Chatterton and the Gingerbread

Leaving Bristol for London

21st April 1770

Age 17, Upper Gate Redcliffe Church

St Mary Redcliffe 013 from Briton 1813  3
St Mary Redcliffe 013 from Briton 1813 3

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St Mary Redcliffe 009 NORTH PORCH
St Mary Redcliffe 009 NORTH PORCH

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St Mary Redcliffe 016  1830
St Mary Redcliffe 016 1830

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St Mary Redcliffe 013 from Briton 1813  3
St Mary Redcliffe 013 from Briton 1813 3

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 St Mary Redcliffe Church

Click the slideshow and it will open full screen with the occasional interesting clickable link.

It was on the steps of St Mary Redcliffe, on Saturday 21st April 1770, that Chatterton famously distributed gingerbread to his friends and the local children, and was given the money his friends had collected to help sustain him on his fateful trip to London.  Where did Chatterton get the gingerbread?  According to Meyerstein, Chatterton went over the way to Mr Freeling's shop to buy the gingerbread. I wonder did his friend John Kator, whose father was also a baker/confectioner, donate some of the gingerbread?

One of the engravings in the slideshow above is from John Britton's History of Redcliffe church, an important little book, published in 1813, which contains the first printings of two of Chatterton's letters. The steps to the left of the church lead into the North Porch, and a winding set of steps within the porch lead up to 'Chatterton's Room' the now famous muniment room.

Chatterton's Coach Trip to London

Bristol - Speenhamland - Shoreditch.

Age 17.

mail coach to london.jpg

April 24th 1770, was the day Chatterton caught the coach from Bristol to London. He chose to ride in the basket of the coach to Brislington and only go as an inside passenger when the weather turned bad. He knew, even as a 17 year-old boy, that what stretched ahead of him was 

not going to be easy. He also knew that he must be careful and make his money last until he could start earning and support himself.

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. 

To Sarah 26 April 1770 resized.jpg

As apprehensive as Chatterton must have been, his letter home to his mother, dated 26th April 1770, telling her about his trip, is a real delight. The original letter is lost, but we do have a transcript by Herbert Croft, taken from its first printing in his 1780 book, Love and Madness.

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 came from the collection of autographs belonging to 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. Where the other two parts of the letter are is anybody's guess. View Chatterton's correspondence with family and friends


A sadly departed friend, 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 1770 it would be welcome.