The famous of Little Thetford

William Sole (1741–7 February 1802) was a British botanist.

Born in Little Thetford, Cambridgeshire, Sole studied at the King’s School, Ely, then served an apprenticeship as an apothecary, what we now call a pharmacist, in Cambridge. On qualifying, he moved to Bath.

In his spare time, Sole undertook influential botanical research, specialising in the study of mints in his garden, where he tried to replicate natural conditions as closely as possible. In 1798, he published Menthae Britannicae (British Mints), and the terminology he used in the text was adopted generally throughout the nineteenth century. He also researched grasses and the local flora of Bath, and was elected as one of the first associates of the Linnean Society.

The plant genus Solea was named after Sole by Sprengel, although this was later merged into Viola.

There is an article in the newton Library at Cambridge referring to Soles book, Menthae Britannicae. There is also a detailed paper (Savage, 1937) from the Linnean Society attached.

The 1885-1900 version of the standard reference Dictionary of National Biography has an entry for William Sole which states he was “… born at Thetford in the Isle of Ely”. The updated version of the same reference work, the 2004 online edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography however states he was “… born at Thetford in Norfolk”. We have checked the St George’s Church records and we discovered the baptism of John SOLE on 14 June 1741. The record states:

1741 June 14 SOLE John of John & Martha. There were no SOLE’s recorded from 1731 until 1741 June 14 but there were SOLE’s after this date as follows

1743 May 15 SOLE Sarah of John and Martha
1744 Feb 24 SOLE Elizabeth of John and Martha
1748 Feb 19 SOLE Francis of John and Martha
1750 May 13 SOLE Robert of John and Martha
1752 Oct 3 SOLE Martha of John and Martha

then no entries up to 1785. This suggests to us that William SOLE was baptised John SOLE on 1741 June 14 and was highly likely to have been born in Little Thetford, Cambridgeshire, not Thetford Norfolk.