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

The Time Machine

by Tony Storey  

This article was originally published in the July 2000 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.


Date: 31 March, 2000. A chilly, overcast day in Brighton, Sussex.

The sign says ‘Local Studies Library’. I step inside and at once notice several shelves on which appear to be complete sets of both the Sussex Archaeological Collection and Sussex Notes and Queries. Even better, there is an index. As I turn the pages the 20th century seems to recede. The journey begins.

Date 13th Century, year unknown:

John of Polingford, steward of Arundel, took the cattle of the Abbot of Fecamp and detained them in the Castle of Arundel, so that Mathew of Hastings, the sheriff, could not release them. And when the sheriff holds his tourn, the said steward does not allow any private matters to be told to the sheriff in his absence. And if anyone in his liberty be there accused of felony or theft he causes him to be immediately arrested and imprisoned at Arundel and afterwards for a bribe allows him to escape from prison.

When one Roger White had been arrested by the King’s order at Cudlow for robbery and had been handed over by the sheriff to the headborough of Cudlow and four other men to be taken to Guildford and there imprisoned, Walter Sewale and a great many others by order of the steward of Arundel arrested the headborough and four men while so conveying Roger and imprisoned them in the Castle of Arundel for eleven days until each of them had given the steward two shillings for their release.

Date 1270:

Feet of Fines, 54 Henry III

Walter Sewall and Matilda his wife grant one and one half acres of land in Wyke to Agatha prioress and the church of the Blessed Mary of Leministre (Lyminster).

I wonder if the steward of Arundel’s henchman, by our standards guilty of kidnap and extortion, and the pious Walter who granted land to the priory were one and the same. And a century and a half later, was the Member of Parliament for Midhurst, Sussex a descendant?

1415, Henry V

Midhurst Borough - Johannes Sewale and Johannes Ives, summoned to meet at Westminster 21 October, 1415; and by Prorogation 4 November, 1415.

1425, Henry VI

Midhurst Borough - Johannes Sewale and ---- Westlond, summoned to Westminster 30 April 1425

Midhurst Borough - Walter Lucas and Johannes Sewale, summoned to Leicester 18 February 1425/6.

A volume of 16th century Sussex inquests is not surprisingly full of sad tales. It provides an insight not only into crime and punishment but into the social attitudes of the time. In the village of Shipley, one poor woman by reason of her insanity was ‘bound by her shin with an iron plough chain to a post in her husband’s dwelling house. With a candle in both hands she set fire to the house and so feloniously burned herself to death.’ Suicide was of course a felony and the goods and chattels of a man in Peasmarsh who hanged himself from a beam in his kitchen with ‘a fotheringe lyne’ were held forfeit and granted to Henry, earl of Huntingdon, lord of the liberty.

Date: 3 March, 1571

Inquest at The Frith in Petworth

About 1 pm on 1 March, when William Sewell late of Petworth, laborer, was carrying a piece of thick wood worth one farthing on his right shoulder across a footbridge in the Frith, he stumbled and fell on the bridge and, as he fell, the piece of wood by misadventure struck his head against the bridge and broke his scalp into small pieces whence he immediately died.

Date: 14 November, 1571

Inquest at Northchapel in Petworth

About 10 am on 12 November Robert Sewell, aged 11, servant of Robert Wye of Northchapel, trugger, climbed a lopped part of an oak which was lying in Wormwoodes field and feloniously hanged himself on a branch of the lop with a leather belt of no value. At that time he had no goods or chattels within the liberty or elsewhere in Sussex to the jurors’ knowledge.

Date: 29 July, 1602

Inquest at Tillington

About 8 pm on 25 July, John Hardham, husbondman, Edward Hardham, husbondman and Robert Hardham, taylor, all late of Tillington, feloniously killed William Edsole late of Tillington, taylor, in the road at Tillington: John Hardham striking him with a dagger worth sixpence which he held in his right hand.

Date: 25 February, 1603

East Grinstead Assizes

A bill of indictment was preferred, charging the three Hardhams with murdering Edsole. The grand jury, which heard evidence from amongst others Ralph Soell of Tillington, husbandman, reduced the charge from murder to manslaughter. The Hardhams pleaded not guilty and were convicted; they had no chattels. They then successfully pleaded benefit of clergy and were branded on their left hands and released.

Date: 1641

West Sussex Protestation Returns -


Edward Soale


John Sole


John Soale


John Sewell


James Soale


Richard Scowle or Sowle


Nathan Sewell


John Sole


Phillip Soall (Overseer)


Daniell Soale

Anthony Soale

John Soale

Ambrose Soale


Christopher Sole

Wisborough Green  

Thomas Soule

The Protestation Returns of 1641/2 were a protest by Parliament against ‘an arbitrary and tyrannical government’, in other words King Charles I. All males aged 18 or over were required to sign a declaration of ‘Belief in the Protestant Religion, Allegiance to the King and support for the Rights and Privileges of Parliament’.

Date: Midsummer 1647

Sussex Quarter Sessions Order Book, Lewes

It is ordered that Sarah Sewell, servant to William Bug of Cliffe, being an idle person shall be sent to the house of Correction in the Cliffe to be sett on worke and receive due Coreccion and there to remayne untill she shalbe thence discharged by one or more of the Justices of the Peace of this county.

Date: 6 March 1649

The Rye Engagement

‘I do declare and promise that I will be true and faithfull to the Comonwealth of England as it is now established without a King or House of Lordes.’

Signed Henry Soule

Allen Soule

Note: Allen Soule was fined for non-appearance at the Mayor’s Summons in 1656.

In the eight years since the Protestation Returns the political climate has changed. These were uncertain times when your religion or your politics could cost you dear.

In the meantime, life goes on and the roads need maintaining.

Date: Epiphany 1649/50

Sussex Quarter Sessions Order Book, Arundel

Thomas Edsaw and James Soale, inhabitants of Wiston, are given day to repair the highway between Fayre Oake and Sandhill before St John the Baptist’s day next and to certify thereof on pain of 10li.

John Dixon and Philip Soale, inhabitants of Stening, are to repair the highways before St John the Baptist’s day next and certify thereof on pain of 10li.

Alumni Cantabrigienses

SAYWELL, William, Jesus college, Bishop’s chaplain, 1672; Preb. Sutton, 28 March 1672 - 23 February 1674/5; rector, Birdham, 10 May - 23 December 1672; vicar, Pevensey, 9 December 1672 - circa 1679; Cathedral Chancellor, 28 November 1672 to death, 1701.

Date: 24 May 1705

A Poll for Knights of the Shire for the County of Sussex,

taken at Lewes in the said county

Boxhill - Daniel Sole, voted for Sir Henry Peachey, Kt and J Morley Trevor, Esq.

Ewhurst - John Soale, voted for Hon. H Lumley, Esq. and Sir Henry Peachey, Kt.

Westbourne - Edward Soale, voted for Hon. H Lumley, Esq.

Date: 1781

List of Sussex Gentry

Country Magistrate - Sir Thomas Sewel, Knight

Dates: 1831 and 1834

Sussex Marriage Licences, Archdeaconry of Lewes

SOULE, Israel May, of St John’s under the Castle, Lewes, dissenting minister, bachelor aged 21 and upds., & Eliza Button of All Saints, spinster, aged 21 and upds. (All Saints church, Lewes) 27 June 1831

SOULE, Israel May, of Lewes, dissenting minister, widower, & Ann Moore of the Cliffe, near Lewes, spinster, aged 21 and upds.

(St Thomas a Becket in the Cliffe church) 6 August 1834

Note: Israel was born around 1807 in Frampton upon Severn, Glos. He had a son, George May, baptised in 1836 in Longney, Glos. In 1841, Israel married his third wife, Amelia Tritton. They lived in Battersea where they had at least nine children. One of their sons, Charles May, married in Hobart, Tasmania in 1895.

Many of the published sources are in essence merely lists of names, for example, marriage licences, owners of property, Members of Parliament, or else small fragments of information, accounts of incidents, tantalising glimpses into the past.

Occasionally a document survives which is so vivid and detailed that we gain a real picture of the life of our ancestors.

Date: January, 1581/2

An Inquest at Rye. Presentments made by the Inquest.

Milles his wife the baker Absenting them selves from the Church

James Hurlestone sadler and not receaving sacrament

John Cheston Walkinge on Sonday the 17 of December

Thomas Forman in service tyme at the Strand

Boniface Hunnynge For sellinge shoos on Sonday the 17 of

William Browning December in service tyme

John Earle the elder For keeping fishmarket on Sonday the 31

Old father Smyth of December in service tyme

Francis Dannyell For sufferinge men to drinkce in the

Robert Pigot howses in service tyme

Well over two hundred inhabitants of the town are cited for offences which suggests that the authorities were attempting to ‘clean up the town’ in every sense by imposing what today might be described as a policy of zero tolerance. As well as upholding the sabbath there was a need to maintain public order.

Wydow Johnson and John Raynolds wife - For keeping unlawfull games in ther howses

Morgen, Mr Mercers brewer and James his Fellow - For fighting within ther Masters howse

John Swan - For abusing the forman at the strand for commandinge him to go to church at morning prayer

William Gilmer - For going up and downe the Straund the 5 of December at nyght in a sheete with a knot uppon his hed and a cudgell in his hand but to what intent we know not

George Emery, taylor, Swallow the ferryman, Chisewell, fisherman, John Allen, goldsmyth, Andro Hasting, miller, John Woal, saylor, Ivy the smyth - For wering hatts on sondays and holydays

The latter names are just some of over forty Rye inhabitants found in breach of an Act passed ten years earlier, ‘an Act dealing with the decay of cap making in England’, which stated—“Every person (except maiden ladies and gentlemen, all noble personages and every Lord, Knight and gentleman of the possession of twenty marks land by the year and except such as have borne the office of wardship in any city) shall on Sundays and Holydays wear on their heads a cap of wool, made in England by the cappers. Penalty ¾ a day.”

Some residents of Rye were untidy to extremes, posing a threat to health and safety.

We present:

The Inhabitants of the Market place and the Wishe for throwing ther soyle before the stables

The Inhabitants likewise in the Wishe for laying ther soyle in the horseway to the ferrey

The Inhabitants from Rucks lane to Hiblethaits corner for laying ther soyle over the cliff

The inhabitants of the Strand for laying ther soyle before the bulwarke

We present:

John Brewer For ther carts standinge in the strete

Arthur Whitney anoying the way

John Olyver For tymber by the cundit anoying the strete

Mr Beale For ii ankers and a capsten by the cundit

Thomas Radford For a cocke bote and tymber by the cundit anoying the strete

Thomas Baseden For a heape of soyle against his stable by the watchbell

John Versey For turninge his water course in the towne which causeth the soyle in the streets to run into the old churchyeard

A Frenche man dwelling For making a fier against a waule in Mr Spelsteds tenement joynyng to Skynner indangeryng the in the Lower streat howse therby if no redresse be had

We know that Rye had at least nine bakers as they were named in the inquest ‘because ther bred did not hold weight.’ They were not the only offenders.

William Wright For selling flesh with weights made of stones, and for a nayle weight which wanted half a lb

Davye Hewet Uppon suspicion of clipping her maiesties coyne

Edmund Browning For byinge lether and not sealed with seal of allowance

William Browning Because the dyd not register such lether

Thomas Radford as Peter Cun’yed the french curryer hath

Boniface Hunnynge bought whereby the towne looseth ther duties

John Sole shoomaker For cutting curried horse skins into shoos

Boniface Hunnynge

Wydow Cutts For keping of Hoggs

Sampson the aquavite maker

Robert Gillam

Anthony Cocke For byinge of tallow

Mrs Ferley For making of candles

As well as making shoes from curried horse skin to avoid paying duty on real leather, John Sole, shoemaker of Rye, was cited for ‘incroching of the townes ground at his dwelling howse’ and for ‘throwing his soyle over the waule into the towne diche.’ Hardly a model citizen, yet had he been, he might have lived and died without leaving a mark on history. Instead, his misdemeanours have earned him a kind of immortality.

The overall impression is of a busy fishing community where boats, gear and timber obstruct the streets and heaps of ‘soyle’, blocked drains and a general lack of neighbourliness contribute to some very unsanitary conditions.

The sights and smells of a mediaeval Sussex fishing port in the reign of the first Elizabeth are still in my head as I cross the road and walk through the gardens of the Brighton Pavilion. A tourist sign announces that once in this very place stood Brighthelmstone, a village of wooden hovels, lath and plaster cottages and a pebble bank on which fishing boats were hauled up and nets dried, a community not so very different from the then more prosperous town of Rye a few miles along the coast.

A group of French schoolchildren chatter excitedly as they wait for their coach, tourists and locals mingle in the shops and lanes of modern Brighton and office workers sip coffee in Costa’s and watch the world go by. So many things we are able to take for granted today, electricity, motorised transport, education, law and order, sanitation, healthcare, leisure time, the list virtually endless. Like many foreign countries, the past is a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Most large towns have a time machine, thinly disguised as a local studies library or a county record office. Why not visit yours and tell us about your experiences.

Travellers’ Tip

Take a notepad, something to write with and some small change for the photocopier. Enjoy.


The Local Studies Library, Brighton, West Sussex, the Sussex Record Society, Sussex Notes and Queries and the Sussex Archaeological Collection.

Thanks to the many anonymous clerks, record keepers and public servants over the centuries through whose efforts these invaluable records are still in existence.


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