THE AMERICAN SOLE - PART 1
By Linda Brand with help from Beverley Driver Eddy
This article was originally published in the December 2010 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
Woodnesborough was the small rural community in Kent where in November 1872 my Great Aunt Ella Rosetta Sole was born, the second child of Charles Sole, a domestic servant and later a market gardener and his wife Sarah Rayner a native of the Isle of Wight.
To put her life in context George Eliot’s “Middlemarch” had just been published, William Gladstone had just replaced Benjamin Disraeli as Prime Minister and Woodnesborough was no longer an isolated hamlet thanks to daily trains from nearby Sandwich to the South coast resorts of Brighton and Eastbourne. Although life was hard and everyone knew their neighbour’s strengths, weaknesses and indiscretions, life was punctuated by village cricket matches, weekly markets and seasonal fairs. A tough, but idyllic life for a child at this time.
However tragedy struck the family, when only a year after Ella Rosetta’s birth, her mother Sarah, whilst returning from visiting friends caught a chill and within days died of pneumonia.
Charles was left to care for two children under the age of two. The family rallied round and Sarah’s sister Mary arrived from the Isle of Wight to look after the children, leaving Nell, her own illegitimate four year old daughter behind. One can only imagine the neighbours’ reactions when a young unmarried woman moved in with Charles and the family. In June the following year Charles and Mary were married. Although it was not a criminal offence at the time to for a man to marry his dead wife’s sister it was however not completely legal and the marriage took place outside the village in a nearby Wesleyan chapel with Charles’ father one of the few attendees.
Charles and Mary went on to have a further five children, four girls and a boy and eventually Nell also joined them from the Isle of Wight, making eight in all; Nell, Will, Ella Rosetta, Ted, Jen (Sarah Jane), Lotty (Charlotte), Kit and my Grandmother Nan (Annie). The Sole children were very close and Mary was a loving mother to all of them, her own and her sister’s children. These, then, were the surroundings which the children grew up in.
Ella Rosetta was rather a grand name for a village girl and it was rumoured that she was named by her Godmother rather than her mother, however it was soon shortened and she was always known as Rose. After basic schooling Rose went into service with the Long family at Grove Farm, one of the larger houses in the village and where her father also worked. She became firm friends with Fanny Long, the daughter of the house and was to correspond with her all her life. Eventually Charles Sole had his own market garden where he grew mostly apples and cherries some of which were sent to Covent Garden. At Christmas huge balls of Mistletoe from the orchards were also sold.
At the age of twenty-five Rose met Charles Benjamin Driver an apprentice joiner and cabinet maker from the nearby town of Sandwich. Charles’ health was often poor and Rose was advised that one of his brothers would be a better catch but despite this, when he finished his apprenticeship, they married on 1st August 1898. Soon afterwards the couple moved to Croydon where Charles worked for a building company run by two brothers John and James Baldwin. Another employee was Ernest Rutherford, the husband of Rose’s sister Kate. Their first child was born on the 14th October 1899, a son called Ernest Charles. In January 1901 the child was startled in his high chair by a neighbour knocking on the window, who had come with the news that Queen Victoria had died. This was to be one of Ernest’s earliest memories. After a few years Rose and Charles moved with Kate and her husband to Wallington where they lived next door to each other. Charles was active in a missionary church in Croydon and both couples belonged to its social organization known as Christian Endeavour a precursor of the YMCA.
Charles’ health had not improved and Rose also had her own medical problems. However she chose to solve them by using folk medicine. Her sight was poor and although glasses were becoming more common at this time, she saw them as a stigma. The solution apparently was to have her ears pierced. Pulling on the lobes was then thought to improve the circulation and improve eyesight. For Charles though it was not so simple. His doctor advised a change of climate. By then two of Charles’ brothers were living in the United States and it was decided that he should also try America for a year to see if his health improved. In 1903 Charles left Rose and Ernest in Wallington and joined his brother George in Nebraska. The trip was a success, Charles’ health improved and he was offered a partnership in a building firm but he felt he could not leave England while his mother was still alive and so he returned.
Charles, Rose and Ernest Sole prior to travelling to the US
Ernest went to school in Wallington walking the three miles to school each day but he spent the summer holidays with his cousins staying with his grandparents in Woodnesborough, a tradition which carried on through many generations of the family. Charles continued to long to go to the United States but now had a new ambition, to become a minister and like his brothers have his own parish. To this end he began studying and became more involved in the life of the local Congregational church. Then in 1913 when Ernest was nearly fourteen Charles’ mother died and there was nothing now to keep them in England.
The family decided to go to Red Oak, Iowa where Charles’ brother Jim lived and to stay there until Charles could find his own parish. A few days before they left Ernest was given his first camera, a wooden box type with six glass plates .Using it the family had their photo taken in their going away outfits all looking very self conscious. They embarked in Liverpool where they had met the daughter of one of Jim’s parishioners who was to travel with them. She was only eight years old and was listed on the manifest as their daughter so obviously passports were not an issue at that time. They set sail, not without some trepidation, on the White Star ship the SS Baltic less than a year after the Titanic was sunk. The journey to their new life took eight days.
To be continued…...
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