By Jennifer Ball
This article was published in the August 2015 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society
Ed: I asked Jennifer to write a piece on her favourite ancestor as part of the new series of articles the first of which was in the April journal. She very kindly complied, but when she emailed it she asked that it didn’t go under that heading.
Will Sole was my much loved maternal grandfather. Born in 1879 at 55 Tower Buildings in Wapping in the borough of Stepney E1, he was the son of Edward Sole born 1830 in Woodnesborough Kent. William Ernest Sole, to give him his official name was a gentle, kind, contented, quiet man and profoundly deaf. Perhaps his quietness was due to the deafness as he rarely instigated conversation. The deafness it was said was due to a childhood illness suffered by his little sister and Will’s inability to keep away as instructed.
His family tree was somewhat complicated due to the fact that his mother married three times. Her name was Sarah Harriet Clark. She lived in Folkestone and her first marriage at the age of twenty was to a local boy. When he died two years later leaving her with a daughter she returned to live with her parents. Eleven years later in 1876 she married Edward Sole who was not telling the truth when he gave his age as thirty-six. The couple left Folkestone and went to live by the river Thames in Wapping where Edward had obtained work as a stevedore perhaps due to his brother James Sole (b.1846) who was already working as a stevedore in Wapping. Edward and Sarah had three children, Edward born 1877 and William and Gertrude born 1883. Will would have been nearly five when his father died in 1884 and a year later the family suffered another blow when little Gertrude died. Sarah now a widow for the second time married John William Stevens a bargeman in October 1885. This third marriage produced Lillian and May two further stepsisters for Will and Edward.
The family continued to live at the same address. I have my grandfather’s book of Common Prayer, well worn now, it was presented to him ‘As a reward for good conduct and general proficiency’ in 1895 by R. G. Hall Esq, Treasurer of Wapping Schools. When Will started work it was at New Crane Wharf and he remained employed there until he retired. His occupation is given at various times as a tea sampler, colonial goods sampler and dock foreman. As a young man he was a keen cyclist. His brother Edward married Frances Fergusson in 1904 and the couple had a daughter. Sadly both Edward and his child died in 1906. Will married Frances’ sister Victoria the following year and they had three children: Victoria, (Vic), Constance (Connie), my mother and the middle child, then William (Bill), the youngest. Will and my grandmother had moved into New Tower Buildings in Wapping by the time my mother was born in 1910. Tower Buildings was larger than New Tower but they backed on to each other with just the back yards in between. They housed, and continued to house various members of the Sole family over the years and on the 1891 census Sarah, the first of Will’s half sisters, who had been left with her grand parents in Folkestone back in 1876 is living with her husband and daughter at 59 Tower Buildings.
Will was a great family man and kept in touch with his mother’s family in Folkestone and with her and her new family now living in Limehouse. Indeed, I think some of his happiest times must have been when he and his wife visited his half sisters Lillian and May and her daughters in Limehouse. They would enjoy a fish and chip supper and afterwards sing all the old music hall songs round the piano as May played and Will although deaf would always smile at Lill’s singing.
Will would not have been recognised without his Edwardian moustache but it caused us both much embarrassment when as a small child I was held up for him to kiss my cheek. The bristles, or ‘feavers’ as I called them, were not soft but stiff and I would cry. We were both glad when a hug and a kiss on his cheek would suffice. He and my grandmother would enjoy a drink in a pub and a weekly trip to the Trocadero cinema. There was never a radio in their flat because he would not have been able to hear it and my grandmother did not require one. It was after all a comparatively modern invention by the 1930s. They loved both Folkestone and Felixstowe and frequent trips were taken to both places often using boats that sailed from the Thames.
When my grandfather died in St. George in the East Hospital in April 1956 he was seventy six, a man loved by his family and respected by friends neighbours and work colleagues. He had been retired for nearly twelve years but on the day of his funeral I looked down from the window of their flat to see men leaving the wharfs to join others lining the pavements with caps held and heads bowed as his coffin passed.
He was sadly missed by us all but mostly of course by my grandmother who though always of independent mind was lonely without him. She died in 1960 but the memories of both live on to be enjoyed and that is as it should be.