By George Solly
This article was published in the August 2016 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society
Following on from the report in the December issue of Soul Search of Bob Solly’s talk on Isaac Solly which he gave at the Annual Gathering article I recently visited the impressive family tomb in the graveyard of St Mary’s, Walthamstow.
The photograph shows its unusual lion’s feet design and a now illegible legend on the side detailing children and spouses also there interred. In fact there were three generations of Isaacs, the one featured prominently here is Isaac, the first of the family’s Baltic merchants who died in 1802. He was the father of Isaac (II) who was director of the London and Birmingham Railway as described in Bob’s talk. Perversely, although the first Isaac predeceased his wife by 17 years she is simply described as Mrs. Solly (whom we know to be Elizabeth, neé Neal) which may be indicative of the status of women in the late Regency period!
The vault’s lions’ heads and feet symbolically mean ‘the power of God guarding against evil.’ Isaac (I) and Elizabeth had six sons and six daughters, some of whom are buried there. I am related to these Isaacs by common ancestor John Solly, 1660-1740 who married Martha LeGay. I am the eighth generation following John, and Isaac(II) is the third. This tomb is quite photogenic through its uniqueness and several instances of it occur on the Internet on photographic not genealogical websites. This tomb is further unusual in being a listed monument, Grade II. Also of note is the degraded coat of arms on the tomb which appear to show the crest my part of the family uses quartered with those of another families, perhaps including the Neals.
In St. Mary’s the verger told me that Walthamstow was once a secluded village in Epping Forest much favoured by merchants such as my Baltic Merchant forebears whose place of business in the City of London is now the site of the Gherkin which Tony Storey wrote about some time ago. All three Isaacs (the third died in 1870) would have had to go the 10 miles by road to their office, as the railway didn’t reach Walthamstow until 1870 and the second Isaac’s London to Birmingham Railway of 1838 ran far too far to the west to be any use.
Nearby, the Sollys lived at Layton House from about 1801 to 1838, which was subsequently owned by William Morris of Arts and Craft’s fame, but later demolished at the start of the last century. Henry Solly, founder of the Working Men’s Clubs was great grandson of the first Isaac. In his memoirs Henry talks about his grandmother ‘ …a stately and rather severe old lady, attired in magnificent yellow silk brocade, as she appeared at Layton House on the Christmas Day when I was five years old, and was led up to her to receive the Golden Guinea which she gave all her numerous grandchildren every Christmas Day till her death. Unfortunately for me, being the youngest of my father’s family, she died before another Christmas Day came around.’1
- These Eighty Years, or The story on an unfinished life’ by Henry Solly, published 1893 by Simpkin, Marshall & Co