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Key People

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 (The church with the 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.

The North Porch
St Mary Redcliffe Church


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 Canynges. This is where Chatterton claimed to have found the Rowley manuscripts. The image of a coffer below, which is on show in the muniment room, is not the famous Chatterton Coffer;  read more on this lower down the page.

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Cacott meets Johnson & Boswell

This 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:

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

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The slide-show above shows 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 cane appears to be pointing at a specific coffer, which is front and centre. So, which one is Canynges' coffer? George Catcott described the coffer, in the 1780s, as being in a decrepit state.  Click the slideshow to see larger images and to read the description.

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 became famous for a spat with Coleridge.

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Say what you will, but George (who, in his own words 'was bred to trade') has rules that he must follow or face the prospect of losing his job. Coleridge, like most poets, is away with the fairies (in a poetic sense, obviously) by that I mean he has lost touch with reality - I can say this because he is one of my favourite poets, and in case you didn't notice, I am doing a bit of qualifying here!

George also had a 'propensity' to overreact.

Correspondence - Coleridge
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George Symes Catcott

George Symes Catcott

Transcripts : Correspondence : Works

B5342 Catcott's Chattertoniana

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 (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 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
Correspondence Catcott & Rev. Thomas Crofts

George Symes Catcott Copy-Book, Chattertoniana B5342

Catcott's Ms. Annotations

(in a 1778 edition of Rowley's Poems)

'The Thomas Jolley - Turnbull Library copy'  

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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 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

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B5374 Catcott Copy Book

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...! 

B6489 Catcott Copy Book

Catcott's Ms. Copy-Book : B6489

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

Transcripts, Correspondence

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This velum covered Copy-Book has two distinct sections in the handwriting of George Catcott. 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 velum 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

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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, 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"

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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

George Symes Catcott - Publications

Pen Park Hole Catcott

A Descriptive Account of a Descent into Penpark-Hole

By George Symes Catcott : Published 1792


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

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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.

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