The Hanging of Richard Solly
By Lynne Burlingham
This article was originally published in the April 2004 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
No, this is not a grisly account of the public execution of a distant ancestor (sorry to disappoint those of a more bloodthirsty disposition!). Rather, it is about the hanging or, more precisely, the re-hanging, of an ancestral portrait.
In a previous issue of Soul Search, I wrote of my disappointment on visiting Sandwich Guildhall in April 2000 at finding the portrait of the said Richard Solly, Mayor of Sandwich, in front of which I had had my photo taken in the late 1950s, no longer on public display. Our guide on that tour of the Guildhall was the Deputy Town Sergeant Mr. Verrier who, at the time, did not know what had happened to it. Subsequently, he wrote to let me know that he had tracked it down. It had been moved and was hanging on the wall of a back staircase not normally accessible to the general public - hence no glimpse of it during our visit.
A further visit to Sandwich in September 2003 and another visit to the Guildhall and this time I was actually able to see the portrait – once a stack of cardboard boxes had been moved from in front of it! I photographed it and made some comment to the Caretaker, who was my guide on that occasion, along the lines of how sad it was to see an ancestor thus relegated to the back stairs, and thought no more about it.
Come the end of February 2004 and, one evening, I had a phone call from Keith Parry, who had quite a surprise in store for me! He had just returned from a visit to Sandwich in the course of which he had been to the Guildhall to look at the board in the Council Chamber, which lists the former mayors of Sandwich. To his amazement, leaning on a chair near the board was the portrait of Richard Solly! His guide that day, probably Mr. Verrier again, said that a lady had visited the Guildhall and had been very upset at the portrait’s location on a back staircase. It turned out to have been me – his guide remembered me well (although I would take issue with the ‘very upset’; disappointed would be a more apt description in my view!). Anyway, the upshot was that the portrait had been taken down and cleaned and was about to be re-hung in the Mayor’s Parlour. So, to coin a phrase, ‘All’s well that ends well’ - apart that is from organising another holiday in Kent so that I have an opportunity to visit Sandwich and the Guildhall again.
From further research, it seems that there were two Richard Sollys (father and son), who held the office of Mayor of Sandwich during the 18th century. They were both thrice Mayor of Sandwich - Richard Solly ‘the Elder’ in 1710, 1718 and 1728 and Richard Solly ‘the Younger’ in 1736, 1749 and 1778. As the father, Richard Solly ‘the Elder’, died in 1731 at the age of 57, before the portrait was painted in 1736, it seems most likely the portrait is that of his son Richard Solly ‘the Younger’ (1703-1789). Perhaps it was painted to mark the first occasion on which he held the office of Mayor? The dates at the top of the portrait may have been added later.
Just to keep things in the family, William Henry Solly (1714-1770), younger brother of Richard Solly ‘the Younger’ also held the office of Mayor of Sandwich in 1747. The two Richards also helped to support the Royal Canopies at Coronations – Richard Solly ‘the Elder’ at the Coronations of George I in 1714 and George II in 1727; and Richard Solly ‘the Younger’ at that of George III in 1761. William Henry Solly held the office of King’s Bailiff from 1737-1769.
To digress slightly, talk of keeping it in the family reminds me that, some two hundred years later, my great-grandfather’s half brother, George Christopher Solley was also thrice Mayor of Sandwich in 1919, 1920 and 1921.
The dates of appointment to Mayor and other civic offices are from the ‘History of Sandwich’ by William Boys. I would like to extend my grateful thanks to Keith Parry for the additional research on the Mayors of Sandwich.
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