The Thomas Chatterton Manuscript Project
The Muniment Room
The Gathering of Manuscripts has Started
Welcome to the The Muniment Room, our Home Page.
The need to research using original manuscripts is more important with Chatterton than any other writer.
This is why the Thomas Chatterton Manuscript Project was born. We aim to photograph all Chatterton related manuscripts wherever they are in the world and to present them here on this website for anyone, anywhere, to read or research.
All of the images of manuscripts on this page are small samples from original documents, which can be viewed in full in the Canynges Coffer section - see below:
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The Boy Bandying Parts with Shakespeare!
Chatterton as Imagined by Dix
Chatterton's short life lasted from 1752 to 1770, a total of 17 years 9 months. Such a bald and stark statement of a tiny existence - 17 years and 9 months - but when you break it down it becomes truly stark:
7 years 8 months, as a pre-school child, in Bristol.
6 years 11 months, 'imprisoned' as a pupil at Colston's Hospital School, Bristol.
2 years 10 months, as an unpaid scrivener at Lambert's Solicitors, Bristol.
5 weeks 2 days, with a relative, Mrs Ballance, in Shoreditch, London.
12 weeks 1 day, at Mrs Angel's, a Sacque Maker, in Holborn, London.
A short life indeed! But, as short as his life was, his imaginative touch, sense of fun, and his influence, has stretched across the centuries and reached many countries; not bad for a poet who was but a boy!
One of Chatterton's most famous works, his Bristows Tragedy or the Death of Sr Charles Bawdin, was printed in the 1776 edition of The Annual Register (published 1777), one of the earliest of British periodicals to print the American Declaration of Independence, along with State Papers, which runs from page 261 to 270.
A review of Chatterton's life and works runs from page 155 to 165, and his Bristows Tragedy runs from page 211 to 221 inclusive. So, a total of 21 pages for Chatterton but only 10 for the Declaration of Independence - Good one Tom!
A shame it was that Chatterton never made the 1776 edition of The Gentleman's Magazine, which printed the Declaration in August of 1776.
Bristows Tragedy or the Death of Sr Charles Bawdin.
Composed by Chatterton in 1768.
Is this the original manuscript or a copy?
A good one to investigate within the Project.
From Old Ballads 1784, printed as Rowlie's
(With no mention of Chatterton)
Isn't it time we saw Chatterton for what he actually was, a loving son and brother, with an Accelerated Mentality
(apparently a modern (1920s) Bristolian phrase?) to truly appreciate the affect he had on the people around him, and indeed to appreciate the influence he wielded after he died.
We know that he had exceptional and extraordinary abilities and, although he was only a working-class boy from Bristol, we should also note that his life is as important as his works: For to truly appreciate the song, you must also appreciate the singer!
It is time to reclaim Chatterton, an amazing young poet, storyteller, journalist, playwright, wit, and a bit of a wag - a villain with wings - for the whole of Bristol; and for his story to be recognised with warmth and admiration.
Here's a short Biography of Thomas Chatterton by Basil Cottle from 1963.
It runs to just 15 pages, so do click the button to have a read, but remember that Basil's is just one view of the Chatterton story.
A note about buttons: Green = Good to go; Red = Not ready - I am working on it. (.Q.).
The Point of the Project:
All Chattertonian Manuscripts to be Online for Study & Collaboration
Genius Conducting the Child Chatterton to Her Altar
Early Transcript of Songe to Ella
The aim is to overcome the fact that Chatterton related manuscripts are distributed over too wide an area around the world, which makes it extremely difficult for most of us to view or study them. We either live too far away or we don't have the accreditation that gets us into some of the hallowed libraries of massy knowledge; this is a great shame because, as a result, we lose the valuable input of potential collaborators.
Even Horace Walpole's 'Shade' has his hands on Chatterton manuscripts; this is thanks to the collecting zeal and amazing work of Lefty-Lewis and his Lewis Walpole Library (a department of Yale University).
This project needs collaborators to make it work, so feel free to help by photographing documents in your own locality. All you need is a smartphone with a decent camera - send me an email if you are able to help.
I have uploaded a good few Manuscripts already, but I still have a few thousand images to wade through, collate, crop, adjust, delete or upload for your enjoyment; this is mainly thanks to George Catcott, a friend and mentor to Chatterton, never having let the pen fall from his hand; but where would we be without George Catcott.
Bristol and London are the two main depositories for Chatterton related manuscripts, elsewhere around the world there will be fewer documents with a smaller number of pages; unlike one of George Catcott's copy-books , which has nearly 500 pages.
If there is something Chatterton related that you would like to see but can't find it here, do let me know and I will see what I can do.
Another important problem is that some of the manuscripts are degrading, so there really is no time to lose - we need to get this show on the road. It is time to collaborate and the Chatterton Manuscript Project needs You! So, if you are local to a hoard of Chattertonian manuscripts or artefacts you can help move the project along - See Panel 6 below..
The Lost Books & Manuscripts - The Dreaded Deluge or Infernal Inferno - Get Thee to the Cloud!
I am sure you remember how you felt when you heard the news about the Notre Dame fire? Or the shock when the news broke about the Cutty Sark; and what of the horrendous Windsor Castle fire in 1992, which cost £35 million just for the repairs; it is said the water did as much damage as the flames.
Fire consumes too often for us to remain complacent.
We must photograph all Mss. as soon as we can.
Chattertonian documents have been destroyed by fire on a number of occasions.
Daniel Wilson, in his 1869 biography of Chatterton, mentions the 'fire [8th Feb, 1860, in Kerslake's shop, Park Street]. It destroyed "Manuscript Chattertoniana" collected by J. M. Gutch, and William Tyson; and further augmented by Thomas Kerslake'. It also consumed the famous Fust manuscript.
Then, only 20 years later, on October 9th, 1881, the 'Great Fire' in Canynges' House, Redcliffe, Bristol, destroyed the stock of C. T. Jefferies, Printer & Bookseller. The fireplace in the house, shown in the painting by E. H. Parkman, survived the fire and is shown in the image below.
Jumping forward to the 1940s, we find that Chattertonian documents and A.S.Catcott's fossil collection were destroyed when the bombs landed on Temple Church and Bristol Museum.
Heads up! Get your irreplaceable manuscripts photographed now. Don't wait for funds to do it professionally, instead opt for the interim answer of a Smart Phone with a decent camera function - the proof of what can be achieved with this basic setup lies within, along with a description of my own method.
Memorials: Walpole, Chatterton, & Tom the Church Cat
Memorials to Walpole
Yale, & Strawberry Hill - Now that's what I call a Memorial!
I must admit to being a little shocked that millions of dollars have been spent on saving Horace Walpole (sometimes called a privileged dilettante) from obscurity - totally against Chatterton's expectations; 'I shall live and stand by Rowley's side, when thou art dead and damned' but then Chatterton could not possibly have imagined a man like Lefty Lewis becoming infatuated with Walpole.
It is thanks to Lefty's deeply obsessive character, that a grand and expensive library, containing Walpole's manuscripts and artefacts, has been created at Yale. While back in England, Horace's Strawberry Hill House, which he claimed was 'little more than a cottage', (cheeky devil), was refurbished in 2010, at a cost of £9 million, and stands as another memorial to him and his 'twaddling Letters to some Fair indite', as Chatterton once exclaimed.
Memorials to Chatterton
Chatterton was born in the Master's house, Pile Street. These days the house is a cafe and coffee shop serving great coffee and nice buns and well worth the visit. All that remains of Pile Street Charity School is the facade butted up against the house, but at least it has a plaque to Chatterton.
There is currently an opportunity for the site to be incorporated into the plans for the redevelopment of the setting around St Mary Redcliffe church; perhaps they should rebuild the school as a memorial, which would give more space to present the Chatterton story.
There is also a rather pathetic oval plaque to his memory in St Mary Redcliffe church; it must have cost all of £17.52, not enough money to pay for the cleaning of the windows of Strawberry Hill House.
There is one more plaque to mention and that is the one on an office building in Holborn, close to the house where Chatterton died.
Finally, as far as existing memorials are concerned, there is a rather handsome statue of Chatterton sat on a park bench in Millenium Square, Bristol. The only problem here, is that William Seward claims that Chatterton was short and stocky.
The Thomas Chatterton Society has made calls to suggest that the Colston Hall, which stands on the site of Colston School, originally Colston's Great House, should be renamed as a memorial to Chatterton.
It is worth noting that Chatterton was an entrapped pupil of the school, and that he wrote the wonderful African Eclogues, which demonstrate his opinions on slavery. Chatterton was a Lyricist, a dramatist and a poet, which is an ideal fit for the ex-Colston Hall.
OK, you must have worked out that I was having a bit of fun with some of my remarks about Walpole but, for all that, there is some truth in it. I have read some of Walpole's letters and found them entertaining and well worth the reading but I am not sure about Otranto? I have two editions, both are small books with one being a miniature and not easy to read - and I am not only talking about the size of the type!
So, fair-do's, we must ensure we offer a counterbalance to the untold riches of the Walpolean behemoth! Chatterton's wish of an Angel with a Trumpet to Blow His Name About has been granted!
Memorial to Tom, the Church Cat
Tom, the Redcliffe Church Cat.
The headstone says all that needs to be said about the cat; it was a cat and the cat is dead!
However, we do know a little more about this illustrious cat. For a start, it went by the name of Tom and lived for nearly as long as Chatterton - but wait, all is not as it seems, there are claims that the cat's name was Blackie and not Tom; so what are we to believe? What I can add is that I have seen a photograph of the cat and it looks like a tabby to me.
There is the rumour that the cat's headstone secretly hides the grave of Chatterton - you can't blame this one on Dix - more within on this thorny subject! .Q.
Project Development & Status
I have to say, so you know where you stand with me, that I have a real fondness for all of the many Chattertonian writers, biographers, editors, and chancers, whether their work be large or small, derivative or not - at least they had a go! I do like antiquarian books, especially if they contain anything regarding Chatterton, so the more the merrier, as far as I am concerned.
As I write this I am surrounded by an array of Chatterton related books and periodicals, all of which I have used to work up the project; so many books and so many writers, and yet the project is driven, primarily, by two writers: Edward Harry William Meyerstein, with his deep knowledge of everything Chattertonian, via his 'A Life of Thomas Chatterton,' and by the forensic insights of Donald S. Taylor, via his 'The Complete Works of Thomas Chatterton', and also for his interpretation of what is genuine or WODA (Works of Doubtful Authenticity), LOW (Lost Works), and WWAC (Works Wrongly Attributed to Chatterton), etc.
The list of books and other materials consulted for this project is long and will be detailed elsewhere in the website in due course, with links to all online copies.
One book I must mention, which was brought to my attention by Dawn Dyer of Bristol Reference Library, is an indispensable bibliography from 1971. It's actually a thesis, by Jean C. Rowles, A.L.A, 'Thomas Chatterton 1752-1770, An Annotated Bibliography', - a wonderful piece of work. If anyone knows the whereabouts of Jean do let her know that I would love to hear from her.
I know that I go against the norm with my liking for Dix, but with good reason, for it was the Dix 1837 edition that first brought me to Chatterton; I bought it for £5 from a bricks & mortar shop (remember those) in Bristol, in the 1970s. Ok, it is true that Dix clouded the Chatterton story somewhat, but it is easy enough to discover the rights and wrongs of it, and, in any case, Meyerstein resolves the issues for us. I look at it like this: Dix was to Chatterton what Hofmann was to the Mormons, beyond annoying in so many ways, but at least Dix didn't kill anyone; and he certainly enlivened the Chatterton debate!
Over the last few years, I have taken over 5000 photographs of Chatterton related items, including around 4,800 pages of manuscripts and editions. I am so fortunate, that two of my favourite places of massy knowledge, happen to be Bristol Central Reference Library and Bristol Archives, from where I have gathered the majority of the images.
A large number of the manuscript pages included here are by the hand of George Catcott who played a central role in bringing Rowley to the masses - old Georgie was very, very prolific, and not afraid to antiquate Chatterton's works. The list also includes manuscripts by Chatterton himself, obviously, as well as William Barrett, Dr Fry, Dr Lort, Tyrwhitt, Richard Smith, William Blake, and others; oh and Horace Walpole too!
Hasmot Tnchaorett - Catcott Transcription
Chatterton's letter to his Mother.
Ex Martha (Patty) More collection
Navigating the Website
The Canynges Coffer page does not have a conventional menu, instead there are buttons beneath each article or image. One of the buttons will take you to a specific manuscript, while the other buttons will take you to anyone or anything of interest mentioned in the article. You can also avail of the search function at the top of the Canynges' Coffer page, which, be assured, will only look for stuff within the project website.
Heads Up! Green Buttons v Red Buttons
Not all buttons are Live (Green = Live), this is because the project is a huge undertaking and meant to be a living thing! - that is, growing and changing, adding and deleting as it rolls along.
So, if the button is Green it is live and ready to go, but if it is Red it is still being worked on and will be changed to Green when it is ready to go live. You can click it anyway and see what happens - but do remember that Red is in a state of flux and probably not ready.