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A 17th Century Yeoman Family

On a large horizontal gravestone against the south wall of St Andrew’s church in Pickworth the weathered limestone allows these words to be read: ‘Hic sunt Reliquit Michael Solomon. . . Obiit 1704’.  Set in the church wall above the grave is a plaque bearing the words: ‘There is left by will 40s yearly to upkeep the adjacent monument for ever’.  

Michael Soloman's Grave
Michael Solomon was born in 1663 into a village family whose name (in eight different spellings) appears in Pickworth parish records from the mid-1500s.  How did he come to be buried in a substantial and generously endowed grave?

The family can be traced back to Michael’s great-great-grandfather Richard, who is described, as were many of his descendants, as ‘yeoman’, in his will (1572).  The yeoman’s place in the rural social hierarchy was below the status of gentry, but many held property as landowner, tenant or leaseholder, and employed labourers and servants.  Richard’s eldest son William inherited his father’s five-roomed house, and at his death in 1605 he left a well-stocked farm with horses, cattle, sheep and pigs, and a range of crops and equipment, to a total value of £51.

It is clear from the wills and inventories of the Solomon family that many yeomen held positions of respect in their communities, as illustrated in the burial register of 1605, in which William is described as patronus huius ecclesiae, indicating a role of some responsibility in the local church.  William’s younger brother Michael pre-deceased him by fifteen years, but accumulated property to the value of £152.8s.11p., which included land in Quadring and Gosberton in the Fens towards Spalding. The inventory of his belongings lists tables, chairs, stools, cupboards, and stocks of linen, sheets, pillows, towels and napkins.  He held 27 acres of crops in Pickworth’s three open fields and had livestock to the value of a third of his total assets.  These brothers had between them six sons and four daughters;  they also has a third brother John and a  sister Helen  -  the Solomons were well established in the area.

Some of the Pickworth holdings of the Solomon family are identified in a terrier of 1605, which names them as neighbours of glebe lands near the rectory.  A later terrier, in 1634, soon after the enclosure of the parish, confirms the location of Solomon property adjacent to the rectory, which suggests that the building that later became the Blue Bell Inn may have been the site of a Solomon house.

Michael’s eldest son Richard (1577-1651) is the link to the later story of the family.  Described in his will as yeoman, he left to his wife Ann a third part of his land and goods, and to his eldest son Edward ‘all my freehold land with the appurtenances thereunto belonging lying within the parish perimeter and territories of Pickworth’;  enough remained to leave to his second son John one hundred pounds and an annuity of ‘fortie pounds of lawful English money’, and generous bequests to his daughter, other relatives and ‘my servant and kinsman William Clark’.                                        

Edward died unmarried at the age of 36, and left much of his inheritance to his brother John, who became the most prosperous of the Solomon yeomen  -  at his death in 1668 he left ‘Goods, Cattell and Chattles’ valued at £746.17s.2p.  -  a very large sum in the mid-17th century.  The inventory of his effects tells of a standard of living far beyond that of most of Pickworth’s inhabitants.  The large house had three or four ‘parlers’, one designated as ‘Dining parler’, all amply furnished;  luxury items such as carpets, cushions, a warming pan, a clock and books are listed.  A kitchen, dairy, buttery and store were well stocked with necessary utensils.  Upstairs were four chambers, one ‘a Servants Chamber with two Bedsteads and bedding’.  A barn housed a plough, cart and other farm equipment, and his livestock, valued at over £600, included 772 sheep, 44 beasts, 7 cows, 15 horses and a number of pigs;  he also had twelve hives of bees.  This was farming on a scale that would have required both permanent and seasonal labour beyond family members.

John Solomon died in 1668 at the age of 41, leaving his wife Anne, and four young children who would come into their inheritance as they reached adulthood.  The eldest child, born in 1663, was only five years old when his father died;  he was the Michael Solomon whose large grave and memorial in Pickworth churchyard aroused the interest of local historians in this yeoman family.


Few village children at that time would have received more than a basic education, but Michael, given a flying start by his family’s high standing in Pickworth and by their money and the presence of books mentioned in his father’s inventory, became a pupil at The King’s School in Grantham.  He must have boarded at the school or in the town, presumably with his expenses met from the ample funds in his father’s will.  He ensured that his presence was noted by inscribing his name on a window ledge in ‘The Old School’ (now the school’s library), where some years earlier another Lincolnshire village boy named Isaac Newton, had done similarly.

In 1685 he married Katherine Leeming, a Grantham woman.  They had no children, and Michael died aged forty in 1704.  In his fairly short life it is clear that he prospered, and was apparently the first Solomon to break through the yeoman/gentleman status barrier.  He did not return to the farming life of Pickworth but involved himself in business in Grantham, where he owned property including the Angel Inn (now The Angel and Royal).  At the age of twenty-eight he was elected as a Freeman of Grantham, his application being accepted at the fee of £5 for a native of the town notwithstanding his status as a ‘foreigner’.

In his will, drawn up in 1701, when he was thirty-six years old, he is described as ‘Michael Solomon of Grantham, Attorney-at-Law’.  Among the terms of his will is a sum left for an annual sermon against drunkneness to be preached in St Wulfrram’s Church, Grantham;  this bequest is recorded on a wooden board in the church on which he is described as ‘Gentleman’, a recognition of his acquired status.  (The delivery of this sermon eventually lapses but the tradition was revived in 2008 by The Friends of St Wulfram’s Church.)

Michael’s will makes detailed provision for his wife Katherine, leaving her land and houses in Pickworth and Grantham, and generous bequests to other members of his family and to the poor in his native village.  He left precise instructions for the location of his grave in Pickworth and money for its maintenance ‘for ever’.  So in spite of the social advance brought by his professional and civic life in Grantham he retained an affection and a sense of responsibility for the village of his birth and the home of his forebears.

The history of the Solomon family is a case study of the yeoman class in the 17th century and their important role in rural life, and also of the social mobility that was made possible by their prosperity.

Notes: For further details, see

Celia and Norman Whiting, The Solomons:  A 17th century Yeoman Family
Lincolnshire Past & Present, 81, 2010.

Joan & Dennis Mills, Pregion’s Progree: The Life and Times of a Lincolnshire Yeoman Family, 1570-1753.
 Lincolnshire History and Archaeology, 41,1996.

The parish registers, wills and inventories referred to are held by the Lincolnshire Archives Office


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