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Pile Street Charity School

& Master's House

Chatterton rejected as too dull to learn

Age 5-6 years old 1757 - 1758

Pile Street Charity School

& Master's House

Pile or Pyle Street Charity School has an unusual history;  it was built in 1739, and continued, as you see it in image 3 in the slideshow above, without any major changes until the early 1930’s, when the rear and side walls were demolished and replaced with a new structure, which was added to the existing facade. Then, around 1938, the whole of the school building was demolished, along with many other buildings, see image 5 (Bristol Library photo),  which shows the complex of buildings enclosing the school, (marked No.1 in the photo), and the schoolmaster's house, built in 1749 (marked No. 2 in the photo), to make way for a new road system. However, the stones forming the facade were marked and kept to rebuild the facade, still at right angles to the Master’s house, but now practically butted up against it.  Images 13 and 14, show the house and the facade of the school in 1955, with the railway sidings running right up to St Mary Redcliffe.

To see the changes to the area around Pile Street over the years, click the link to Redcliffe Maps., where you will find six maps to view:  Map 1, 1746-1803; Map 2, 1844-1888 OS 1st edition; Map 3, 1855 Ashmead; Map 4, 1874 Ashmead; Map 5, 1894-1903 OS; Map 6, 1898-1939 OS 3rd edition.  

Thomas Chatterton Senior, was master of Pile Street School when he died unexpectedly on Friday, 7th August, 1752, aged 39. He left his wife, Sarah, who was just 21 years old and six months pregnant with our poet, facing an uncertain future. She  had already given birth twice before. Her first child, Mary, was Born on the 14th February, 1749. Her second, Giles Malpas, was born on the 12th December 1750 but died only 4 months and 4 days later, on April 16, 1751.  

It must have been a truly frightening and stressful time for Sarah, who also stood to lose the family home, which came with the position of master of the school.  Fortunately, a little luck came her way, as Mr Chard, the new Master of the school, was not a family man, and chose to remain in his own house rather than move to the master's house. However, Mr Chard retired in 1757 and was succeeded by Mr Love who needed the house for his own family. So, it seems that the Chatterton family lived in the schoolhouse from 1749 to 1757, they then moved, probably to a house by the upper gate of St Mary Redcliffe.

Poor Sarah had problems aplenty already and Mr Love added to her woes by rejecting Chatterton for being too dull to learn. Sarah was left with two children to home-school & provide for.

Joy of joys, three years later, in 1760, Colston's Hospital School accepted Chatterton as a pupil, complete with a built-in apprenticeship.

 The small Challenge

st mary stereoview 1.jpg

Stereoview St Mary Redcliffe

The challenge is to resolve where the Chatterton family lived after leaving Pile Street.

According to James Ross, the City of Bristol Librarian, it was somewhere on Redcliffe Hill, near the Upper Gate of Redcliffe Church. The stereoview image shows the Upper Gate before 1872 (when the spire was rebuilt).

You can try to view the image above in '3D' without the aid of a viewer - click the link to learn the technique - or buy a stereo viewer online.

The aerial view below shows an Upper Gate at both corners of the church. Was Chatterton's home in the row at the top of the image? When were the houses built?

St-Mary-Redcliffe upper gate 1.jpg

Aerial View St Mary Redcliffe

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