George Solly’s Exercise Book

A Family Tragedy

By Peregrine Solly

This article was published in the August 2023 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society

Rather less impressive than the William Henry Solly parchment that I wrote about in my last article, is George Solly’s exercise book; however, it is one of the few genuinely domestic documents that I have inherited, and it is also an important link in our family tree. George was William Henry Solly’s grandson and there is fifty years separating the two documents.
George’s book is a small (A5 size), vellum-bound book dating from 1788, when George was eleven years old, and it covers his lessons in long-division from June to November during the year. Interestingly it was still in George’s possession seven years later as he dated one of the pages February 1795.

Diary Front Cover
Back cover of exercise book, enlarged to show the date – 1788.

I am guessing that George was being tutored at home rather than schooled somewhere formally, partly because the exercises are clearly tailored to suit a young gentleman who was going into the world of commerce and the fact that they were recorded at all meant they were expected to be reread. Many of the exercises involve weights and measures:
“If 9lb of sugar cost 6d what cost 271/4 lb” (19th July). Answer: 18/2d.
“Suppose a Sack of Coals worth 3/6d how many Chaldrons will £25 4/- Purchase?” (15th August). Answer: 12 Chaldrons
“How much Cognac and Brandy will 50 Guineas purchase at £6 11/3d per Anker?” (12th September). Answer: 80 gals.
“Suppose a Garrison of 256 Soldiers have Provisions for 185 Days, when 150 Men more were sent them without Provisions, how long will their Provisions now last?” (28th October). Answer: 116 Men [I think George should have put days].
The exercises also get steadily more complicated and more adult:
“Suppose a Gentleman allows himself 7 Pints of Wine every Week, when it cost a Gallon, what Quantity may he drink per Week at 8s a Gallon without increasing the expence?” (3rd November). Answer: 6 1/8 pints.

Or, as shown below.

A wild young man having a thousand pounds left him and goods valued at £146 spends one day with another one guinea and a half. How long will his money last?

1788 was a significant year as it saw the expansion of British influence around the world with the founding of New York and the first convicts arriving in Botany Bay; it was also the year that The Times was published for the first time and George the Third went mad. But you would not know any of this from George’s book as his tutor kept him focussed on problems such as below.

A youth who had lately left school, was asked how many barley corns would reach round the world, and how much barley would be worth at XX per bushel. Supposing XX barley corns to fill a pint which he answered right and was pronounced a great scholar. Try if you can do it.

Even if there is little to place George Solly anywhere in the goings-on of the late Eighteen Century, his exercise book is a small but helpful bit of evidence in establishing my family’s history. George was the illegitimate son of Joseph Solly (1751-1806), William Henry Solly’s only surviving son who was a wealthy lawyer in Sandwich. Although I have little personal information about either Joseph or George, Joseph left a detailed and extensive will, dated 31st September 1805, in which he bequeaths the bulk of his estate to his “dear and beloved natural or reputed son George Solly” who was now twenty-eight. Although there is no direct proof that the book belonged to this George Solly, the fact that it was among the other Solly papers from Ash and Sandwich makes it a reasonable to suppose that the book belonged to George.
However, G.C. Solly (who drew up the Solly family tree in 1816) did not recognise George’s existence and records that Joseph “late of Sandwich, ob SP, died a bachelor” effectively writing my family out of history. Fortunately, there is a straightforward descent from George Solly (1777-1842), through Thomas Wickes Solly (1803-61), George Bushell Solly, (1836-1908), James Collet Solly (1869-1946), to my father Phillip Watts Solly (1908-1989).
Quite why George Solly’s exercise book has survived all these years, tucked away among the other letters and papers that I have inherited isn’t at all clear, I can only surmise that someone thought that it was a useful maths textbook and that the exercises were worth doing? Whatever the reason, it is rather nice to have something that links us directly with George and the Sollys of Sandwich; it is also more fun than most of the day books and accounts that make up the bulk of the documents that have survived.
Joseph’s ancestry can be traced back to Richard Solly (1633-1683) who was born in Goodnestone, and died at the Moat, Ash, both in Kent. He owned Moat Farm, the Mole, Brook House and Hills Court. He was a Yeoman and Constable and was taxed, in 1664, on 5 hearths. He married Mary Proude, their son was Richard (b. 1674), whose son was William Henry Solly (b. 1714), whose son was Joseph Solly, our George’s father.
ED: Peregrine wrote that it might be worth my checking his ancestry against what our Research
Co-ordinator, George Solly has, as he thought there were some slight differences. George sent a scan of a tree in reply which showed that Joseph Solly was married to Margaret Pay (1760-1819) in St Laurence in Kent. This obviously didn’t agree with Peregrine’s research. Peregrine wrote:
Joseph is described in my tree as “Late of Sandwich, nat 1751, ob SP a Bachelor” (see below). However, fortunately he left a very detailed will naming George Solly (“my beloved natural and reputed son”) as his heir; although the will also refers to George’s two little children (Thomas Wicks Solly and Christian Smith Solly) who also were in line to inherit when they reached the age of twenty-one. The will is lengthy and goes into great detail about the terms of George and his children’s inheritance, possibly to ensure that Joseph’s considerable estate did not leave the family if the will was challenged or something happened to George? 
Joseph makes a number of individual bequests, largely to the families of five cousins, and also a specific bequest of £50 to “whichever servant or housekeeper” is looking after him when he dies, which suggests that there was no family member looking after him, certainly no wife. Whoever George’s mother was, I don’t think that she appears in any of my records and may have died well before Joseph. NB: My suggestion of Sarah Wright doesn’t work as she was born in 1766 and would only have been eleven when George was born (a basic error!). I would also discount Margaret Pay who lived into her eighties and outlived Joseph – my feeling being that he was a generous man and would have left her something in his will even if they were divorced.