top of page

Harvard Library

Founded 1638


Hyde Room, Houghton Library, Harvard

morris holiday afternoon.JPG

William Canynges 1474, St Mary Redcliffe

'Chatterton Half Holiday Afternoon'

Composing his Rowley Manuscripts

Harvard is to be commended and thanked for uploading so many rare antiquarian books and manuscripts.  It is such a wonderful resource to have at your fingertips and is a great service to the world of learning; pardon the pun but many other institutions could take a lesson from Harvard and other like-minded Universities - Thank you indeed Harvard!


Why am I writing about Harvard?  It is because Harvard has two of the earliest manuscript poems in the hand of Thomas Chatterton, along with an ALS (autograph letter signed). 


Chatterton was the Bristol boy-poet who made such a stir worldwide in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Considering the original deadline deadline (2022 was the 250th anniversary of his death), I wonder if we can cut through the bureaucracy and ask that someone, anyone, in Harvard, with access to the manuscripts in the Hyde collection, possibly in the stunning Hyde Room, can arrange for just four photographs to be taken of the manuscripts?  

This would be Harvard's contribution, in a tiny, little, small way to the Chatterton 2020  festival (cancelled due to Covid) in the City of Bristol, England: Bristol, A Poetic City.  We would be more than pleased if the photographs were of high enough quality to allow zooming when researching the manuscripts. In a way Harvard would be returning the documents to where they belong - it's a bit like taking plaster casts of the Elgin marbles (only a little easier) and returning them to Greece (I can't be sure this ever happened, but you get my drift).

The copies you provide will also be added to the online Thomas Chatterton Manuscript Project: which will be launched 20/March/2020. Although not launched officially yet, you can still click the link and see the current status of the project.

The manuscripts we need are as follows:

ITEM Identifier: MS Hyde 10, (128): Chatterton, Thomas, 1752-1770. Autograph letter, signed, Redclift Hill, Bristol (England), to James Dodsley, 1768 Dec. 21., 1768

ITEM Identifier: MS Hyde 10, (129): Chatterton, Thomas, 1752-1770. Sly Dick: autograph manuscript, [1764], [1764]; Also includes his A Hymn for Christmas Day.

Thank You Harvard!    I have started to make a page for the new website, thanking Harvard for their help (oh! the audacity of the man).  The page will specifically detail the Hyde Room, which is absolutely fabulous and, possibly, ostentatious.  If anyone can supply background information on the Chatterton items, I would be delighted to hear of it. I find that almost everything has an interesting backstory if you dig enough.

The photography can be a simple task, a 10 minute job, no need for highfalutin camera equipment, instead shots with an iPhone would be more than wonderful - I have taken nearly 5,000 images with an iPhone 7 of Chatterton related manuscripts, mostly 18th century transcripts by his contemporaries, and the quality is fan-bloomin-tastic - see the image lower down for an example. 

By the way, Chatterton is more famous than you might imagine. The Annual Register of 1776, which contained one of the earliest publications of the American Declaration of Independence, also contained eleven pages regarding Chatterton and his works, pages 155-165.

More about Bristol's links to America: And another thing, now that you ask; who is Columbus anyway but a charlatan, he was looking for China and stumbled upon some strange land far away. Whereas the men of Bristol had been fishing American waters before Columbus had even decided to start looking for Cathay; and please don't start me on who actually discovered America first!  Anyway, this is where the fabulous St Mary Redcliffe church comes into the story;

It was tradition for any ships leaving Redcliffe harbour to say their prayers and ask for protection before they set off and this is exactly what the 18 Bristol men (with John Cabot in tow), did in 1497, before they set sail to 'discover' North America. 

If you take a tour of St Mary's you will be shown a brass plate in the floor, usually covered by a rug by way of protection, this brass plate has the effigy of Richard Ameryk's daughter, Joan. It was Ameryk who funded Cabot's trip, he even supplied the oak from the forests on his estates to build the Matthew (Cabot's ship) and, by the way, his coat of arms contained stars and stripes. 

There are claims that Chatterton is responsible for the name of Cabot's ship - the name 'Matthew' was just another of his fabrications - is it true, well that will be examined in the new Chatterton website:

End, but more to come in due course!

bottom of page