.
Returning to the right-hand side of the double coat-of-arms some interesting facts come to light. The three symbols which at first look like bee-hives are in fact winnowing fans or vans and relate to the family of Septvans. The Museum of English Rural Life, which is connected with Reading University, kindly supplied me with several examples of their use in separating the corn from the chaff after threshing had been carried out with a flail. One illustration related to Sir H. de Septvans where three vans were used on a coat-of-arms in Chartham church, Kent, dated AD 1306. It can be assumed that space could not be found for seven vans and an abbreviated form had to be used. The fine tracery in both shields is in white.
The crescent or cadency mark should relate to that of a daughter who had used her father’s crescent should he have been a second son.
When G.F. Fretten was investigating a coat-of-arms at the Hospital of St Thomas in Moat Sole, three vans were included among other crests and related to the family Harfleet. In a long document dated 1574 Robert Cooke, alias Clarenceux Principal Herchault (Herald?) and King of Arms, stated that ‘Gilbert Septvans, by reason of his abode and worthy service in the wars of Henry V, was surnamed Harflete by the name of the said town and also surnamed Cheker by the name of the said manor.’
In another part of the window there is a coat-of-arms relating to the Septvans alone.
The problem facing me is why someone should have wished to indicate the marriage of a male Solley/Solly to the daughter of a Harfleet and just when the window was included in the Pilgrims’ Guest House? I would be interested to hear from anyone who could contribute to the points raised in this article.
*One of the three Kings of Arms, with jurisdiction extending to the south of the River Trent.
Note. I would like to thank the following for their efforts in supplying material used above: The late Goddard Hooker Fretten, Mr CF. Burch, Elizabeth Hudson, Mr George A. Solly, Halifax Property Services, Sandwich, and John S. Creasey of Reading University.
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