HOW MRS SOLLY RETURNED TO PARADISE
by Norman Smith
This article was originally published in the December 2008 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
Soul Search for August 2007 (volume 3 number 8) carried an article (submitted by Sue Solley) from the ‘Thanet Advertiser and Echo’ for 30th August 1938 entitled ‘Left Paradise to Bring up 13 Children: Mrs Solly’s Large Family’. At the time, Mrs Solly was living at 42 Central Road with her eldest daughter Mrs Belsey, both Harriet’s.
Like her husband, Mrs Solly was born and bred in Ramsgate, as were all her children. She never moved far. Residing at Paradise prior to her marriage, she subsequently moved across Ramsgate High Street to Eagle Hill where she remained until the death of her husband. In addition to providing reminiscences of life in late nineteenth and early twentieth Ramsgate, Mrs Solly revealed that she had 10 children, 41 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren then living.
I am one of those great-grandchildren, having been born (also in Ramsgate) in 1936. Sadly, I have only two memories of ‘Grandma Solly’, as we referred to her. The first is of a small old lady in dressed in black giving sixpence, probably in 1942. The other is of standing at the junction of Ramsgate’s Winifred and Margate Roads watching the passing of her funeral cortège early in 1943 – hence this piece’s title.
Though not formally commemorated as such, I have always regarded Grandma Solly as a World War II victim. She and her daughter had left Ramsgate during its mass evacuation in 1940 to seek refuge in the Potteries. Two years later the danger of invasion had passed while the bombing and shelling were much reduced. So they returned to take up residence in Coleman Crescent, their house being clearly visible from our own a short distance away in Margate Road. It turned out to be an unfortunate decision.
While not yet aged 7, at the time, I remember the morning of Tuesday 26th January 1943 very well. I was at the breakfast table reading a comic (either the ‘Beano’ or the ‘Dandy’) when a German aircraft, clearly visible to me by virtue of its low altitude, dropped a bomb on Coleman Crescent. Its explosion was accompanied by a great cloud of dust and smoke. My father and brother, who had been in bed after a railway night shift, scrambled into their clothes and rushed down to help. There was little they could do. According to Roy Humphreys (‘Thanet at War 1939-1945’, 1991), 4 houses had been demolished, 10 more badly damaged by blast and a 150 others less extensively damaged. Two people were killed and several others injured. Humphreys added:
“People rendered homeless were quickly accommodated by neighbours, including eighty-seven-year-old Mrs Solly, whose ceiling had collapsed on her.”
This was true as far as it went, but sadly, the trauma had proved too much for the old lady and she died within a few days. As for Mrs Belsey (who had raised my own mother), she survived until 1967 and the age of 91. My Solly grandfather lived to 97 and my own mother made nearly 93.
I just have to hope that those Solly genes will keep me going a bit longer.
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