By George Solly
This article was published in the August 2020 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society
[Ed: George clarified the Anglo-Anglo reference in the title, he said: ‘Anglo-Saxon is the period the name was coined and as I have a German mother from Niedersachsen or Lower Saxony that makes me an Anglo-Saxon Saxon!’]
My interest in the Solly Family tree goes back over 50 years or more when I started to wonder about our ‘peculiar’ surname and its origins.
Family tradition thought that it was a corruption of the French word Soleil, meaning that the family derived from Huguenots displaced from their home country in the seventeenth century. In fact, the word ‘Solly’ is Anglo-Saxon in origin meaning ‘a wet and marshy place’. Quite early on I discovered that the first (then) recorded Solly was called Sir Peter Soly from the Isle of Thanet who made his will in January 1495; I am the 17th recorded generation since. Decades of research since has pushed that fifteenth century date further back by several centuries.
English surnames are principally derived from just three sources: location, occupation or characteristics. Thus, we could have Fletcher – arrow maker; Long – tall person or, as in our case location or place – in Ash and Nonington both in East Kent, and both quite marshy, at least originally when Thanet really was an island. So, we have location but what about occupation? Most family historians will find plenty of ‘ag. labs’ in their genealogies, as indeed we do in ours. However, how and why can we go back so far? We can only do that if our forebears were notable in some way: titled (as in the case of Peter q.v.); official post-holder in state or church or military; substantial landlord; miscreant recorded in court records or litigant/appellant/defendant in civil cases, or testator of goods, land and property by way of wllls and the proving of probate. There are also those who are famous for their deeds, usually on the battle field or high seas perhaps with little property or money.
My original sources were my father, Kenneth George Solly (1907-1994), his cousin Alan Richard Jones Solly (1899-1991), my great uncle Heinrich for the German side of my family – Wilhelm and Oberheide. My father’s recollections were coloured by his love of story-telling and exaggeration, and the fact that he was the third and youngest son of the previous youngest son of seven children, (Albert Solly 1878-1956) who in turn was the youngest of five children (John Solly, 1833-1879). Thus, the information and memory of these particular forebears was necessarily limited. Also documents, portraits and other family mementos being handed down to the youngest of the youngest was scarce. Thus, I have no pictures or portraits or family bibles of my direct ancestors handed down further back than Albert. But, I do have a picture of Richard Solly, thrice mayor of Sandwich, 1674-1731 (notable personage and post-holder) who I think looks remarkably like me, or rather I like him! Some of the fanciful things my father related turned out to be quite true, like his aunt ‘who was bed-ridden and curled up like a question mark’ was indeed an invalid suffering with osteoporosis!
The memorial to Richard Solly (1674-1731), mayor of Sandwich and his wife and children
Richard Solly, 1674-1731, three times mayor of Sandwich
Later, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in South Kensington provided me with some confusing dot matrix Solly print-outs in 1984. More usefully whilst at the University of Kent at Canterbury, I joined a local history research group in 1970 under the auspices of Cambridge University who were doing local population research into the original parish registers. Ash-next-Sandwich having some the oldest and extensive datasets was one of the parishes chosen. The work entailed the volunteers like me of looking over hundreds of original entries and transcribing them by hand into forms which would later be computerised. The resultant book was called The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure and was published in 1974, I believe. Any Solly or associated family member I found I naturally noted for my own use. The study was able to identify hitherto unknown statistics such as family size, age at marriage, household composition etc for the sixteenth and later centuries.
Another useful source in these early days of my research was the 1864 book A Corner of Kent by JR Planche, who wrote;
This ancient family, of which so many descendants are resident in the parish at the present day, is presumed to have taken its name from the manor of Soles, in the neighbouring parish of Nonington, in Wingham hundred, part of the possessions in 1080 of Odo, Bishop of Baieux.
JR Planche’s book A Corner of Kent, published by Robert Hardwicke, 1864
Edward Hasted’s The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, published 1800 is also useful and its section on Ash (pp191-212) mentions several Sollys, and further mentions in adjacent parishes. Ridlon also wrote about the Sollys but his work contains several mistakes and errors.
The Sole Society which I joined in the mid 1990s has been a good source of material especially from Bob Solly, Lynne Burlingham, Elizabeth Hughes and several others.
Family Names and their Story by
S. Baring-Gould, published by Seeley & Co, 1910
SOLE, a pond, a Kentish Term.
Peter ate Sole, County Kent, Hundred Rolls, Surname Soley, 1273
JR Planche’: A Corner of Kent,
J R Planche’ published by Robert Hardwicke, 1864
The History & Topographiocal Survey of the County of Kent,
Volume IX – Edward Hasted, 1800
Soles Court Farm near Frogham, parish of Nonington was recorded in the Doomsday Book. Under the ownership of Odo,
Bishop of Bayeux it passed known as the Manor of Soles to John de Soles who owned it in the reign of
Edward I, 1272-1307
A ‘naughty’ Solly is recorded as fined on the churchwardens board in
St Nicholas Church in Ash.
A view of Ash Street