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George Symes Catcott

30 Feb 1739 - 19 Nov 1802

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Much more than Rowley's Nursemaid

George Symes Catcott played a hugely important part in the Chatterton story. He is the major reason Chatterton became known to a wider audience.

George was a bit of a manipulator who could clearly see the main chance when it came along. His correspondence with William Barrett and others, as well as some of his letters to the periodicals, show him as a man born with a well-greased stirring-stick in his left hand, although he would have preferred to have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Unfortunately for George, that privilege passed to his older brother, the Reverend Alexander, vicar of Temple church (with its famous leaning tower), and author of A Treatise on the Deluge, which, by the way, includes a possible influence on Chatterton, a paraphrase of psalm 104, (written by their father Alexander Stopford Catcott, headmaster of the grammar school in Bristol).

George spent an inordinate amount of time writing about Chatterton (I know how that feels) and transcribing (and editing/amending) his works over and again; this was not an altruistic endeavour for he was actually maintaining a trade in transcriptions of  'Rowley's' works - good on you George! 

One of George's dearest wishes was to be remembered in after-times, and it seems to me that his wish has been granted, but in ways he could not possibly have imagined. I hope to treat George as an important and main character in the Chatterton saga, rather than as a simpleton of a side-dish. So, all of George's manuscripts, his  letters and transcripts etc., will be uploaded to this website, with links on this page to view them in their entirety .  I have also started to add (and will add more when time allows) copies of my own transcripts of Catcott's productions; this will facilitate ease of reading as some of his Mss. are quite faded.  This is a big job, which is a little onerous and time consuming, but strangely enjoyable, and it will take some time. 

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Over The North Porch of St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, is a large hexagonal room, previously known as the Treasury House or the Muniment Room, but now known as Chatterton's Room. It once held the various coffers, which contained ancient archives belonging to the church. This is where Chatterton claimed to have found the Rowley manuscripts.

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This imaginative montage of mine, shown below, pictures (for the first time) the famous meeting of  three great minds, George Symes Catcott, Samuel Johnson & James Boswell.  

Note: The new Bristol Bridge, 1768, with St Nicholas church in the background, can be seen in the  engraving on the wall behind Catcott. 

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"There, there is the very chest itself" said Catcott, to Boswell & Johnson. This Much is True! Or is the chest an imposter? Six Locks the Chest had. Warton states it was an Iron chest but Catcott confutes Warton by stating that 'the Chest was made of wood.  In Catcott's time it was in a decayed and decrepit state - so it cannot be the chest shown above. I wonder where it is now? Read on...for a stunning recent discovery:

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Well now, here's a turn up for the books - On December 16th 2022, a piece of the iron band from Canynges' Coffer (see above & below), was part of a lot for sale at auction - unfortunately I failed to win the bidding war as the lot also included some other important artefacts, which boosted the price beyond my limit. So, after the auction I wrote to the winning bidder (a very nice man indeed) and he agreed to sell the relic to me. One thing is for sure, the note (shown above), which came with the piece of the iron band, is definitely of the period. 

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No. 1 : Muniment Room Coffers St Mary Redcliffe
No. 1 : Muniment Room Coffers St Mary Redcliffe

The earliest image of the coffers and, probably the most reliable. Engraved in 1802 for the 1803, three volume edition. The image is the frontispiece in volume 2

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No. 2 : Muniment Room Coffers St Mary Redcliffe
No. 2 : Muniment Room Coffers St Mary Redcliffe

Postcard by Garrat 40-1-8A?

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No.6 : Muniment room :
No.6 : Muniment room :

Divided back with 1/2d price for inland postage, which dates the card to 1902-1918

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No. 1 : Muniment Room Coffers St Mary Redcliffe
No. 1 : Muniment Room Coffers St Mary Redcliffe

The earliest image of the coffers and, probably the most reliable. Engraved in 1802 for the 1803, three volume edition. The image is the frontispiece in volume 2

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The slide-show above, shows a number of images, over time, of the coffers in the muniment room, with no sign of the coffer in the image further up this page - which, in any case, is in too good a condition to be from the 15th century, or indeed any century earlier than the 19th.  The earliest image is, image No.1, engraved in 1802, for the three volume set of Chatterton's Life and Works, published in 1803. So, which one is Canynges' coffer? It was in a decrepit state back when George Catcott was describing it in the 1780s.  Image No. 4 is dates from 1902-1918.  Image No.5 is from The Illustrated History of Methodism, 1900.

George Catcott & Henry Burgum

Partners in Pewter

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A few of the pewter items made by Henry Burgum & George Catcott.

St Nicholas Church & the Pewter Plate

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Bristol Bridge & St Nicholas Church

George is famous for climbing the spire during its construction and placing a pewter plate, etched with his and his brothers details, within a cavity of the spire. It is still there waiting for the day it is rediscovered - it might be a while George!  George was very competitive, he paid 5 guineas to be the first person to cross the new Bristol bridge in 1768.

George Catcott v Samuel Taylor Coleridge

George was a Bristol Librarian when he and became famous for a spat with Coleridge.

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George Symes Catcott

Transcripts : Correspondence : Publications

Catcott's Ms. Book 'Chattertoniana'

Correspondence & Transcripts

BPL B5342.  533+ pages

Containing : 

Transcripts of some 'Rowley' poems : Description of Canynges' Coffer : A complete list of publications concerning Rowley’s poems : Chatterton's Will & Creed : Details of Chatterton's birth from the Family Bible (The first transcription from it).  Some of Chatterton's acknowledged poems, etc., etc., also:

 

Catcott's Correspondence with: Thomas Tyrwhitt : Dr. Glynn : Thomas Warton :

Dr. Thomas Fry : Dr. Francis Woodward : Rev. Thomas Croft : Thomas Velley (Botanist) : William Smith : Lord Camden : Lord Charlemont : Dr. Thomas Smith : Rev. Thomas Broughton : Thomas James Mathias (Treasurer to the Queen) : Jacob Bryant :

Dr Thomas Dampier (Dean of Durham) : Dr. Jeremiah Milles (Dean of Exeter) :

Joseph Cooper Walker (Travelled from Dublin to learn more about Chatterton). 

Too much to list here. Click to READ MORE (533+ pages)...!

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George has created a bound book, complete with a copy of Tyrwhitt’s 1778 third edition of  Poems…Supposed by…Rowley…but Entirely by Thomas Chatterton, where Tyrwhitt leaves no doubt that 'Rowley's works are by Chatterton. This has obviously infuriated Catcott, because it is clear in his correspondence with Tyrwhitt, that Tyrwhitt was a believer in Rowley (at the start), but it doesn’t stop George from using the edition to create a ‘product’ to sell. After all, he was certainly generating some good income by making this type of thing, but he needs to refute Tyrwhitt and he does this by enhancing the volume with his own annotations, complete with instructions to the Binder to include specific pages from various publications. What we have now, with the annotations and editions, is Catcott’s view of the controversy or, rather, the view he wants us to believe. 

Click to see the 25 annotated pages...!

A note on Thomas Jolley: he seems to have created one of the largest private libraries in the world, which took 53 days to sell at auction. 

Catcott's Ms. Copy-Book B5343

Annotations & Transcripts

The Execution of Sir Charles Bawdin 

The Battle of Hastings, & English Metamorphosis

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Catcott's Ms. Copy-Book 'The Exhibition'

Annotations, Transcripts, Correspondence

Bristol Archives B5374 

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What would we do without George Catcott? This copy-book has an 'embarrassment of riches,'  from copies of Chatterton's 'The Whore of Babylon' and 'The Exhibition', to his little poem 'On Oure Ladies Chyrche.  It also includes Chatterton's correspondence with various schoolfriends and, perhaps, one of his closest, Mr Baker, in Charles Town, South Carolina, America; as well as his wonderful letter to William Smith, which includes 'the key to the Rowley Poems, for all the hards in the letter can be found in Kersey's dictionary, 1708,'  Chatterton signs this letter jokingly Hasmot Etchaorntt, or, as Meyerstein has it, 'anagrammatized,'  click to read more...! 

Catcott's Ms. Copy-Book

'G.S.Catcott ● Rowley ● Chatterton MS.'

Transcripts, Correspondence

BPL   B6489 

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This copy-book has approximately 126 manuscript pages in the handwriting of George Catcott. The majority of the pages are transcripts of Chatterton’s works or refer to his life.  Including the following:

The Execution of Sir Charles Bawdin [Bristow Tragedy; Battayle of Hastyinges;  Englyshe  Meatmorphosis; Painter's Bill; Songe to Ella Lorde of the Castle of Bristowe in Days of yore. 

Catcott's layout is confusing in places but interesting. Also, you would expect the flow of ink to be disturbed by copying but it is almost as if he is writing it from memory - which might account for the extra-antiquated spelling.   click to read more...! 

Catcott's Ms. Copy-Book

'From Catcott, Dedicated to Thomas Eagles

January 30th 1788 '

Transcripts, Correspondence

BPL   B6490

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This book is a joy to read and will take you directly into 18th century Bristol during the time of the Chatterton phenomenon. 

To make it easy for us all I have transcribed Catcott's Contents List, complete with a link to every individual item, which includes:

A general Introduction to Rowley; Proofs in favour of Rowley; Catcott's correspondence with various people including Dr Milles; William Barrett; Dr Glyn; Lord Dacre; Dr Percy; Lord Camden; et al, and Catcott's transcripts of upwards of 20 works by Chatterton. 

Click to read more...! 

A Pious Meditation by John Whitson Alderman of the City of Bristol

to which is subjoined some account of the Author by the late

Mr. George Symes Catcott

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Here we have George getting his wish to live in after-times, with the posthumous publication in 1829, of this little book about John Whitson. The Catcott contribution to this book was originally published in 1789, click to read more...!

 

The memorial to Whitson in St Nicholas Church, Bristol, is shown above.

B5343 Catcott's Chattertoniana
The Thomas Jolley Copy

A Descriptive Account of a Descent into Penpark-Hole

By George Symes Catcott. Published 1792

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Catcott became a published author with this little booklet.  It has nothing to do with Chatterton but it does give you an insight into Catcott. A priest by the name of Thomas Newman visited the cave with his sister and two friends. He was trying to gauge the depth of the cavern by dropping a line into the hole, holding onto a tree branch at the mouth. It gave way and he fell to his death. The recovery of the body, which took some weeks to find, attracted great crowds of onlookers.

 

Catcott's book is, apparently, only the second English book on caving, click to read book online : 

B5343 Catcott Copy Book
B5374 Catcott Copy Book
B6489 Catcott Copy Book
B6490 Catcott Copy-book
Pen Park Hole Catcott
John Whitson
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