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

Will Power

SOALs of Sussex and Hampshire

By Lizzie Love

This article was originally published in the November 1998 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.

When Fred Sole and Don Steel were rounding up their contacts in 1992 to form the Sole Society, Don was particularly eager to find Violet Winifred Innes who, he knew, had collected data on SOLE, SOUL and SOAL, the last being her maiden name.

Learning that VWI had died in 1986, Don set out to find her papers and discovered them ‑ they were virtually at his elbow ‑ in the Library of the SoG in accordance with her will. The will named a SOAL cousin, and a granddaughter, Louise, but there was no information on VWI's children. She did mention the Prince of Wales and the actor Robert Donat, but that's another story (or several)!

Eager for access to the information, Don offered to index the Innes Collection.


One morning in 1996, I was taking a short cut through the newsagents in Bakewell, where I happened upon Family Tree Magazine and it's huge 'Readers' Interests' section. It was fifty years since I had heard of the Lewisham SOALs. I wondered if anyone remembered me, and I advertised for "SOAL anywvhere", not knowing how rare this spelling is.

The Sole Society information pack plopped through my door: a letter from Fred; a form, and a copy of the first Soul Search that mentioned Don's quest for VWI's papers. I almost stopped breathing. VWI was my mother.

Now the funny thing about being lost is that you are often unaware of it. After all, I knew perfectly well where I was, (I think). I had always believed myself rejected by the SOALs for some dark character defect of my father's that was expected to emerge in me and lead to life in an institution. Transferred to my father's custody by the courts, I realised it simply was not true, but there remained only a fragile thread to my mother and my Granny Soal and the gulf was too wide for a child to bridge.

I was in touch with Fred quite quickly ‑ about ten minutes ‑ and very soon Don visited me with a sample of VWI's output. It included the addresses and married names of her cousins. The bridges were built at last.


There are no explanations in the Innes Collection. Don had given his best guess to the letters, documents and scribbled notes, numbering them as best he could. One of these, from an unidentified writer, listed the bible entries of my gt‑gt‑gt‑grandmother Sarah Lloyd, who married Edward Soal in Loughton, Essex in 1824. They lived at first in Boughton‑under‑Blean, Kent moving later to Gravesend. There was a fund of information on their descendants but what of Edward? Where did he come from? Sarah gave his date of birth as 14 March 1782 but did not say where.

Don supplied copies of the SOAL material, Fred Sole sent his GRO database on disk. Bob Sheldon sent his coded charts. I, meanwhile, fired off letters to the few remaining UK SOALs who must surely qualify as an endangered species. The response was immediate. One caller was VWI's second cousin Ralph whose branch descends from my gt‑grandflather's brother Ernest. Our lot were strictly Baptist and maintained a distance from Ernie's staunch Salvationists so we were only vaguely aware of each other.

Ralph identified the writer of the bible letter as Ernie's daughter Ivy Doris who had died only recently. Clearing her Lewisham house, occupied by SOALs for a hundred years, Ralph found the bible inscribed: "Sarah Lloyd ‑ her book ‑ 1817".

Another breakthrough came when I was sent VWI's private papers, including items she had distributed before her death. There were certificates, letters, ID cards and other ephemera, and hundreds of photographs. Like the bible letter, much of it is unidentified and unexplained. The answers are out there somewhere. l am hooked.


The resources at our disposal today are greater, more accessible and easier to search than they were in VWI's time. She had no access to computers, high class copiers, 'how‑to' books or indexed PRs. To speed things up, she sent vicars a home‑made 'form'. One such bears details of Edward and Sarah's marriage in 1824. The bride­groom's name is given as SOUL. VWI got no further and noted that we might come from Epping Forest.

I wanted to match Sarah's handwriting to her signature in Loughton PR and sent for a photo‑copy of the marriage entry. The name beside Edward's mark was spelled SOAL, the favoured form in Sussex and Hampshire. VWI had certificates from these counties. Was it a general interest or was she onto something? (And who told the vicar to spell it that way?)


Among the replies to my mail‑shot was one from Kenneth Soal of Liphook whose daughter Kate and her husband John Pimentel are members of the Sole Society. He included a hand drawn tree headed by Richard Soal and Sarah Boxall who married at Harting, Sussex in 1768 and raised their family in Buriton, just over the Hampshire border. Kenneth descends from their eldest son Richard.

The other children were William, John, James, Mary, and Edward. I had a nagging suspicion that our Edward born 14 Mar 1782 was their Edward, baptised 5 May 1782 at Buriton, HAM. Could I prove it? Could he have wandered so far? Don Steel and Bob Sheldon thought not, and besides, the south‑east SOLEs and SOALs were thought to have Kentish roots where a whole clutch of Edwards was giving Bob a headache. My Edward could be one of these. I accepted sadly that we might never know.


The Sole Society had done me proud and it was time to put something back. Having written up what I knew of my own branch, I set out to identify VWI's Sussex documents. Most of them connected with the Harting and Buriton group.

SOALs are thickest on the ground in Sussex and Hampshire but SOLEs appear too. The spelling flips back and forth as local officials write SOAL and incomers use SOLE. There are distinct branches of both which I needed to disentangle.

Having had some lucky breaks with wills in my own branch, I got the Wills List from Maureen Storey and asked for a few copies for my birthday. One was the will of Mary Soal who died in Romsey, Hampshire in 1861. Mary was a spinster and a long way west of SOAL country. I was intrigued.

When the envelope arrived, Mary's will was on top. She distributed her goods between her brothers, Richard, William, James, "George Soal of Botley . ..." Clearly, this was the daughter of Richard and Sarah Soal of Buriton. I read on "my brother Edward Soal of Gravesend ..."

Family history is playing hell with my respiration. Once again, I almost stopped breathing. Their Edward was our Edward after all!

Then as now, those who needed to work and eat took their skills where they were needed.

Mary went to Romsey, Edward to Gravesend and the descendants of their brothers spread around the globe. But enough for now, there is work to be done. In the last few months the twigs and branches of my UK contacts have been joining the forward trail from Richard and Sarah. A South African descendant contacted John Pimentel and I found a lost tribe on South Island NZ. The provisional version of the Sussex mega‑chart now runs to three hundred boxes and will have to be carefully checked. Now, if I could just afford a cook, a cleaner and a secretary .


Research Co‑ordinator's Report: SOLE, SOUL, SOAL. Don Steel. Soul Search, June 1992.

In Search of the Innes Collection. Don Steel Soul Search, July 1993.

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