By Don Steel
This article was originally published in the November 1997 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
The main heartland of the SOLLEY surname is in Kent, centring on Ash, near Sandwich. However there is another significant stem in Worcestershire. In an earlier article, I suggested that the latter might derive from Saul on the Severn at a time when it was still called Sallege. Since writing that, I have found out that different surnames derived from different periods in the history of a place name are not unusual.
In A History of British Surnames (Longman 1990), McKinley cites several examples, among them Abram in Lancashire.
“The sumame ADBURGHAM, still in use, is derived from a place in Lancashire which was called Adburgharn in the thirteenth century, but which is today called Abram. The surname has preserved the former spelling of the place‑name in some cases, usually those where the surname belonged to families which moved away from Lancashire at an early date; the form of the placename Abram, has given rise to the surname ABRAM which is still current in Lancashire, and it seems that where families with the surname continued to reside in the neighbourhood of the place concerned, their surnames underwent the same changes as the place‑name. This particular place‑name has, therefore, been the origin of two surnames which, in their present forms, seem very different.”
If the Worcestershire SOLLEYs do derive from Saul in Gloucestershire, distance may have been a factor in preserving an earlier form of the place‑name. However the hypothesis is now looking a bit shaky, for I have discovered that there is a Soley End in Astley parish in Warwickshire, five miles north of Coventry, It may take its name from someone called SOLEY who lived there, but it could equally well be the other way round. We need the genealogical evidence to make any kind of judgement
From the pedigrees in Ridlon (see vol. 1 no‑2 p.38) and the IGI and more recently that supplied by George Solly, Elizabeth has the Kent SOLLEYs back to three families in Ash and the next parish, Preston‑by‑Wingham, all of them pretty obviously linked with each other. As with the Worcestershire SOLLEYs once again I was struck by the fact that the SOLLEYs were of reasonable social standing and wondered if in Kent too the explanation was that the hereditary surname became established as a surname at an early date when SOLES was pronounced with a short o and two syllables whereas SOLE did not become established as a surname until a century or more later perhaps after the place‑name was pronounced with one syllable with the o lengthened (as in “holy”). Since Ash is not too far from Soles in Nonington parish, from which the SOLE family has been assumed to derive, distance is less likely to have been a factor in Kent.
However, I now think this explanation much less likely than in Worcestershire. Ridlon says:
“John de Sole and Hamo de Sole were styled of Sole Manor in 1374 AD. About this time a John de Sole bought the manor of Northbome of John de Masney. In an ancient legal document the name of John de Sole is spelt John de Solley, and from the evidence thus adduced it has been assumed that the subsequent branches of the families of Solly and Solley derived the forms of the spelling of their names… The Solly and Solley families in Kent have as valid a claim to the ancient Norman line of ancestry, as those who have adopted or inherited the names Soule, Soulis or Sowles.” (Ridlon: vol. 1 p.54.)
The irritatingly anonymous “legal document” was most likely the 1377 entry in the register of the Abbey of St. Augustine of a John Solly as holding of the Abbot, by knight’s service, the manor of Linucre (Planche: A Corner of Kent, p.402). But there is nothing whatever in this document to suggest that SOLLY was a SOLE. A second early entry would seem to point in a quite different direction. Planche gives the earliest known reference to the SOLLEY family in Ash as a Richard Sawlew who was a witness to a grant of land in 1398 from William Sanders of Ash to John Bennett of Ash. I would not have thought that SOLES could yield SAWLEW, particularly at such an early date. SAWLEW looks very much like a place name in its own right, maybe etymologically the same as SAWLEY in Derbyshire from Old English salh, sallow and hlaew, hill (as in Lewes, Sussex). This would be a likely place‑name for the Ash area, Ash being on the edge of an “island” of higher ground surrounded by marshes ‑ and sallow, a bush‑like variety of willow liking lots of water. Maybe even more likely is a place name derived from salh and ey, island (,as in Sheppey, sheep island).
Planche too doubts the connection of the SOLLEYs with SOLEs and I suspect it may have been a bit of folk etymology by an antiquarian‑minded Solley ‑ maybe John Solly who wrote the history of the family in 1734, when the armigerous family of SOLE of Bobbing Place, near Sittingbourne, whom John doubtless knew, were at their height (or almost ‑ John Cockin Sole became High Sheriff of Kent in 1756). However, not having any evidence so far for a local place name Sawley (or something similar), we must reserve our judgement.
The Bobbing Place SOLEs claimed descent from the Lords of the Manor of Soles but even if this is true we can not even be sure all the Kentish SOLEs derive from there. Some may derive from one or more of the three hamlets called Sole Street, one in Cobham parish near Rochester, one in Waltham parish between Canterbury and Ashford, and the third in St Peter in Thanet parish near Margate. The third is the most obvious candidate for the Thanet SOLEs. The whole question remains open and when I get round to processing all the work done on the Kentish SOLEs and doing research on the history of the three Kent place‑names we shall have a better picture. It may even be that one or more SOLE families derive simply from some local “muddy place” or “wallowing place for animals” quite unconnected with any place name ‑ the giveaway is a medieval “atte Sole” (at the muddy place) instead of “de Sole”. Certainly there were two early Commissary Courts of London ATTE SOLE wills (1389,1390). I rather doubt if the testators came from Kent, especially as one of them came from the doubtless very muddy riverside parish of St Michael Queenhythe. Maybe he lived near some place where animals came to drink from the river.