By Maureen Storey
This article was published in the December 2016 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society
For most of the people in the Society’s database the information we hold is just a dry list of birth, marriage and death details, leavened for some by details from wills, censuses and military records. None of these sources gives any indication of the person’s character, interests, or standing in the community. There is one source, however, that occasionally gives us glimpses of the sort of people that our ancestors were, and that is newspapers.
The family announcement and obituary sections of newspapers sometimes include details not available anywhere else. For example from the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer (14 Apr 1953) we learn that Francis Joseph Sole became a Roman Catholic priest in 1929, served as an Army chaplain during World War II, and was the parish priest at the Sacred Heart Church in Leeds from 1947 until his death in 1953. We also learn that the requiem at his funeral was sung by his brother Herbert, a Benedictine monk.
Reports on local events can also add colour to an individual. For example, the Banbury Guardian (14 Sep 1882) tells us that brothers Thomas and John Nicholas Sole took part in a concert in Warmington, in which Thomas sang a solo, a duet and was part of a glee group, while John delighted the audience with three comic recitations. And from the Nottingham Evening Post (18 Sep 1888) comes the information that Arthur Soles (aged 18) won a boxing match fought under the Marquis of Queensbury rules, for which he was awarded a silver cup.
Reports from the magistrates courts sometimes reveal that our ancestors were not as law abiding as we might imagine they were. For example, in 1880 Isaac Sole, who ran a dairy in Cable Street, Stepney, Middlesex, was found guilty of watering down the milk and fined 10 shillings (The Times 14 Apr 1880).
The magistrates court reports also include instances where our ancestors were the victims of crime, not the perpetrators. The following account of one such incident has been put together from reports in the Morning Advertiser (22 Dec 1845), the Evening Mail (22 Dec 1845) and Lloyds Weekly Newspaper (28 Dec 1845). The three reports each contain slightly different details, but they don’t contradict each other.
Hannah Sole, a laundress of Helmsley Street, London Fields, Hackney, spent the evening of 10 Dec 1845 working at home. At about 9 o’clock she was about to share supper with the woman who worked with her when there was a loud knock at the door. One of her sons (the newspaper reports said he was about 10, so it would have been either Joseph or David) answered the door and was confronted by three men who asked if Mr Johnson lived there. When the lad said that he didn’t and tried to close the door, the men forced their way into the house, with one shouting ‘It’s alright, fasten the door’.
Hearing the commotion Hannah and the other washerwoman went into the hall to see what was going on, only for them and the boy to be forcibly restrained by the intruders. Hannah later said in evidence that at this point she assumed the men were burglars. The two women shouted for help and there was a violent struggle as Hannah fought to get free. She eventually managed to break away and opened the front door. On seeing a policeman standing outside, she assumed he had heard their cries and come to help, but instead he grabbed her and forced her back into the house, closing the door again. While the two women and boy were forcibly restrained in the hall, the other man began to search the house. In the process he woke Hannah’s younger children, who were asleep upstairs and who fled in terror to a neighbour’s house for help.
Eventually the uproar in the house attracted the attention of people in the street and it was at this point that Hannah finally learned who the men were and what they were looking for. She was told by James Davies, a butcher who lived opposite, that they were excise men and were searching for an illegal still. Hannah immediately said that they should complete their search but that they wouldn’t find anything. Having thoroughly searched the premises, the excise men left empty handed.
It reveals a great deal about Hannah’s character that she did not allow the matter to drop there. She made a complaint to the police and as a result two excise men, Charles Prigg and Richard Lawrence, and two policemen, PCs Edward Mulcahey and James Dawtrey appeared at Worship Street Magistrates Court charged with assault.
In the ensuing trial it was stated that the excise men had earlier found a quantity of treacle that they believed was to be used in an illegal still. On the side of the truck containing the treacle was painted ‘Johnson, Helmsley Street’ and it was this that led them to knock on Hannah’s door. No reason was given for them believing they had found the right house. In fact, in her evidence Hannah stated that she recognised one of the policemen as his beat ran past her house and that he knew both her and her husband.
The police and excise men admitted that they had no justification for forcing entry to the house. However, they denied using violence, even though Hannah had shown the court the bruising on her arms and had produced a doctor’s note certifying that she had been badly hurt.
The magistrate said it was obvious that, regardless of whether or not an assault had been committed, the entry had been illegal and he was sure that if a civil action were brought the Excise Commissioners would have to pay Hannah compensation. He therefore suspended the case to give the Excise Commissioners the opportunity to reach a financial settlement with Hannah. He said the settlement should take into account both the illegal entry and the expenses Hannah had incurred in bringing the case to court. He felt that he couldn’t deal with the assault until such an offer had been made.
Frustratingly the case received no further attention from the newspapers, so we’ll probably never know the end of the story.
The British Library’s ongoing newspaper digitisation programme, and its resulting indexes, together with similar projects in, for example, Australia mean that it has never been easier to find newspaper articles mentioning your family. Give it a try.
Francis Joseph and Herbert John Sole were born in Banbury, Oxfordshire, in 1902 and 1904 respectively. Their parents were William Sole and Sarah Ann Moore, who married in Frome, Somerset, in 1891. William worked for the General Post Office, starting as a postal clerk and rising to the position of superintendent. On becoming a monk Herbert changed his name to Bernard Sole. He lived and worked at Fort Augustus Abbey on the banks of Loch Ness. He died there in 1972.
Thomas and John Nicholas Sole, sons of John and Mary Ann (nee Heydon) Sole, were born in Neithrop, Oxfordshire, in 1834 and 1840 respectively. Thomas was a gardener and was for many years the foreman in a local nursery. He and his wife Catherine (nee Lavery) had four children, and were the grandparents of Francis Joseph and Herbert Sole, mentioned above. Thomas died in 1910. John Nicholas Sole was a coach builder and ran his own business in Neithrop. He married Mary Amelia Wagstaffe in 1862 and together they had six children. John died on 23 Jun 1908. His funeral was conducted by his younger brother Samuel Heydon Sole, another Roman Catholic priest.
Arthur Soles was probably the son of George and Mary Ann (nee Saxton) (there is some uncertainty as this Arthur would have been about 22 at time, not 18, as reported in the paper). Arthur (Click) Soles was a well-known professional boxer in Nottingham and is believed to have fought in both bare-fisted and glove fights.
Isaac Sole, one of the ten children of Thomas and Hester (nee Jones) Sole, was born in 1832 in Kelshall, Hertfordshire. By the late 1850s he was living in London’s East End and working as a dairyman. He married Sarah Ann Mitchell in 1856, and together they had eight children. He died in Whitechapel on 3 Jul 1891.
Hannah Barnard was born in Clavering, Essex, in about 1800. She married James Sole at St Mary’s Church, Islington, on 28 Dec 1821. The couple set up home in the London Fields area of Hackney where James worked as a gardener. It was here that they raised their seven children. In her statement to the court Hannah said the family moved to Helmsley Street in 1833 and she and James were still living there when Hannah died in 1870 (and indeed James remained there until his death in 1880).
Six of their seven children reached adulthood and when she died Hannah had 34 grandchildren (another four were born later). A burial entry for her appears in the
St John-at-Hackney registers but by this time London’s churchyards had been closed to burials and we’ve yet to determine where she was actually buried.