The Life of Arthur Baron Sole
By Tony Storey
This article was originally published in the July 1998 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
Winchester, Venta Belgarum to the Romans, was the capital of England in the time of King Alfred and not surprisingly has numerous historic buildings, most notably the second longest cathedral in Europe begun in 1079. Amongst the many fine medieval buildings it is easy to overlook more modern architectural gems such as the church of St Thomas, a Victorian Gothic masterpiece by a little known architect, E.W. Elmslie.
THE CHURCH OF ST THOMAS
The church lies within the bounds of the old Roman city close to the line of the Roman road that led south from Winchester to the Roman station at Bitterne. In the medieval period, the city was divided into more than fifty parishes each with its own church but in the succeeding centuries, ruinous churches were closed and parishes united until St Thomas became the major church of the area. A victim of its own success, the old church was demolished in September 1845 and for 18 months, services were held in an adjoining parish while work proceeded on the building of a new St Thomas's. The first service took place on 16 April 1847, the new church holding 950 people, twice as many as the old building. A spire 172 feet high was added in 1857.
Winchester also has literary associations, for example, Jane Austen spent her last days in Winchester. The house in College Street where she died in 1817 is still standing and Jane is buried in the Cathedral nave.
In Thomas Hardy's Wessex novels the city is thinly disguised as Wintoncester and in the final chapter of 'Tess of the Durbervilles', published in 1891, as Tess is hanged in the city gaol, Hardy accurately describes the skyline of Winchester and makes special mention of "...the spires of St Thomas's". Given the author's abiding interest in church architecture, it is likely that Hardy visited St Thomas's and met its enthusiastic young rector, the Reverend Arthur Baron Sole.
Arthur was born in June 1853 at St Neots, Huntingdonshire, the fourth son of Dr William Sole and Anne Anslow. Arthur's father died in 1856 leaving Anne to bring up five young children.
Arthur obtained a scholarship at Durham School, then went up to Jesus College, Cambridge taking a degree in mathematics in 1877. He spent a year at Leeds Clergy School before becoming curate at St Mary's, Southampton. He was appointed rector of St Thomas's, Winchester in 1886, made a Surrogate in 1888, Secretary of the Diocesan Conference in 1892 and Rural Dean of Winchester in 1901.
In 1891 he married Edith Mary Butler, the eldest daughter of a Winchester medical practitioner, and they had three children.
WORK IN THE PARISH
In his role as parish priest, Arthur worked tirelessly on behalf of his parishioners, ensuring his church played its full part in improving the quality of their lives. He was instrumental in the building of a parish hall in which he encouraged the forming of various clubs and guilds for young people and working men, in addition to Mothers' Union, Girls' Friendly Society and Church Lads' Brigade. As well as a meeting room, he had classrooms built for both Sunday and Day Schools.
Arthur was quite athletic with particular talents for swimming and yachting. He maintained a gymnasium and organised an annual camp at Calshot.
As well as finding time and providing financial support for all of these activities, he carried out many improvements to the fabric of St Thomas's including the furnishing of a Lady Chapel. He was a regular speaker for the Church of England Temperance Society.
In October 1903, Arthur began to experience angina‑like chest pains, a clear signal to take things easier. In these days of beta‑blockers, by‑passes and organ transplants, it may seem incredible that at the turn of the century the prescribed treatment for his condition was a course of medical vapour baths at a special clinic in London. On the eve of his departure for London, a parishioner remarked that he had been doing the work of two men. Arthur replied, "When I come back, I will, if I can, do the work of four".
The Reverend and Mrs Sole attended a service at St Paul's Cathedral on the Sunday and on the following day she accompanied him to the clinic in Lancaster Gate, arranging to meet after his treatment. Immediately after his bath, he suddenly felt ill and died within minutes. When he failed to meet her and did not return to their lodgings in Cambridge Terrace, Edith went back to the clinic and was told of her husband's death.
No inquest was held but the cause of death was stated to be embolic apoplexy. The body was placed in a sealed metallic shell within an outer coffin of panelled polished oak with raised lid and heavy brass mountings. It bore a brass Latin cross and a name plate inscribed:
Arthur Baron Sole, priest, died December 14th, 1903
One of Arthur's last gifts to the parish was a wheeled bier to save poorer parishioners the cost of a hearse. It was used for the first time outside the church to convey his own coffin, drawn through the streets of Winchester by members of the St Thomas Men's Club escorted by the Church Lads' Brigade with arms reversed. He was buried in Winchester Cemetery alongside his mother.
REDUNDANCY AND ADAPTATION
The momentum that he had created helped to maintain the parish until the outbreak of war in 1914, after which the congregation began to dwindle and many activities were curtailed. The church was finally declared redundant in 1969 and for twenty years was the Hampshire County Record Office, its memorials and wall plaques hidden by partitions and metal shelving for the county's archives. Following the opening of a new purpose built CRO, the church building, whilst outwardly unchanged, is now the St Thomas' Centre and provides office accommodation for various voluntary organisations. Although the building is no longer open to the public, the memorials have been conserved in situ.
On the south side of the chancel is a brass bearing the inscription:
To the glory of God, and in memory of Army Surgeon Robert S Lesly Sole, by his loving mother Anne Sole and his brother Arthur Baron Sole, Rector of this parish.
He died of enteric fever at Abu Fatmeh in the Soudan, May 21, 1885, aged 29 years, yielding his life a willing sacrifice to his Queen and Country, and in hope of eternal life.
Inside the altar rail is a brass standard with an inscription on its granite base:
To the glory of God, and in loving memory of Anne Sole, born May 21, 1816, died August 15, 1899, the mother of the Rector of this parish.
Arthur Baron Sole's own memorial in the church is the cast window of the Lady Chapel that he had furnished just before his death.
Although Arthur and his siblings were all born in St Neots, Huntingdonshire, previous generations of his family came from the village of Stretham on the Isle of Ely, his earliest known ancestor being William Sole who died in Stretharn in 1540. An old pedigree suggests that this William was the fourth son of John Sole, mayor of Faversham, Kent but no evidence for this assertion has yet come to light.
We know from our records that in the sixteenth century, the family variously spelt their name SOLE, SOULE, SOALE or SOWLE. The family charts held by the Sole Society comprise of nearly 200 individuals including several members of the clergy, medical men, high‑ranking soldiers and a notable eighteenth century botanist.
Arthur Baron Sole's widow Edith died in Winchester in 1944 aged 85. Their three children do not appear to have married and the last survivor, daughter Elizabeth, died in Worthing, Sussex in 1981 aged 84.
In preparing this article I must acknowledge the help of the Local Studies Section, Winchester Library, the Hampshire CRO and the records of the Sole Society.
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