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Poet - Storyteller - Playwright

 Journalist - Bristowyan


There are many 'portraits' of Chatterton!

Which, if any, are genuine?

His poems fill two 8vo volumes,

But, how many are really his?

Who is Thomas Rowley, priest.

Was he discovered or Invented?

Did Chatterton commit Suicide?

Or was his death a tragic accident? 

The Chatterton Manuscript Project

Gathers & presents original documents.

Research & analysis, made easier!


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muniment room with story 2
muniment room with story 2

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press to zoom

This delightful pre-1918 postcard, tells the story of Chatterton's 'discovery' of the 'Rowley' manuscripts, which he claimed to have discovered in the coffers stored in the Muniment Room of St Mary Redcliffe church. It goes on to show his sad demise, pictured in the pose from Henry Wallis's famous painting, 'The Death of Chatterton.'  

The Chatterton Manuscript Project

Goes deeper & to the Source!

View hundreds of  original manuscripts

Many never before available for viewing & research!

Introduction to 

The Chatterton Manuscript Project

Th Aim is to present a complete view of Chatterton's Life & Works through original manuscripts & important early printings.

The project has grown to include biographies, bibliographies, associations & influences & much more besides.

Bristol, as the birthplace of Chatterton, is entitled, at the very least, to have photographic copies of all of Chatterton's Manuscripts.

Instead, the manuscripts are often hidden away in the vaults of wealthy Institutions, where ownership rather than education seems to be the key.


I am hopeful that The British Library, who were fortunate to receive Dr Glynn's bequest, which included William Barrett's working papers and Chatterton's manuscripts, appreciates the need to decentralise by making the provinces central to their future planning; too much in one location limits our understanding of the past and undermines a balanced future.

It is now 250 years since the BL got their hands on Chatterton and, for the present, his Manuscripts still remain hidden to the vast majority of us.

The people of Bristol look forward to thanking the British Library for presenting copies of all Chattertonian manuscripts to commemorate the

250th anniversary of the death of Chatterton (2020 delayed).

I write this on behalf of all plebeians who do not have accreditation, a letter of introduction, or, indeed, money to waste on overnight trips to the great metropolis. The provinces are severely restricted and placed at a serious and unfair disadvantage by some of the outdated policies of the library. 


I have appealed to Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol to join the project & encourage The British Library to allow all of Chatterton's Manuscripts

to be photographed for this website - all we want, as we say in Bristol, is 'Fair Dibs.' 

 A Potted History of Chatterton  

On the night of the 24th August 1770, Chatterton swallowed a potion

to cure a commotion, he then laid his head on the pillow of his pallet bed, never to rise again; he was 12 weeks short of his 18th birthday!

But that is not the end, not even close to the end; in fact, it was the start of it all!

On the 25th of August 1770, when they broke into Chatterton's attic room and found him dead on his bed, surrounded on the floor by scraps of torn manuscripts and an empty phial of poison (on the windowsill), a true phenomenon was born.

Chatterton became famous the world over. Dozens of books were written about him and his works. His story appeared in newspapers and magazines. Plays were written by the likes of De Vigny, which are still performed these days. His tragic end as a supposed suicide is portrayed romantically by Henry Wallis's famous painting.  

His imaginary image was everywhere; there were paintings, engravings, stereographs, postcards, linen handkerchiefs, Royal Doulton pots...  

Chatterton had become the Talk of the Town - & Country (magazine). 

His story went viral worldwide. A poor uneducated working-class Charity School-boy Pfft! Produce such works - What!


He became the Darling of the Romantics and a true Influencer of his own times & beyond.

More importantly, he was a Mother's loving son, a cheeky monkey, a Sister's loving Brother, a Bristowyan, a Poet, a Storyteller, a Journalist,

a Playwright & Wit, a Bit of a Wag:  Young Villain with Wings.

Our working-class lad had exceptional & extraordinary abilities but we should also note that his life is as important as his works. 

For to truly appreciate the song you must also appreciate the singer!

A Taste of Chatterton's Works at 15 Years of Age.

In 1777, The Annual Register published one of the earliest printings of the American Declaration of Independence. In the same edition it printed 'An Account of the finding or forging of some very ingenious Poems, attributed to Thomas Rowley, a Priest of Bristol, in the fifteenth Century...' along with 'Bristowe Tragedie or The Dethe of Syr Charles Bawdin...'  and  'A Short Account of William Cannings, the Person so often mentioned in the preceding Article, Founder of  St. Mary Redcliffe's Church in Bristol, Wrote by the foregoing Thomas Roulie, Prieste, in the Year 1460.'

A total of 21 pages for Chatterton and just 10 pages for the article on the American Declaration of Independence.  A nice little fun fact!

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Bristowe Tragedy Annual Register p.155.jpg

A Review of Chatterton's Life & Works : View pages 155 to 165

Bristowe Tragedy Annual Register 1.jpg

Chatterton's Bristowe Tragedie :  

View pages 211 to 221.

American Declaration.jpg

The American Declaration of Independence :

 View pages 261-270

Analyse, Research, Consider & Decide

Is the following Manuscript the original?

Or is it a copy by an unknown hand?

Some people say original, others say copy!

Compare the handwriting - what's your opinion?

This is a good one to investigate & research.

I use this very Ms. as a backdrop.

Click the image below to

Bristows Tragedy Manuscript

Bristows Tragedy

or the Death of Sr Charles Bawdin

was composed by Chatterton in 1768.

Rowley is Alive and Well!

Fourteen years after Chatterton died, his works

were still being published as Rowley's.

The following is an example of this:

The Execution of Sir Charles Bawdin

(aka Bristows Tragedy or

the Death of Sr Charles Bawdin)

It is the first poem in Volume 2 of

 Old Ballads, 1784, by Thomas Evans.


Evans also includes

 The Song to Ælle in Volume 1

As far as the editor is concerned,

Rowley is the author.

Chatterton is not mentioned in the book.

A new edition of Old Ballads appeared in 1810

but without 'Rowlie's' works.

Too late - the editor had realised his mistake.

Thomas Evans 1784.png

Old Ballads by Evans 1784

Volume 1   -   Volume 2