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Chatterton Timeline

 August 1760 - 30  June 1767 : Age : 7-14

It starts with his registration in the school register for 3rd August 1760.  It is worth noting that Chatterton was rejected from Pile Street School in 1757/8 for being too dull to learn, but now he has been nominated by 'John Lambert, Attorney,' to become an apprentice Scrivener, seven years hence, on the 1st July 1767. 

To read more on Chatterton's time at Colston's, see John Ingram's 'The True Chatterton,' the link takes you directly to the chapter about Colston's.  You might also read The Life of Thomas Chatterton by George Gregory, 1789, which is preferred by Meyerstein.  Alternatively, go to our 'Biographies & Works'  page, where you will find links to almost all of the biographies of Chatterton from 1780 onwards. 


There are, potentially, 22 possible works to consider as Chatterton's, while Chatterton was at Colston's, although only three or four are regarded as authentic. The others include four or five marked as works of doubtful authenticity, two presumed lost, and twelve wrongly attributed.


Surely, considering the regime at Colston's, there can be no surprise if Chatterton did manage only four authentic works over the nearly seven years he spent at the school.

Colston School - Delight & Disappointment
Colston School, The Great House, Thomas Chatterton's second school

Colston's Great HouseOn St Augustine's Back, Bristol.

The Great House, which became Colston's Charity School, is no more. The Colston Hall, which stands on the original site, has been rebuilt at a cost of some £132 million, and has been renamed as The Bristol Beacon.

Chatterton was only a few months short of his eighth birthday, and must have been looking forward to this new episode in his life, he was, perhaps, full of hope for what lay ahead.


But, on his first day at Colston's School, Sunday 3rd of August 1760, Chatterton's hopes were dashed.  He soon discovered that the lessons were basic and provided just enough education to ready him for his apprenticeship.  The following quote from A Mirror for the Burgesses and Commonalty of the City of Bristol, 1818, is clear enough :


"In 1708, Edward Colston, Esquire, erected a school for a master, two ushers, and one hundred boys, to be clothed, maintained, and instructed in reading, writing and arithmetic, and in the church catechism, from seven years old until they are fourteen ;  when they are to be placed out apprentices ; he allowing £10 to each at their going out".* 

Suddenly he had gone from being a free spirit, able to wander as he pleased, to near 'imprisonment' as a border, in bed at 8 pm summer or winter.  It is no surprise that Chatterton is said to have stated that he could "learn more at home from books."

A Colston's Schoolboy
Colston School Brass Dolphin Badge QE! collection
Colston Boy, Wearing Brass Badge
Colston School,  Silver Dolphin Badge, Portcities Collection

The traditional uniform at Colston's included a badge of brass, for everyday wear, and a silver one for special occasions.

There is some confusion regarding the dates that the badges were first worn by the boys; John Wroughton's book, Mr Colston's Hospital..., seems to say that silver badges were worn from the start, p.58. It also mentions a gift of 100 silver badges in 1776, from John Purrier, an old boy of the school (1743-1751), and also 100 brass badges in 1800, from Mr Collier.


However, Meyerstein, p.36, states that there were no silver badges before Purrier's gift in 1776, indicating that the badges were brass from the outset, which, considering it was a charity school, makes perfect sense.

There is a delightful story about the introduction of the Dolphin to Colston's coat of arms, and it's subsequent use as the symbol on the school badge :


"This had apparently been chosen by Colston (and used on his coat of arms) after one of his ships, returning from the West Indies with a valuable cargo, had been seriously holed. The water was already rising rapidly, when, by chance, a dolphin accidentally became stuck in the damaged hull, thus stemming the flow and saving both crew and cargo."

To add to the confusion, "A Mirror for the Burgesses and Commonalty of the City of Bristol...," published 1818, also mentions "the gift of John Purrier".  It states that silver badges were introduced, around 1782, (which sounds like guesswork to me and should be ignored).


So it seems that not everyone disliked the education at Colston's. 

To round up the story of the brass and silver badges, I offer the following images :

genius conducting chatterton 3.JPG

 The image above (designed by Nicholas Pocock), shows Chatterton wearing the uniform of Colston's School, complete with a dolphin badge. Is it brass or silver? The image is from Richard Jenkins', "Odes, Songs, Choruses, etc., for the Concert in Commemoration of Chatterton," 1784. This is possibly the earliest image showing the wearing of the badge.  St Mary Redcliffe Church, without its spire, looms large in the background.

colston boys museum 2.jpg
colston boys museum 1.jpg

The two images above are of Colston boys standing guard at the gateway to the school. The badges have the appearance of being silver. The artist was Samuel Griffiths Tovey (1808-1873), it is said that he did various works on commission for Braikenridge, in the 1840s, or more

Chatterton's Confirmation at St Mary Redcliffe

During his time at Colston's, Chatterton had his Confirmation in St Mary Redcliffe Church. The date is uncertain but it was sometime between 1762-1764, more

A Word of Warning

If you know anything of the career of the murderer and forger, Mark Hofmann, you will know that everything can be forged and everyone can be fooled! This is why we must continually reconsider Chatterton's works, especially his 'Works of Doubtful Authenticity,' which is exactly what Donald S. Taylor wanted us to do!  Donald must have had the foresight to see that research would become so much easier as the years rolled on.

The Thomas Chatterton Manuscript Project is doing the bidding of Donald S. Taylor and Edward H.W. Meyerstein.  The project aims to add to their work by gathering everything Chattertonian into one place for research - with no restrictions and free to all!

Now, where are my whips, I feel the need for some flagellation - sorry EHWM, but your own collection of whips, found under your bed after you passed, were consigned to a fire - the end of all things!  

Links to Chatterton's Works & Correspondence

   Call it what you will, authentic, doubtful, lost, or plainly wrong - if it was linked with Chatterton it will be included in Chatterton's Works & Correspondence.  This will be the base point from which we can examine every piece of work, and add notes and links accordingly.  

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