The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

Investigating the SOOLEs of Ickleton

by Janet Hurst

This article was originally published in the March 1993 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society

When I joined the Society in 1991, paying my sub before the official start date and hence becoming member Number One, 1 had no proof of Sole descent. At the time it seemed very likely that Frances SOOLE of Cambridgeshire was my husband's great­great‑grandmother, and Don Steel was most persuasive, Fred Sole so enthusiastic, that I decided to throw in my four penn'orth and become a member. 

It has proved well worth the gamble. The release of the 1891 census in January 1992 gave the required proof that I had a copy of the birth certificate for the right Charles Hurst, my husband's great‑grandfather. Living in Great Chesterford, Essex in that year, he was born at nearby Wenden Lofts in 1867, the son of James Hurst, a coachman, and Frances, nee SOOLE. James, according to the 1871 census, was born in Stansfield, Suffolk, but I have been unable to pursue the line further for various reasons.

However, Cambridgeshire is 'my' county. I lived there for years, although I am temporarily in exile in the Thames Valley, and I have been a member of Cambridgeshire FHS since its inception in 1976 and currently edit the journal of that organisation. As she was born in Ickleton, Cambridgeshire (just over the county border from Great Chesterford), I could now get on the trail of Frances SOOLE. A close friend in Cambridge was 'persuaded' to help with the research. The Ickleton parish registers and censuses quickly yielded a complex family tree going back to a Richard SOLE or SOOLE who started baptising children in the village in 1768. I will not go into details here, but the men of the family were all carpenters and three generations in succession filled the role of parish clerk. I suppose that is why the family details were so meticulously recorded in the registers, which made a pleasant change for me with ancestors belonging to every nonconformist sect known to man.

Another stroke of luck was that wills for several Ickleton SOOLEs had been proved in the Consistory Court of Ely, confirming various relationships and showing that the family once owned quite a bit of property in the village. I also found a very interesting sale catalogue for the effects of Thomas SOOLE, who died in 1837, which helped to fill out the life and trade of a 19th century carpenter.

At this stage I really began to get my money's worth from membership of the Sole Society. For a few pounds I was able to purchase from Don Steel, the Sole Research Co‑ordinator, copies of existing charts for Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire bearers of the name (produced then mainly from the 1984 IGI, but now updated to include data from the 1988 edition) and of course I sent him copies of all the information I had gleaned. This exercise produced some likely avenues of further enquiry to pursue in Cambridgeshire and also revealed a link to a line in Bishops Stortford and subsequently Greenwich which clearly stemmed from the Ickleton family.

My friend Jane once more set off for the Cambridge Record Office to investigate the possibilities, and whilst I was waiting for the results, Fred informed me that a new member, Tom Richards of Canada. was also descended from the Ickleton SOOLES. Despite flying a few thousand miles further away from Cambridgeshire than me, he had traced the line back beyond Ickleton, via various nearby villages, to a Valery SOLE who was baptising children in Thriplow in the 1580s.

I was soon on the phone to Jane, and she has since confirmed most of Tom's findings and added to them considerably by searching the original parish registers and other records. Some of the moves from one parish to another are not strictly proven, but they are all extremely probable.

Tom Richards and I are now in correspondence and a copy of a book he compiled on the family has been donated to the Society's collection. Tom's great­grandfather George was the brother of Frances (Fanny) HURST, nee SOOLE, and he emigrated to the United States in 1857. Tom was able to tell me that Fanny and James HURST attended the emigrants' farewell party in Ickleton, and at that time, according to an old address book still extant, they were living in the nearby small Essex town of Saffron Walden.

Incidentally, Tom had great difficulty in starting work on his Cambridgeshire forebears as he could not locate a village in the county called Eggleton. This was how his uncle pronounced Ickleton! I am not sure of the relevance of this to Don Steel's arguments about the pronunciation of surnames and place names, but I don't think that even he has considered the influence of a 20th century Canadian's version of an English village name on genealogical research!

All of this activity and excitement has added considerably to Don's workload. The Ickleton SOOLE charts, which started out as one sheet of paper with a few tentative names on it, have been reworked and renumbered so many times that they resemble a patchwork quilt and now run to several closely written A2 charts. Don is also mildly annoyed with me for producing the longest descent in the Society's collection within a year of starting the research, whilst he has been stuck on his forebear Gregory Sole's origins since 1954! However, I tell him that a Canadian is bound to join the Society soon, who has solved the problem already!

Now membership of the Society may not give you a pedigree going back to the 16th century, nor lead to another branch of your family overseas. I sincerely hope that you will not be inveigled into producing an issue of SOUL SEARCH as I was. However my story clearly shows the value of co‑operation and collaboration between family historians with similar interests. I am renewing my subscription to the Sole Society for 1993 with great confidence in the future benefits and pleasure that continued membership will bring. I hope that you, fellow researcher, will be encouraged to do the same.


Sincere thanks are due to Don Steel, Fred Sole, Tom Richards and especially Jane Gilmour for their enthusiastic help, without which this research could not have been accomplished.


Ickleton is very much an unspoilt village with little modem development, and I fervently hoped that some of the SOOLE houses mentioned in wills were still in existence. The 1814 Enclosure Map revealed the location of three properties of Richard Soole (1762‑1816). We spent Christmas 1992 with our family in Cambridge, and Boxing Day saw me heading hotfoot to Ickleton, accompanied by friend Jane, who has done so much of the Soole research. We were thrilled to find that all three properties have survived. One row of three cottages now knocked into one has a corrugated iron roof and clearly was once thatched, whilst a larger house, abutting the churchyard and presumable the main Soole residence, inhabited by whoever was fulfilling the role of parish clerk at the time, has suffered the indignity of replacement uPVC windows.

The third cottage, colour washed pink, remains unspoilt. I took photographs of all three with the new idiot‑proof camera received as a Christmas present and have sent copies to Tom Richards to remind him of his  Cambridgeshire ancestors.

Sadly, the inscriptions on the three gravestones in the churchyard, which I had been able to read with ease and recorded some ten years previously, have now nearly eroded away. I photographed the remains. Thank goodness I made a note at the time, even though I had no proof then that the Sooles were connected to my husband's family.

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