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Chatterton's Coach Trip to London

Iconic Moment No. 12    

Age: 17, Bristol - Speenhamland - Shoreditch

mail coach to london.jpg
To Sarah 26 April 1770 resized.jpg

April 24th 1770, was the day Chatterton caught the coach from Bristol to London; he shows from the start, by choosing to ride in the basket of the coach to Brislington, and only going as an inside passenger when the weather turned bad, that he intends being careful with his money - he knows, even as a 17 year-old boy, that what stretches ahead of him is not going to be easy.

The second part of the journey, from Speenhamland to London, took around 12 hours - it was an adventure that would end with his death 122 days later. 

As apprehensive as Chatterton must have been, his letter home to his mother telling her about his trip is a real delight. The letter is taken from its first printing in Herbert Croft's 1780 book, Love and Madness.

It is also in the 'New and Corrected' edition of the book, 1786, where there are minor differences in punctuation.

Donald Taylor suggests that after Croft returned the 'borrowed' letters to Mrs Chatterton, the letters were ‘dismembered’ and sold by her or her heirs.

It seems that samples of Chatterton's handwriting were eagerly sought after by collectors. I have in my own collection, the lower portion of Chatterton’s letter  to his mother, 14th May 1770,  which ended up in the autograph collection of Martha ‘Patty’ More, Hanah More’s sister. The letter was cut at the folds, and Hanah More, who loomed large in the life of both Sarah and Mary Chatterton, got the part with Chatterton's signature.

A sadly departed friend of mine, Tom Routledge, built an impressive collection of Chattertonian books, which his wife, Sandra, has passed on to Simon Fraser University (Canada). Sandra still owns a section cut from Chatterton’s letter to his sister, 30th May 1770, which had made its way to Japan before it was bought by Tom.

According to Donald Taylor, the whereabouts of all three of these letters was unknown; we now have parts from two of the letters but the letter of 26th April, 1770, is still missing. 

These are important documents with perfect provenance. They help to  prove that what Croft prints as Chatterton’s can be accepted as such.

Note: The image of the coaches is from the 1830s and not Bristol; If anyone has an image of a coach and horses leaving Bristol in the 1770s it would be welcome.

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