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

What's in a Name?

By Tony Storey

This article was originally published in the August 2004 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society


Most new street names seem quite arbitrary nowadays, chosen at the whim of a local authority.


An Acacia Avenue is quite possibly bereft of acacias and may also create a quite false image of a broad tree-lined drive. However, careful study of a street map may sometimes provide a clue to the history of the place or to the times in which the locality was developed.


In the beginning, street names were not to commemorate anyone or anything but merely to identify one group of properties from another. So most towns have a High Street, a Church Street, and perhaps a London Road. If there was more than one church, Church Street might become St Agnes Lane or St Winifred Way. A smaller street may be identified by a public house, thus we get Rose and Crown Yard, Ship Tavern Passage and Star and Garter Hill. Often the feature has long since disappeared but we have a clue to its whereabouts from street names like Pound Lane, Union Row, Castle Street and so on. The list is endless but one of my favourites has to be Ha Ha Road in Woolwich, south London.


The Victorian era coincided with the rapid growth of towns and streets were often named after significant events - usually battles, hence Alma Terrace, Balaclava Road - and eminent personalities. Some people were celebrated more than others. In London, Indigo Jones, the generals Wolfe and Gordon, Ruskin and John Adam only rated one street each but at the last count there were 28 streets in Greater London with the name Nelson, and 38 bearing the name Wellington, not counting the 16 Wellesleys!  As a general rule, those with a single street named in their honour were neighbourhood luminaries rather than national figures, so perhaps more likely to be of interest to local and family historians.


Amongst the many hundreds of streets in London commemorating individuals is a small road in Battersea, not far from Clapham Junction. I doubt its inhabitants give much thought to how Maysoule Road got its name, but should they suspect it was named after a Mr Maysoule they would be mistaken. In fact the road commemorates the life and work of the Reverend Israel May Soule, minister of the Battersea Chapel from 1838 until 1873. During his inspirational ministry the congregation grew from 30 to 450 members.


The earliest records yet found for Israel May Soule are in the Sussex Marriage Licences, Archdeaconry of Lewes:


SOULE, Israel May, of St Johnís 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


There were no children from this marriage and we might speculate that Eliza died in childbirth as three years later we find the following entry:


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


The couple had a son, George May Soule, who was baptised in Longney, Gloucestershire, but once again Israel found himself a widower.


On 5th May 1841 he married for the third time. His new wife was Amelia Tritton, the daughter of a wealthy banker. Israelís father is entered in the register as William Soule, Ďgentlemaní, but this may have been a little white lie. The couple married in Battersea, then in the county of Surrey, and over the following thirteen years had at least nine children. Each of their seven sons was given the middle name May, but neither of their two daughters. One of their sons, Charles May Soule, married in Hobart, Tasmania in 1895.


So who was Israel May Soule? In the 1851 census Israel gives his place of birth as Frampton upon Severn, Gloucestershire and he was probably born around 1807. The most likely candidate for his father is William Sowle, a shopkeeper, who married Elizabeth Longney in Frampton in 1802. They had at least six children who spelt their surname Sowle, Soule or Sowles. There is a definite gap in the sequence around 1807 although we have yet to find a record of Israelís baptism.


Why were all the sons named May? We donít yet know. Perhaps it was to comply with the terms of an inheritance. We know of a Hannah Sowle marrying in Frampton upon Severn in 1812 whose parents were Francis Sowle and Betsey May. It is possible that Betsey was Israelís grandmother but as yet the proof has eluded us.  


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