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Key People

George Symes Catcott

30 Feb 1739 - 19 Nov 1802

Portrait George Symes Catcott oval

George Symes Catcott played a hugely important part in the Chatterton story. He is, along with William Barrett, 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 ready to do whatever was needed to get what he wanted - fame and money. 

 

He was, the younger brother of the Reverend Alexander Catcott, vicar of Temple church - The church with the excessively leaning tower - and author of A Treatise on the Deluge, which 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 transcribing Chatterton's works over and again; this was not an altruistic endeavour for he was actually maintaining a trade in transcriptions of  'Rowley's' works. 

One of George's dearest wishes was to be remembered in after-times, and it is in my power to see that his wish is granted. To this end I aim to upload, in due course,  all of his transcripts and works, with links on this page to view them in their entirety.  It must be borne in mind that some of his transcripts are faded and my transcripts of his transcripts will facilitate ease of reading. This is a big job, which is a little onerous and time consuming, but strangely enjoyable, and it will take some time.

Catcott meets Boswell & Johnson

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 and also deeds and the like relevant to the business dealings of William Canynges. This is where Chatterton claimed to have found the Rowley manuscripts. The coffer in the image below, with Johnson, Boswell and George Catcott in the background, is on show in the muniment room - but it is not the famous Chatterton Coffer.

George Symes Catcott meets James Boswell and Samuel Johnson
canynges coffer
George Symes Catcott meets Samuel Johnson & James Boswell

Johnson, Boswell and Catcott

NORTH PORCH ST MARY REDCLIFFE

St Mary Redcliffe, North Porch

The imaginative montage of mine, shown above, 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. 

"There, there is the very chest itself,"  is, according to Boswell, what Catcott said 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.  Read Catcott's description of the chest in his own handwriting: View.  One great clue from Catcott is that Canynges' Coffer was made in the room, indicating that it was too big to have been carried up the narrow and winding staircase.  I wonder where the Coffer is now?  Did one of the vicars 'offended' by the belief that Chatterton was a suicide, destroy the Coffer to stop the flow of visitors to the muniment room?  Read on for a stunning recent discovery:

Canynges Coffer - Rediscovered
(A small part of it at least)

The slide-show above shows six images of the muniment room and its coffers.  The earliest is image No.1, engraved in 1802 for the three volume set of Chatterton's Life & Works, and published in 1803. Image No. 4 dates from 1902-1918.  Image No.5 is from The Illustrated History of Methodism, 1900,  and is especially interesting because the man with the walking-cane appears to be pointing at a specific coffer, which is front and centre. So, which one is Canynges' coffer?

George can help with this as he has left a basic description. It seems that George Catcott was the first port of call when it came to showing visitors the muniment room and its coffers, and he did get into an argument with regard to the construction of Canynges' Coffer. He described the coffer, in the 1780s, as being in a decrepit state. He also said that it was wooden and not metal, however, it would have had metal locks and, probably, metal bands. Click the slideshow to see larger images and to read the descriptions of each image. 

Well now, here's a turn up for the books: On December 16th 2022, a piece of the iron band from Canynges' Coffer appeared at auction, see below :

Manuscript Note Piece of iron strap from Canynges' coffer

 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. To read the full report on the amazing rediscovery more..

Piece of rusty iron strap from Canynges' coffer

George Catcott & Henry Burgum

Partners in Pewter

waddingtons burgum and catcott pewter inkstand
pewter inscribed marriage plate
Pewter Tankard made by Burgum and Catcot

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

St Nicholas Church & the Pewter Plate

st nicholas church samuel jackson watercolour

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 became famous for a spat with Coleridge.

George Catcott portrait small
Portrait Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Say what you will, but George, who, in his own words 'was bred to trade,' and also has a 'propensity' to overreact, has rules that he must follow or face the prospect of losing his job. Coleridge, like most poets, is not necessarily in touch with reality.

catcott argument with Coleridge
George Catcott Drawing

George Symes Catcott

B5342 Catcott's Chattertoniana

Catcott's Manuscript Book 'Chattertoniana'

Correspondence & Transcripts : BPL B5342.  533+ pages

Spine Catcott's Manuscript Book Chattertoniana B5342
Contents page Ms. Catcott's Manuscript Book Chattertoniana B5342

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 (letter to Dr. Woodward) : 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 'Chattertoniana' in full (533+ pages)...View

Ok, Ok, here's a sample page (p.119) from the 533+ pages of Catcott's Chattertoniana. This page specifically relates to Rev. Thomas Crofts (wiki) He, it would seem, is the man who arranged to bring Catcott together with Tyrwhitt, the editor of the 1777 volume, and Payne the publisher. To read the rest you must click the View link above.

The Thomas Jolley Copy
Catcott Manuscript page correspondence with Reverend Thomas Crofts

George Symes Catcott Copy-Book, Chattertoniana B5342
Correspondence with Rev. Thomas Crofts  : 
View

Catcott's Ms. Commentary & Annotations

In

'The Thomas Jolley - Turnbull Library copy'  

Catcott's manuscript Thomas Jolley Turnbull Library Copy Covers
Catcott's manuscript page invoice 1786Thomas Jolley Turnbull Library Copy
Thomas Jolley signature note 1815 Catcott's manuscript copy-book Thomas Jolley Turnbull Library Copy

George has taken a copy of Tyrwhitt’s 1778 third edition and added his own commentary and annotations. :

 Poems, Supposed to have been Written at Bristol, by Thomas Rowley, and Others, in the Fifteenth Century... to which is added an appendix, containing some Observations upon the Language of these Poems; Tending to Prove, that they Were Written, Not by any Ancient Author, but Entirely by Thomas Chatterton. 

Where Tyrwhitt leaves no doubt that 'Rowley's works were clearly written 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 read the 25 annotated pages, as well viewing links to everything mentioned in the annotations...!

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. 

B5343 Catcott Copy Book

Catcott's Ms. Copy-Book B5343-4

(Annotations & Transcripts)

​The Execution of Sir Charles Bawdin 

The Battle of Hastings, & English Metamorphosis

Catcott's manuscript copy-book covers B5343-4  Execution Charles Bawdin; Battle Hastings; English Metamorphosis
Catcott's manuscript book B5343-4  title page Execution Charles Bawdin
Catcott's manuscript book B5343-4  Preface Execution Charles Bawdin
B5374 Catcott Copy Book

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

Annotations, Transcripts, Correspondence

Bristol Archives B5374 

Catcott's manuscript copy-book B5374 covers Chatterton's Exhibition etc.
Catcott's manuscript copy-book B5374 Spine Chatterton's Exhibition etc.
Catcott's manuscript copy-book B5374 manuscript Contents page Chatterton's Exhibition etc.

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...! 

B6489 Catcott Copy Book

Catcott's Ms. Copy-Book : B6489

'G.S.Catcott Rowley Chatterton MS.'

Transcripts, Correspondence

Execution Sir Charles Bawdin. Early printing 1772. Unknown newspaper/Mag. Newspaper clipping lines 305 to 344 only
Catcott Manuscript Copy-Book spine B6489 Rowley  Chatterton
Catcott Manuscript Copy-Book B6489 Rowley  Chatterton p.41
Catcott Manuscript Copy-Book B6489 Rowley  Chatterton Civis

This vellum covered Copy-Book, in the handwriting of George Symes Catcott, has two distinct sections : B6489-a and B6489-b. The majority of the pages are transcripts of Chatterton’s works or refer to his life :

B6489-a : The Rowley section :  88 pages sewn directly to the vellum covers.

B6489-b : Chatterton's acknowledged works : 37 pages in blue covers, sewn in directly after the Rowley section. 

Transcript of the above by QE!  :  complete with links to every individual work  :  View. 

B6490 Catcott Copy-book

Catcott's Ms. Copy-Book : B6490

'From Catcott, Dedicated to Thomas Eagles

Transcripts, Correspondence

Catcott Manuscript Copy-Book B6490 Rowley  Chatterton page 18
Catcott Manuscript Copy-Book spine B6490 Rowley  Chatterton
Catcott Manuscript Copy-Book page 138 B6490 Rowley  Chatterton

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, and added 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; etc.

  • Catcott's transcripts of upwards of 20 works by Chatterton:

 

Catcott's Manuscript Copy-Book B6490  :   View

B6493 Dr Fry's Extracts from Rowley

Dr. Fry's Transcript for Catcott : Copy-book B6493

"Extracts from Rowley"

catcott copy-book dr Fry B6493

This copy-book is completely in the handwriting of Dr. Fry.  It contains "Extracts from Rowley."

The link takes you to Dr Fry's page on this website, where you can also read the book click to visit Dr Fry

George Symes Catcott - Correspondence

Correspondence
Pen Park Hole Catcott

A Descriptive Account of a Descent into Penpark-Hole

By George Symes Catcott : Published 1792

descriptive account descent into Pen park hole
descriptive account decent into Pen park hole 2

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 : 

John Whitson

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

John Whitson portrait
whitson memorial

Here we have George Catcott 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.

The Catcott Sisters - Martha & Augusta

Martha Catcott and August Smith wife of Richard Smith 2
Martha Catcott and August Smith wife of Richard Smith 1

Augusta and Martha Catcott (The Rose of Virginity), sisters of George Symes Catcott.
An interesting pair of pictures were up for auction on 14th March 2024. They include two portraits of ladies whose names will ring a bell in the heads of anyone interested in Chatterton. 

Dominic Winter, the auctioneer, describes the lot as follows: 
“Cut-out Figures. Two framed painted cut-out full-length portraits of 18th century ladies, including Augusta Smith, wife of Richard Smith, Surgeon, circa 1785, the first with full-length scissor cuts of 4 ladies in profile, the details of features and dress painted in watercolour and gouache, some toning and staining, three annotated to hem of skirts in contemporary brown ink: 'Miss Archer 1785'; 'Mrs. Augusta - wife of Mr. Richard Smith, Surgeon AD 1785'; and 'Mrs Bertha Catcott', the fourth figure that of Mrs Smith's maid, largest figure 30.5 x 17.5 cm (12 x 7 ins), mounted on gold satin, framed and glazed (42.5 x 84 cm), the second with a repeat of three of the figures (without Miss Archer), a little light toning and foxing, mounted on red velvet, framed and glazed (42.5 x 63.5 ins), annotated with figures' names on backboard.”
I must correct an error in the listing, as the name of the ‘fourth figure’ should be listed as Martha not ‘Bertha’.
There were two Catcott sisters, Augusta and Martha. E.H.W.Meyerstein notes the following about Martha : ‘Martha called Chatterton “a sad wag of a boy always upon some joke or other,” which is borne out by a floral coat of arms which he designed for her, with “Rose of Virginity” as legend.’

The old vicarage 1885 chatterton and the vicar of Temple Church Bristol

George Symes Catcott lived with his brother, the Reverend Alexander Catcott, along with their sister Martha in the 'Old Vicarage, Near Temple Church' (above, from a drawing by Paul Hardy, 1885).  Martha kept house for the two brothers, which adds to the magic of the picture further up the page, showing Martha greeting her sister Augusta. In all likelihood they would have walked through the gate to be greeted by Martha at the door of the vicarage.

Where is George Now

Temple Church, Bristol
Temple Church Yard thomas chatterton and the vicar of Temple Church

According to Meyerstein, pp.309 & 488n,  poor old George lies 'buried in a brick grave in Temple Churchyard, not, however, before an intended slight on the name that had won him recognition and friends of influence ; for on March 19, 1799 to Dr Glynn, about Southey, he wrote, "whose poetical abilities are superior to the late unfortunate Thos. Chatterton."  

Go on then, I will add my own view on Catcott's statement ; it's simple really, he is effectively saying that Chatterton did not have the ability to write Rowley's works, which is what he had been saying from the start. If he changed his tune all of his customers would be entitled to demand their money back for the transcripts he sold them.

The other issue for George, who was desperate to have his name remembered in aftertimes, was the Bristol Blitz, which destroyed much of Temple Church, apart from the leaning tower, which still stands,  and so poor George's grave is now unmarked.  However, the image above, from William George's pamphlet, Thomas Chatterton and the Vicar of Temple Church, 1888, does show a couple of graves matching the description of 'a brick grave.'

Help the project: if you know of a photograph of George's grave do share it with us.

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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