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




by Bob Sheldon


 This article was originally published in the August 2008 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society


I was a little embarrassed about finding William’s gravestone in the village churchyard of St Peter’s, near Broadstairs, Kent. 


I was showing a small group of American visitors around the church and village where their SOAL ancestors had lived at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries.  I had already told them that gravestones of our ancestors in that area were a rarity as at that time most SOLEs were farm labourers who would probably not have been able to afford them.  So I was not going to be able to show them the grave of their GGGG-Grandfather John Soal who according to the parish register was buried there on 3rd February 1837. This assumption was based on our records and my casual observations on visiting this graveyard many times over the years.


My first twenty or so years were lived in this village and I attended the church regularly.  My parents had friends who had relatives buried there; but none of ours.  Admittedly in those days I was not looking for ancestors as it was to be another forty years or more before I was to become interested in family history.  So I was fairly confident in my assertion that there were no SOLE/SOAL gravestones to be found.


So imagine my surprise when, as we were leaving to get back on the bus, one of the party called out “we have found a SOAL gravestone”.  There it was, within just a few yards, or even metres, from the base of the church tower.  I must have passed by it many times, especially during the period when my future wife and I first met as bell-ringers at the church.  Anyway I was consoled slightly that my lack of observation could be excused because the gravestone was leaning at an angle of 30O from the vertical, the inscription was on the downward side and it was heavily covered in green moss and soil.


I was also a little relieved to find that William SOAL was not an agricultural labourer.  He was a mariner as was his father before him.  This was surprising because although the village is less than a mile from the coast we do not have many records of seafaring ancestors. William had been born in St Peters in 1733, the second child of William and Sarah (née USHER) of whom we know very little.  He had two brothers, both of whom died before they reached 10 years, and two sisters, one of whom died in infancy and the other married a John HODGMAN in 1763.


William married Sarah COCK at St Peters in 1760 and they had six children between 1761 and 1772.  There were five girls, Sarah who married William OLDFIELD in 1789, Mary who married John SANDWELL in 1788, Ann who married Thomas CASTLE in 1794, Katherine who did not marry and Elizabeth who died an infant.  There was also one son Peter who married Ann CULL in 1798 and had twin daughters, one of whom Elizabeth married Thomas Fisher CRAMP in 1829.


William therefore had no SOAL descendants, but we would be delighted to hear from any relatives of his married daughters.


Because of its condition and the difficulty of photographing it satisfactorily, this is the inscription on William’s gravestone: 




of William Soal

who died December 19th 1783

aged 53 years


"Through raging Seas I have crossed the main

Abroad both far and near

But by a sudden change of Death

My Corps lies easy here"


ALSO of SARAH wife of the above

who died Nov 6 1825 Aged 89 years.




WHO DIED 29 NOV 1854 AGED 81


Gravestone in St Peter’s Churchyard - William SOAL died 1783.


As one of the slightly disappointed American visitors said later, “Even though William was not a relative I'd like to think that somehow he appreciates that people paused to acknowledge his time on earth.”   


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