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


By John Saul

This article was originally published in the April 2013 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society


The publication of an article, ‘Four Generations of Ipswich Sauls’, about my Ipswich forebears in the August 2004 edition of Soul Search had the happy outcome of a surprise email from a previously unsuspected third cousin, Mike Fenn.  Mike has given me a lot of help in delving into my Saul ancestry and in correcting a few errors which had crept into my article.  In the interests of ensuring that Soul Search publishes accurate records I would like to start by listing three corrections to that article.

Timothy and Sarah Saul, who moved from Lavenham to Ipswich ca. 1810, had 11 children, not nine.  My direct ancestor, the first of the four Thomas Sauls, was the youngest of the 11.

The first Thomas Saul (1826-1880) married Frances Versey, not Frances Besse.

This Thomas Saul’s daughter was Elizabeth, not Ethel.  Elizabeth Saul married (1) Robert Ellis, a plumber, in 1874.  He died in 1879, leaving a daughter.  Elizabeth then married (2) George Fenn, who was at various times a farmer, a publican, a grocer and pork butcher, a tobacconist, a cab proprietor and jobmaster. He became an Ipswich Alderman and Workhouse Guardian and a wealthy man, and was generally prominent in Ipswich Society.  He and Elizabeth had 6 children, one of them, Thomas Saul Fenn, was Mike Fenn’s grandfather.

At the time Mike and I knew very little about the first Thomas Saul, our common ancestor.  The launch of the on-line British Newspaper Archive ( in 2011 has done a lot to fill that gap in our knowledge, because the first batch of newspapers it covered included the Ipswich Chronicle.  What we now know about Thomas has been almost entirely derived from a search of its pages.

Thomas Saul was born in 1826 when his father Timothy Saul was about 47 and his mother Sarah Keys was about 43.  In 1841 he was living with his widowed mother.  The next record we have of him is his marriage on 21st October 1848 at St Clements Church, Ipswich, when he was recorded on the marriage certificate as a maltster.  His bride was Frances Versey, baptised on 29 Jun 1823 at Felixstowe, Suffolk, the daughter of Jesse Versey, a Labourer, and Elizabeth Gaskin.  Thomas and Frances were living in Fore Street, St Clements, Ipswich, in 1851.  We cannot find them in 1861, but we do know that some time after 1851 Thomas Saul changed careers.  I already knew that he was the first of the family to have the tenancy of The Swan Inn, a public house located in King Street, Ipswich, just behind the Town Hall.  I now know from the Ipswich Journal that he moved there in November 1869. I have also learned that this was not his first job in the pub trade because he was previously at the Great Eastern Hotel, Harwich, Essex.  This was quite a palatial establishment, opened by the Great Eastern Railway in 1864 primarily to cater for passengers using their ferry services between Harwich and Rotterdam.  It is improbable that Thomas Saul would have been in overall charge of what was a hotel rather than a pub, but it seems clear that he and his family moved there from Ipswich in or shortly after 1864.  Perhaps he managed the Hotel’s bar and licensed trade.

The Great Eastern Hotel Harwich, where Thomas Saul worked before moving to the Ipswich Swan in 1869

The Great Eastern Hotel Harwich, where Thomas Saul worked before moving to the Ipswich Swan in 1869


The pages of the Ipswich Chronicle during the period of his tenancy of The Swan (1869-1880) give a good idea of what sort of man he was.  In October 1872 Thomas appeared at the Election Court to establish his right as a Freeholder to vote, on the basis that that he owned freehold land for which he had paid £70.  The vote was granted, despite objections by the solicitor representing the Radicals.  Thomas was a Founder Member of the local Lodge of the Ancient Order of Foresters (a friendly society).  The Swan hosted many dinners for various organisations, especially the Foresters and other Friendly Societies such as the Central Mutual Assistance Society and the Ipswich Typographical Society.  He attended the inaugural meeting of the Ipswich Licensed Victuallers Protection Association in September 1873, was elected a vice-president, and was prominent in proposals to set up a Licensed Victuallers Cooperative Store, whose aim would have been to compete with grocers who were undercutting publicans on the off-sale of alcoholic drinks.

Thomas Saul also sold refreshments at outside events.  On Whit Monday 1870 he had a refreshment tent in Christchurch Park for the Oddfellows and Foresters fete, which according to the Ipswich Chronicle, was attended by between 18,000 and 20,000 people.  The downside was that he, and another provider of refreshments, were victimised by ‘a set of scamps who are a disgrace to the town’; between them they lost 480 items of glassware to a value £7.  He had a similar experience in June 1873 when he lost more than 300 items of glassware to the value of £5/18/4 while selling refreshments at the Holywells Fete.  Later we read that the Magistrates granted him an Occasional Licence to sell refreshments at Ipswich Races on 24 May 1876.  In October 1873 he was one of 250 men noted as attending the quarterly meeting of the Ipswich Conservative Working Men’s Association.  He was obviously a popular man; the Ipswich Chronicle records annual dinners he gave at the Swan every January for his friends and customers and there were many tributes to the quality of the food which he and Frances provided.  Even making allowance for Victorian hyperbole, statements in the press like ‘sumptuous dinner served in first-rate style by the worthy hostesses Mr and Mrs T Saul’, ‘a capital spread of toothsome viands’, ‘a bountiful repast served in first-rate style by the worthy host and hostess’, ‘certainly one of the best served-up dinners of the season’ speak volumes.

Thomas Saul died on 17 April 1880, age 53. After a service at St Mary le Tower he was interred in Ipswich Cemetery on 22 April ‘… in the presence of a large concourse of people’.  ‘The procession was headed by representatives of the Ancient Order of Foresters, and following the hearse were a large number of members of the Licensed Victuallers Association.’  He left an estate valued at less than £600.  Probate was granted to Frances, his wife,  John Mills, solicitor and William Fisk, brewer’s agent.  However, on 15 November 1882, in the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division, Mrs Frances Saul brought an action against John Mills.  In summary, her late husband had bequeathed his interest in the house and business to his widow as tenant for life, and certain property, for the ultimate benefit of his children.  It was alleged that Mills had obtained the deeds of 3 freehold properties for probate purposes, and she had been unable to get them back.  He had also been extremely slow in releasing the £100 due from a Life Assurance Policy.  He had been removed as solicitor for the estate, and Mrs Saul sought an order for costs.  The Judge duly awarded all costs against Mills.  (So tardy solicitors are nothing new!)

The License for the Swan was transferred to Frances Saul on 13 May 1880; she was the tenant for approximately 11 years before handing over to her son, Thomas Saul.  In 1901 Frances was living at 15 Bedford Street, Ipswich with a companion, and remained there until her death early in 1913 aged 90.  Her will, proved in April that year, valued her estate at £5,706, the equivalent of more than £400,000 in today’s money.  Given that there was little or no inflation between 1880 and 1913, Frances had grown her inheritance 10-fold in that period!

The Swan Inn, King Street, Ipswich. This Saul family were Landlords there for more than 50 years

The Swan Inn, King Street, Ipswich. This Saul family were Landlords there for more than 50 years


I have recently discovered the website on which I have seen photographs of the gravestones of Thomas and Frances Saul and of Thomas’s mother Sarah Saul in Ipswich Old Municipal Cemetery.  Sadly the inscriptions are indistinct, so a visit to Ipswich seems called for!