By Derrick Dean
This article was published in the April 2014 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society
This article was originally published in the July 1993 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society. Derrick Dean’s wife’s paternal grandmother was Lizzie Ann Sole
Thomas Sole saw his two elder brothers Daniel and Edward depart for Australia on board the Sultana in 1856. They had taken the advantage of the assisted immigration scheme in the hope of a better life than that offered in their home village of Kelshall in Hertfordshire.
The family had been in Kelshall for generations, yet Thomas, his wife, and all of his ten children were also to leave the village of their ancestors, caught up in the escalating drift from the land which characterised the latter half of the 19th century.
Thomas was one month short of twenty‑one when he married heavily pregnant eighteen year old Julia Ann Jones in St. Faith’s Parish Church, Kelshall, on the 5th October 1861. Daniel, their firstborn, was christened in the same church on Christmas Day the same year.
The other children were Lizzie Ann, Emily Ann, Aza Mary, Eliza Jane, William Joseph, Agnes Clara, Eliza Agnes, Ethel Sarah, and Edith Alice. Ten children in twenty four years! Their mother, Julia, died aged 54 in Fulham, London on the 19th March 1917. Their father, Thomas, had predeceased her by some seven years. He died in Fulham, aged 59, on Monday 4th July 1910, by which time the entire family had left their home village and their “roots”.
Lizzie Ann was the first to leave. She was christened in Kelshall Parish Church (as were all the children) on the 8th April 1866. By the time she was twelve there were another five children in the family to support on the meagre wages of an agricultural labourer; so out to work she must go. Because there were no opportunities for her locally she entered domestic service in Kensington, London.
Less than a mile away from Kelshall is the neighbouring village of Therfield in which lived Lizzie’s future husband, William Dowton. William was eighteen months older than Lizzie and it seems that already they were childhood sweethearts.
William was an agricultural labourer living at home with his parents and siblings. In those days apples were stored on straw under the beds where they kept, tolerably well, throughout the winters of those days before central heating made such storage methods impossible.
The story is told how that William would take and polish apple from under his bed and, for fear of ridicule from his older brothers, slip out of the cottage with the apple hidden under his hat. One day, inevitably, the apple was discovered. His response to the teasing he then suffered was an embarrassed but rather charming, “Tis an apple for Lizzie”.
The romance flourished. William left the village and followed his Lizzie to Kensington where he found employment with the local authority so as to be near her.
From 1883 to 1913 Lizzie kept a “Birthday Memorial Book” in which she recorded about 200 events, mostly births, deaths and marriages of her friends and relations most of whom were connected with the villages of Kelshall and Therfield. This little book contains a most significant entry. On the fly leaf is written: “April 1884”; followed by this quotation from the Bible “Thy love to me was wonderful” 2 Sam 1 v26.
Clearly something of great importance had occurred in Lizzie’s life to prompt such an emotionally charged entry in the privacy of her little book.
The story, as told by her youngest son, Alfred, is as follows. Working as a servant in the same house as Lizzie, was Miss Sampson. She was older than Lizzie, taking a liking to the little twelve year old, she befriended her. Miss Sampson was a member of the Salvation Army so it is not surprising that she took Lizzie to the mission meetings. It was in those meetings that she made her personal response to the love of God; she became, to use her own words, “converted”.
Those who knew her testify to the reality of belief which was to sustain her throughout the remainder of her 84 years. It was June 1883, she was seventeen. The entire focus of her life had changed it was like being “born again”. Life itself took on fresh meaning and purpose. It is probable that only those who have had a similar experience can understand its full impact but only the most insensitive can fail to understand her deep, intense and heartfelt joy when on 1 st April 1884 her young man, William, also came to faith. So the quotation “Thy love to me was wonderful” was her prayer of sincere thanks to God, that the love that each had for the other was now enfolded by the love of God. About three and a half years later when Lizzie had attained her majority they were married on Christmas Day 1886 in St. Andrew’s Church, Fulham.
Such was her influence on those around her that Alfred says, “her entire family, including her parents, also became Christian”. In her birthday book she records the dates of some of the conversions. For example, we read that her eldest brother was converted on Friday 18th April 1884 and that he “signed the pledge” (became teetotal) on Saturday 14th June 1884. She supported the Railway Mission and the famous Mildmay Mission in the East End of London.
A London City Missioner who came to know her when she was elderly and housebound said that lie would visit her as a pastoral duty and himself come away blessed and encouraged by her testimony and example.
William Dowton’s work for Kensington Borough Council included filling the water carts. The work was such that he came home with his clothes wet. Their living conditions were so basic that frequently, especially in winter, the clothes he wore next day were still wet. As a result, while the children were still young, he became crippled by Rheumatoid Arthritis and could no longer do his job. With the consent of the local authority he became a crossing sweeper in wealthy Kensington and had to subsist on what little came his way in tips. Lizzie supplemented the growing family’s income by doing domestic cleaning. Their financial situation was such that all the children were at work by the age of thirteen because their wages were crucial to the family’s economy; further education was precluded. Lizzie apparently had the gift of making cheap but nourishing meals for despite the shortage of money the children never went hungry.
William died during WWI and Lizzie in 1950 and so the love story ended or rather, lived on in the lives of their children.
Following their marriage William and Lizzie made their home in Fulham. When Alfred was about four the family, which by this time included three boys and one girl, moved from 52 Dimsdale Road round the corner to a newly built terrace house, 89 Coomer Road, Fulham. Round about this time (1908) Lizzie’s parents, were living at No. 91; her sister Emily (Em) with her husband Philip Barnes lived at No. 87; her sister Eliza Jane (Jane) and her husband Harry Hart live at No. 93. When these houses were bombed during WW1 the occupants moved to other houses in the same road.
Philip Barnes, Emily’s husband, had been previously married to her cousin Mary Sole. Philip told of how Mary was lying sick at home and he out in the meadows looking after the sheep when a “figure” appeared to him and told him that his wife had died: hurrying home he found that it was so. Lizzie’s birthday book records that she died of consumption on Thursday 8th November 1883 aged 21.
Aza, married Arthur Bowen, lived nearby at Walham Green and the other sisters lived off the Wandsworth bridge Road also in Fulham.
Daniel Edward Sole (Ted) married Mary Ann Bennett in 1888 and worked for Wolsley Ltd. (the woollens manufacturer) in the City of London. They settled in llford.
William Joseph Sole (Bill) married Mary Staines in 1901 and after WWI he bought an old army lorry, settled in Ascot, and founded a general haulage business which developed to include a coal merchants and corn chandlers, believed to be still (1993) trading in the name of William Sole.
So it is that an entire family of agricultural workers left rural Hertfordshire and made new beginnings. Each has their own story to tell which I would like to know.