From Essex to the East End

The Story of a Changing Family Fortune

By George Solly

This article was published in the December 2016 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society

It is quite well known that the Solly family originated from East Kent; my particular branch moved from there to the Faversham (mid-Kent) and then onto south Essex in
pre-Victorian times. The reason for this migration is not certain but it is supposed that as my forebears were farmers who favoured marshy wetlands, as their lands were being successively drained they moved onto land that still had the same characteristics. Indeed the meaning of the Anglo-Saxon surname Solly means ‘marsh-dwellers’!
The Essex line can be traced through the censuses of 1841-1881, after which time my widowed great grandmother Frances moved to West Ham, then still part of Essex but now a London Borough. The story unfolds with my 2x great grandfather Richard Solly (1793-1877) moving from Faversham to Mundon Hall near Maldon, Essex in 1817 with wife Mary Denne.
The 1841 census shows them living with children Thomas (b.1821, and described as a ‘land agent’), Richard (b.1822), Mary (b.1826) and my great grandfather John (b.1833). Richard (the elder) and his sons had substantial farms in Mundon Hall and Brickhouse farms near Maldon, Tollesbury and Joyces, Mayland.

Plan of Mundon Hall, prepared for sale particulars

Indeed, John had 630 acres at Mayland employing almost 30 men and boys. However in quick succession his brother Thomas died in 1875, then his father two years later. John then had three farms to look after, a sister-in-law and her numerous children and, with the agricultural depression of the time that tipped him over into suicide in 1879. His widow, Frances Ann was left with children Mary 11, Ann 9, Richard 8. Henry 6, Grace 2 and my grandfather Albert 11 months old. Frances continued with the farm for some time but by the 1891 census was living modestly in Palmeston Road, West Ham still with six children aged between 12 and 23. Co-incidentally, Albert by 1901 had moved to Khedive Rd., West Ham and lived next door to Emma Roberts (1850-1927) whose daughter Daisy May he married in 1902. My father, Kenneth was their third son and he was born in 1907.
So from being farmers of note and some wealth in south Essex, what occupations did these forbears of mine take up? My grandfather Albert and his sons Donald and Kenneth were wholesale fish merchants in Billingsgate; Emma’s husband George Isaac Roberts was a tobacconist in Whitechapel and Richard the elder is described as a widower living as a lodger in Maldon (1871 census). Frances’s family were ag labs, and vermin killers – a touch of the Demelzas of Poldark, perhaps?

Joyces Farm, Mayland where John died