The Solley Farm Papers
By Tony Storey
This article was originally published in the April 2005 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
A few months ago, the Sole Society acquired an old cardboard box containing a bundle of letters and legal documents.
The previous owner wanted nothing in return other than the postage and the knowledge that the papers were going to a good home. On closer inspection they seem to be the sort of documents that a family solicitor might initially have kept for a number of years in case of query. Somehow they have survived for more than a century and provide us with a fascinating glimpse of one man’s attempt to run a farm in the 1890s.
The story begins when William and John Nethersole lease various parcels of land in Kent from the owner, the Honourable Mrs Emma Mary Massey, for a period of seven years from 11 October 1887. After just four years, from 12 October 1891, the Nethersoles transferred the remainder of the lease to Frederick Thomas Honeyball, an agent of St George’s Place, Deal, Kent, and James Solley, a farmer of Sholden, near Deal.
The earliest document in the collection, an indenture dated 14 September 1892, refers to these previous contracts and allows Honeyball and Solley to surrender the lease in order that a new lease for a fresh period of seven years can be granted to James Solley alone.
Next, we have draft leasehold agreements dated Michaelmas 1892 detailing arable meadow and pasture land in the parishes of Ham, Betteshanger, Northbourne and Word otherwise Worth, all in the county of Kent which are thereby leased to James Solley for an annual rent of £430 by the Honourable and Reverend Adolphus Henry Tuthill Massey and his wife, the Honourable Mrs E M Massey, of All Saints Vicarage, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire.
To get a rough approximation of how much sums in the 1890s would be in today’s terms we multiply by 60. Thus, the annual rent of £430 would be about £26,000 today.
We then have a Deed of Partnership between George Hooper, corn factor of Sandwich, Kent, and James Solley, farmer of Worth, Kent, effective from 11 October 1892 until expiry of the lease. The document stipulates that the business shall be in the name of ‘Solley and Company’ and carried on at the farm and premises specified in the lease. The bankers of the firm shall be the National Provincial Bank, Sandwich and the capital of the firm shall be three thousand pounds represented by the farming stock, crops and tenant’s valuation, which shall belong to the partners in equal shares.
On 11 January 1895 George Hooper died, leaving his widow to inherit his half share of the business of Solley and Company.
An inventory and valuation dated 4 March 1895 details live and dead farming stock, fodder, straw, tillages etc on Ham Farm in the parishes of Ham, Eastry, Betshanger and Northbourne and estimates the ‘value of the half part’ as £813.1s.0d.
The next document in date order is a County Court summons of 24 July 1895 issued by Elizabeth Maria Hooper, widow and executrix of George Hooper deceased against Richard Coleman, a huntsman, of The Kennels, Cold Blow, Walmer, Kent for an unpaid bill of £4.12s.0d.
The reason for the inventory and valuation is made clear by a letter dated 5 August 1895 and headed James Solley, Worth, via Dover
Having considered my position in reference to Ham Farm, which was occupied by the late Mr Hooper and myself, I am willing to purchase Mr Hooper’s other share of the business, the same to be valued by two valuers, one on each side, in case they should not agree an umpire to be called in by the two valuers and the valuation be settled by him. The amount of the valuation, I would pay a part of at the time, the remainder I must ask to remain and giving interest for the same and giving a joint promissory note myself and Mr Geo Bass. No doubt the landlords will be willing to take me as tenant and release Mrs Hooper.
At about this time, James Solley must have been trying to negotiate a reduction in his annual rent, as there is a letter to Emmerson & Co from Cross & Mann dated 13 August 1895:
Your letter of the 2nd inst to Mr Nove respecting Mrs Massey’s property near Deal has been handed to us as her solicitors. Mrs Massey is tenant for life of the property, which is settled. She is therefore in the position of a Trustee. She could apparently by virtue of the Settled Land Act accept a surrender of the existing lease and grant a fresh lease at a reduced rent to one only of the tenants, but we doubt whether she as a Trustee would be justified in doing this. At any rate we consider she cannot be advised to do this, and she does not therefore propose to do this.
Cross & Mann”
The next document is an inventory and valuation prepared by Nethersole & Honeyball dated 1 November 1895 of live and dead farming stock, straw, fodder, manure, fallows, fixtures etc on Ham Farm in the parishes of Ham, Eastry, Betshanger, Northbourne and Worth. The business was very much a mixed farm with 75 acres of barley, 22 acres of wheat, 7 acres of oats, 25 acres of peas, 8 acres of swedes, 3 acres of wurzels, and an acre each of cabbages and carrots. The livestock includes 20 dairy cows, 3 cows empty, 2 cows with calves, 3 calves, 2 shorthorn bulls, 23 store pigs, 6 sows in pig, boar hog, boar stag, 12 fat hogs, 97 fowls, 3 geese and 4 ducks.
The inventory of ‘dead stock’ is incredibly detailed, down to the last pail, shovel and broom or to the last hay rake, mole trap and rook gun. Mention is made of sheep bells, sheep wattles and sheep stocks – but no sheep as they had been sold off. Clearly, farming in the nineteenth century was more labour-intensive but another striking difference from a modern farm is the predominance of horse power. The document mentions seven cart mares, one gelding, one cob, one milk cart harness, seven leather halters, plough harnesses for seven horses as well as sundry other horse equipment.
After making an allowance for repairs to the fence round Church Meadow, the total value was declared to be £1,400.0s.7d, requiring James Solley to pay £700 to buy out his partner’s share – rather less than the valuation of 8 months earlier.
The Ham Farm accounts for the first ten months of 1895 show clearly the uphill struggle to make the business profitable. On the credit side, receipts of £539 for milk supplied to Mr Page, £758 for the sale of sheep, cattle and pigs and £897 for the sale of Barley and other crops help to produce a total income of £2,817.3s.10d. Unfortunately there are bills to be paid: £96 to hire steam machinery to help with the ploughing and threshing, £21 to Twyman the blacksmith, £7 to West the saddler and £10 to Meades the wheelwright. With rents, rates and taxes and a wages bill of £379, the total outgoings amounted to £3126.11s.3d, resulting in a loss of more than £300.
James Solley’s financial difficulties were growing. He was committed to buying out his ex-partner’s widow and was paying five per cent interest on the debt. In addition, he had an overdraft with the National Provincial Bank.
On 13 February 1897 the Legacy and Succession Duty Office, Somerset House, London W.C. returned the original Deed of Partnership having acknowledged by memorandum the death of George Hooper.
The next document is a statement dated 20 July 1897 of James Solley’s account with Nethersole, Honeyball & Co, auctioneers for the period 28 October 1893 to 14 October 1895. Items include the purchase of a ram at Canterbury market on 28 October 1893 for £3.17s.6d, and on 15 October 1894, the purchase at Sandwich of 13 sheep @ 36/- each, £23.8s.0d., and 20 sheep @ 31/6 each, £31.10s.0d. Against a total of £144.5s.9d. for purchases, the stock sold in the same period realized only £80.17s.10d., after deducting the auctioneer’s commission, leaving a shortfall of £63.7s.11d.
Then on 1 August 1898, a letter from James Solley, Worth, via Dover to Emmerson & Co, solicitors, Sandwich:
I cannot think of paying Messrs Cross & Manns charges. I have already lost enough money in the farm.
With no option but to try to cut his losses the next document is an agreement dated 30 Aug 1898 in which James Solley, formerly of Sholden, near Deal, but now of the parish of Word, otherwise Worth and Mrs Elizabeth Maria Hooper of Deal, widow, agree to surrender the lease of premises at Ham and elsewhere in Kent to the Honourable Mrs E M Massey, wife of the Honourable and Reverend A H T Massey of the Vicarage, Wye, Kent with effect from 11 October 1898. The document refers to the death of George Hooper on the 11 January 1895.
The final chapter in our story is a letter of 6 February 1899 from James Solley (late G Hooper) corn factor & hay merchant of Sandwich.
I am sending you a cheque for £200 payable on the 9th as Scott has given me one dated the same day. I don’t like doing my business in this way but cannot help myself this time, the £50 due to me from Mrs Anderson will make up £250.
It seems that this post-dated cheque for £200 together with the rent owed to him by Mrs Anderson was the final payment, enabling James Solley to extricate himself from what to him had proved an unsuccessful and costly venture.
We do not know where these documents have lain for the intervening century; perhaps on a dusty shelf in a solicitor’s vaults. The name ‘Emmerson & Co of Sandwich and Deal’ appears on several and we suppose they were the Solley family solicitors. Why these papers should have come to light at this time is a mystery but the important thing is that somehow they have survived and throw light on what must have been a stressful time in the life of one of our ancestors.
Footnote: Our intention in acquiring these documents is ultimately to return them to James Solley’s family. If any member would like to take good care of these documents for future generations please contact Bob Solly with details of your relationship to James.
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