from Geoffrey Knott
This article was originally published in the April 2003 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
Parkinson’s Law says that ‘Work expands to fill the time allotted to it.’ There should be another law - I think I’ll call it Knott’s Law of Genealogical Research - that says ‘The most exciting find on any visit to a record office is the one you make just as the office is closing.’
It’s happened to me several times, and it happened again in January this year, at West Sussex Record Office, researching one of my other ancestral lines.
I had never before had occasion to look up a marriage licence/allegation, but when I did, I saw how much information the intending groom had to swear on oath. I was aware that Richard Soal and Sarah Boxall were married by licence, not Banns, and so, out of curiosity I looked up his allegation. He swore that he was a bachelor aged 28, and his abode for 2 years past was Buriton; and that Sarah was a spinster aged 26, and her abode for 8 months past was Harting. No time to apply for a print-out, so a brief note of the details would suffice until my next visit. But the allegation ruled out both Harting and Buriton as birthplaces for Richard.
I knew of an Internet Web site1 giving batch numbers for parish registers included in the IGI, so from that I was able to work out what parishes were NOT covered; and in parishes where there was partial coverage, what dates were not covered. This revealed that none of the parishes of Petersfield, Liss, Greatham and - most important - Steep were covered by the IGI.
Why did I consider Steep most important? I had been told that John Soal and Sarah Varminer were married there in 1767, and (like Richard) lived in Buriton, where they christened two sons - John in 1767 and Edward in 1769. And I knew that there was a ‘Soal Farm’ at Steep - I should have known, even without a web search2 or a local map: I delivered newspapers there, in my much younger days3.
Anyway, the next step had to be a visit to Hampshire Record Office at Winchester to extract entries form the non-IGI Parish Registers. Petersfield, checked first because it was the nearest big town and the registers had already been transcribed, yielded several Soal’s and variants, but no Richard. Steep was next on my list, for reasons already given. And there, right when the marriage allegation suggested it might be, was a baptism:-
Richard, son of Jno Soal was baptized May 29 1739
Earlier baptisms showed:
Ann, daughter of Jno Soal was baptized September 20 1737
Sarah, daughter of (Ritass?) Varminar baptized August 21 1737
Jno, son of Jno Soal was baptized September 19 173.
So I turned to marriages:
Jno Soale and Ann Restall married September 23 1734
I wanted to study the rest of the Steep registers in detail, so before leaving the Record Office early to beat rush hour on the journey home, I ordered copies of the fiche, (which would be sent to me in about a month).
Meanwhile, back on the Web, the site that had told me about Soal Farm also mentioned a house called Restalls. Both were of considerable age, built well before the PR entries I had found. A search of the ‘Access to Archives’ website told me that the old sales catalogues of Jackson Stops Estate Agents had been deposited with the National Monuments Register of English Heritage, and included both Soal Farm (1960) and Restalls (1967). I wrote to the present occupier of Soal Farm, Mr. Marsh5, to ask if he knew anything of its history. His reply was charming, but provided no useful information. But English Heritage provided photocopies (free!!, though I doubt they’d do the same for large numbers of researchers).
Soal Farm dates from 1537, with later additions, and comprised “two reception rooms, office, domestic offices, eight principal bed and dressing rooms, six bathrooms, staff flat with bathroom5”, plus farm buildings and about 138 acres - a very substantial property. So why was it not mentioned in the Hearth Tax Assessment of 1665?
Restalls stands near to Steep Church. It “dates from early Tudor times and it is thought that the house was originally built as a Priests’ Lodging in the reign of Henry VII. Abraham Pierson6 who became Parish Clerk in 1739 lived there for some 60 years, during which time he not only filled the office of Parish Clerk and followed his trade as Carpenter, but also added the lucrative employment of being the chief receiver of smuggled goods in the neighbourhood.....
The name ‘Restalls’ came from a local family that long appeared in the Parish Register, and the name ‘John Restall’ and the date ‘1677’ are incised on the back of some of the Jacobean oak panelling which forms a cupboard door7.” It comprises “3 reception rooms, 6 bedrooms, dressing room, 2 bathrooms, cloakroom and domestic offices7.” Again, at the time John Soale and Ann Restall - Richard’s parents - were married, this was a very substantial property.
But for all the substance and wealth these properties imply, there are no wills at all listed at Hampshire Record Office for ‘Soal’ residents of Steep. The reason must surely be that they owned property in more than one diocese, and that the wills were proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, with records currently accessible at PRO Kew and FRC Middleton Street.
The idea of an out of county connection may be supported by the appearance of the names Austen (and variants) and Augustine. The names may in fact be the same, one being either a Latinised or a shortened version of the other.
Edward SOLE married Jane AUSTEN at Heyshott, Sussex, 14 Jun 1681.
Austen SOLE, son of Edward was baptised at Heyshott, Sussex, 14 Apr 1689
Augustine SOLE de Stee (sic, but possibly a misreading of Steep) married Mary EAMES at Winchester St. Maurice, 1 Feb 1711.
Astin SOALE son of Astin & Mariae was baptised at Steep, 20 Sep 1713.
John or Thos, son of Austine & Mary was baptised at Midhurst 13 Nov 1717.
Austine SOAL was baptised at Steep 16 Feb 1726.
Austin SOAL married Sarah CLEVERLY at Lurgashall, Sussex 10 Feb 1734.
Austin SOAL son of Austin & Sarah was baptised at Lurgashall 9 May 1736.
(There are other children from these marriages).
I have now received the Steep PR fiche, and extracted from them all the SOAL (and variants) records I can find. Many entries before 1750 are in Court Hand, Latin, faint wiring, and even just plain scribble, and are beyond my capabilities (any experts out there?).
What I found has yet to be subjected to the Sheldon Inquisition, but I’m hopeful that several of the Hants/Sussex lines will soon be united and extended back at least a couple of generations. My next project must be to look at copies of PCC wills to seek confirmation of the indications given by PR and IGI entries
A search on ‘Google’ for “Soal Farm” returned http://www.steepvillage.com/VDS.pdf
At the top of the hill overlooking Soal Farm, also part of my paper round, are Soal Pond and Soalwood Lane, in the parish of Froxfield.
Quoted from the 1960 sale particulars.
Peirson acted as witness for many marriages, his name appearing as such in the Register.
Quoted from the 1967 sale particulars
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