SOLEs of Thanet
Alfred Caught the First Train Out
By Bob Sheldon
This article was originally published in the March 1996 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
Thanet forms the bulge on the eastern border of Kent where the North Sea meets the English Channel. Actually, the “bulge” was an island from prehistory up to around the 17th century but over the years the waterway has silted up.
Today however the Isle of Thanet, as it is correctly known, is separated from the mainland partly by the River Stour to the south which follows about half of the original coastline and partly, by what can best be described as a ditch, to the north that you normally pass over without noticing.
Thanet has been home to the SOLE family for many generations. I was born there (my name at birth was Sole) and I have traced my ancestors with some certainty as far back as 1796 when my great‑great‑grandfather James was born. I am still working back from him but the IGI has some gaps in it and I am next planning a visit to the local record office in Canterbury where I intend researching the copies of parish registers for the area, hopefully to fill in some of those gaps.
Acting as the Society's co‑ordinator for the Soles of Kent, I have recorded the family name in Thanet back to 1543 with many references between then and 1796 but as yet few confirmed linkages. I am convinced however, that the missing linkages do exist for two reasons. The geographical location of Thanet (with or without the dividing waterway) is such that it is very unlikely that much travelling was done. Thanet was, and maybe still is, somewhat cut off from the rest of the country. The other reason was the relative poverty of the area that relied almost exclusively on agriculture, even after the industrial resolution that largely seemed to ignore Thanet.
So far, all known SOLEs of the period were agricultural labourers and mention of the local workhouse or their status as paupers (or both) has been made in connection with at least three of our ancestors. I must say I was surprised not to find any fishermen or other seafarers so far amongst them, given the family name and island location of Thanet. However, I am more than hopeful of finding the missing links that will establish our history in Thanet back to the first Elizabethan times.
Returning to my great‑great‑grand father James, up to about six months ago I had reached the point where I was guessing that he probably was the younger brother of Edward, born in Thanet in 1792. This was the same Edward who sired eight boys by Elizabeth Gore, who after his death and with her new husband and six of her eight SOLE children emigrated to New Zealand in 1841.
Then another member of the Society, Sarah Knight, contacted me to say that she was researching the same area and period and after comparing our notes we established that we both shared James as a common ancestor. Sarah was a helper at her local Family History Library and had established to her satisfaction that James was the son of Edward (and Mercy or Mary) Sole who in turn was the son of Edward (and Mary) who in turn was the son of Edward (and Mary), which took us back to around 1700. Edward seems to have been a popular name among the Soles of Thanet.
Sarah also was able to confirm that James was the brother of Edward (New Zealand) and by so doing, demonstrated to me the benefit of belonging to the Society.
James seems to have had a small family (at least by his father's standards) one of who was Alfred and another was Henry. Sarah goes back to Alfred and Henry is my great‑grandfather. It appears that Alfred decided to leave Thanet, probably catching the first train out when the line reached the Isle in 1846.
My Henry decided to stay put, as did his children (including my grandfather) ‑ as far as I can ascertain to date ‑ and his grandchildren (including my father). I am not certain if I was the first of my line to leave Thanet, but by now I have only one first cousin holding the Thanet fort.
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