The Burgum family history society is a member of the Guild of one name studies and researches the names


By AIyson and Mike Marsden

The following article has been published with the kind permission of The Pewter Society and the authors Alyson and Mike Marsden. It appeared in the Journal of the Pewter Society, Volume 16, Autumn 2001. This article is based on a talk given to the Society at Cheltenham in October 2000. It follows an earlier article by Carl Ricketts (C. Ricketts, Newsletter, Spring 1997). Henry Burgum and George Catcott were partners in a pewtering business in Bristol in the second half of the 18th century. They were both interesting characters, and this article looks at their life and times in an attempt to 'bring them to life'.

The Bristol, which Burgum and Catcott would have known around the middle of the 18th century was in many ways still something of a medieval city. The streets were narrow and strewn with stinking rubbish. The two rivers running through the city, the Avon and the Froom (18th century spelling), were little more than open sewers. Tradesmen, including the pewterers, still worked directly behind their shop fronts. A forest of masts could be seen almost everywhere in the city from the ships crowding the river moorings, and shipbuilding remained an important industry. It was a rough and noisy place, as can be imagined from the description -"In every thoroughfare prevailed the discordant noises of smiths', coopers', braziers' and joiners' hammers, the click of looms and the burr of lathes, while wayfarers were regaled with the penetrating fumes of the soap boiler, the tallow chandler and the dyer" (Latimer, 1893). Bristol in the 18th century was a hard-nosed, commercial city and the Bristolians seldom let slip any chance of a profitable new venture. A visitor commented in 1724, "The very Parsons of Bristol talk of nothing but Trade, and how to turn the penny" (Latimer, 1893).

Richard Goeing, the well-known Bristol pewterer, had his shop in the Quay (now Broad Quay) The painting gives a good idea of the mass of ships, which have been moored right in the centre the City: Bristol was then a major port for the increasingly important trade with the West Indies and America, and this was the source of the most of the city's prosperity in the 18th century. Bristol at this time was certainly prosperous and claimed to be the second city in the land after London. Sadly, it has to be remembered that prosperity arose largely from the shameful trade. Merchants loaded their ships with goods to be bartered for slaves in Africa, then the ships carried the unfortunate slaves to the plantations of the West Indies or America. The ships returned to Bristol with cargoes of sugar or tobacco from the plantations. There was direct trading with the West Indies and America, of course, and the direct trade with America was extremely important to Bristol's pewterers. But it was the slave trade, which made the merchants of Bristol rich and Bristol pewter would have played some part, albeit small, in this trade.

Quite a lot is known about Burgum and Catcott because they both had interests outside of pewtering, and both were well-known members of 18th century Bristol society. There are several references to them in Bristol's weekly newspaper, Felix Farley's Bristol Journal. Another reason for our knowledge of Burgum and Catcott arises from their association with Thomas Chatterton, Bristol's brilliant young writer, poet and satirist. Chatterton's life has been extensively studied and written-up (see for example Kelly, 1971 and Meyerstein, 1930) and there are frequent references to Burgum and Catcott in the Chatterton literature. A few words about Chatterton himself may be helpful at this point.

Thomas Chatterton was born in Bristol in 1752, and committed suicide in London in 1770, before he was even 18. He was a child prodigy - "a prodigy almost without equal in the history of them may depend on having their orders well literature' (Kelly, 1971). One could perhaps say favours that as a prodigy he was in the Mozart mould. Unfortunately, unlike Mozart, he did not have a firm father figure to guide him through the teenage years - Chatterton's father had died before Thomas was born. Chatterton is best known for the so-called Rowley Poems, which he claimed to have discovered in an old box in the Treasury of St. Mary Redcliffe Church in Bristol. The claim was that they were written by Thomas Rowley, a 15th century monk, although they were in fact written by Chatterton himself when he was only about 14. There was controversy for several years about the authenticity of the poems, partly because people found it difficult to imagine that a 14 year old boy could write poetry of such depth and quality. Chatterton's poems about Henry Burgum and George Catcott, some of which are quoted here, are clever enough but have little poetic merit. However some of the Rowley Poems are superb.

Chatterton probably first met Burgum and Catcott through the latter's brother, Rev. Alexander Catcott (Meyerstein, 1930). He would also have passed Burgum and Catcott's shop when he walked from where he lived in Redcliffe across the river to the centre of Bristol. In those days there was only one bridge across the river, and Burgum and Catcott's shop was adjacent to one end of it.

Henry Burgum had set up on his own as a pewterer near Bristol Bridge in 1764. This announcement of his partnership with George Catcott appeared in Felix Farley's Bristol Journal for 23rd March 1765.

Pewterers, Worm Makers, etc, at the corner of St. Thomas and Redcliffe Street fronting the New Bristol's Bridge, Bristol, take this first opportunity of acquainting all persons in general, and their friends in particular, that they may reasonably supplied with every kind of goods in the business; as may also the Merchants trading to Africa and North America; the Distillers at home with worms of all sizes; and Country-Braziers with Pewter for sale. They likewise sell all sorts of Pewter, Brass and Copper-Wares, for furniture. Those Gentlemen, Merchants or others, who please to confer their favours on them may depend on having their orders expeditiously executed; and their favours will be gratefully acknowledged.

A 'worm' in this context is the helical coil used in a still for distilling alcohol. Several other 18th century Bristol pewterers also described themselves as Worm Makers - Allen Bright, John Griffith and Edgar & Sons for example. There would have been enough business for them all because, rather surprisingly, 18th century Bristol boasted numerous distilleries. This was for two reasons. There were then many sugar refineries in Bristol which processed the sugar from the West Indies, and any sugar products which were not directly saleable were made into rum. When French brandy became unavailable, during the wars with France, the Bristolians started to produce apple and pear brandy using fruit from the orchards of Gloucestershire and Somerset. This home produced brandy was described as 'a good wholesome fine brandy, which answered every needful purpose, and, if only kept long enough, was hardly distinguishable from grape spirit' (Latimer 1893). Another thing to note from this advertisement is that Burgum and Catcott's pewter is being offered to the merchants trading to Africa as barter for slaves.

The following announcement in the Bristol Gazette of 12th August 1773 sheds an interesting light on Burgum and Catcott as employers, "A robbery. This morning a chest and box were broken open in the house of Mrs. Hewston, broker in Temple Street, and the following things stole thereout belonging to Thomas Weaver, a blind man who turns a wheel at Burgum & Catcott's, pewterers Five Guineas reward by Burgum & Catcott."

The fact that Burgum and Catcott were prepared 1 to employ a blind man, and to offer a reward on his behalf, may indicate that for their time they might have been reasonable people to work for.

The picture shows the recorded marks of Burgum and Catcott and marks attributed to Henry Burgum. An unknown "HB" mark is also shown, which Cotterell suggests may be that of Henry Burgum before the parthership with Catcott, or possibly of Henry Burgum Junior (Henry's son), because of the similarity of the' Superfine Hard Metal' marks and the presence of the stag in both sets of marks. Burgum and Catcott may have used different dies over time, because there is a plate owned by Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, which has the middle 'N' reversed in the 'LONDON' mark. The mark of Burgum and Catcott, a handshake in front of what might be a seal top spoon, is very similar to that of Henry Fothergill who was a few years later than Burgum and Catcott. No obvious connection has been found with Fothergill, although his address was extremely close to where Burgum and Catcott had their shop in Redcliffe Street.

Burgum and Catcott seem to have made a wide range of products in pewter. One of the things, which they specifically advertised for sale was oval dishes, and in the 17th August 1765 issue of Felix Farley's Bristol Journal they were advertising their oval dishes in direct competition with Robert Bush and Ann Bright. The following advertisements appeared in one column, one below the other and show that price wars are nothing new,

By His Majesty's Royal Letters Patent bearing date December 5th 1764, Joseph Spackman, late of Fenchurch Street, but now of Cornhill, London, pewterer, having invented a method entirely new of turning ovals in Pewter, English China, and other earthenware, has obtained Letters Patent as above for the term of 14 years - within the kingdom of England & the Dominion of Wales, Town of Berwick upon Tweed and the plantations abroad, by virtue thereof he is now making and is ready to serve Merchants and others, with Oval Pewter Dishes, of superior Hard Metal, far superior, both in beauty and strength, to anything hitherto performed in the oval way. The above are the Silver Fashion Egg Oval and are to be sold by Robert Bush, Pewterer, Brazier and Brass-Founder in High Street, Bristol, who is the only person in that city to sell them; and who will render them at 25 per cent under the old prIce.

Best superfine Hard-Metal and latest fashion, and are made and sold 25 per cent under the old price by Burgum and Catcott, pewterers worm-makers at their wharehouse the corner of Redcliffe Street, facing the New Bridge, Bristol.

Of the best superfine Hard Metal and newest fashion (without a Patent) are made and sold Twenty Five per cent under the old prices by Ann Bright & Co, Pewterers, Worm-Makers, Braziers, Brass-founders, Clock Makers etc at their wholesale wharehouse on The Back, Bristol where Merchants, Tradesmen and others may depend on being supplied in the above branches on the shortest notice and reasonable terms'

Ann Bright was the widow of Allen Bright who had died two years earlier, and she sold out to William Stiff in 1768. The partnership between Henry Burgum and George Catcott came to an end (acrimoniously, as we shall see) in 1779.

Henry Burgum was born in 1739 in Littledean in Gloucestershire, the son of Henry Burgum, a labourer. 'When young, he pounded the mortar of old William Dyer, an apothecary, who lived on Bristol Bridge' (Meyerstein 1930). He was apprenticed as a pewterer to Allen Bright, and Ann his wife, on 27th September 1752 (1). He became free on 27th September 1760 (5). Unusually, the announcement of his freedom makes no reference to his apprenticeship and says he was 'admitted into the libertys of the city by vote of Common Council'. On 28th July 1764 he announced in Felix Farley's Bristol Journal that he had moved from near 'The Bell' in St. Thomas Street to the corner of St. Thomas Street and Redcliffe Street facing the new (temporary) Bristol Bridge and described himself as a 'Pewterer and Wormmaker'.

As already mentioned, the announcement of his partnership with George Catcott was made on the 23rd March, 1765. Around this time Burgum and Catcott made the acquaintance of Thomas Chatterton, who seems to have played on Burgum's natural vanity by informing him that amongst the Thomas Rowley manuscripts which he claimed to have discovered in St. Mary Redcliffe Church he had also found a document having the armorial bearings of a family called the De Berghams, with proof of their descent from William the Conqueror. The De Berghams were purported to have come into the West Country in Elizabethan times when William Bergham was given the keepership of three forests in Gloucestershire in the area that Henry Burgum was born. Burgum's vanity was aroused, and he gave Chatterton 5 shillings for the coat of arms of his apparently distinguished ancestors. This coat of arms, drawn by Thomas Chatterton, still exists and is held by Bristol Central Library. The execution is certainly crude, and the De Bergham family motto is given as "Ryde on!" Later Chatterton supplied Burgum with a fake family tree down to 1685 and with a poem allegedly written by one of his ancestors, John De Bergham, in 1320. Henry Burgum rewarded him with another 5 shillings for these documents. Afterwards Burgum took his family tree and coat of arms to the College of Heralds, and there learnt that a De Bergham had never borne arms (Meyerstein 1930). However, there is no evidence that Burgum really felt that he had been seriously duped; he may have thought that a coat of arms (however crudely drawn) on vellum was worth the money. Certainly he doesn't seem to have taken the matter up with Chatterton.

The latter's cutting comment about it all was,
'Gods! What would Burgum give to get a name,
And snatch his blundering dialect from shame!
What would he give to hand his memr'y down
To Time's remotest boundary? - A crown.
Would you ask more, his swelling face looks blue;
Futurity he rates at two pounds two.
Well, Burgum, take thy laurel to thy brow;
With a rich saddle to decorate a sow;
Strut in Iambics, totter in an ode, Promise, and never pay, and be the mode.

On 30th November, 1765 Henry Burgum married Betty Copner and the following announcement appeared in the next week's Felix Farley's Bristol Journal. Chatterton seems to have written numerous pieces of verse and news for this publication, and it is possible that he was responsible for the doggerel, which accompanied Burgum's wedding report.

'Saturday last, at St. Thomas's Church, of Mr. Henry Burgum, an eminent pewterer, to Miss Betty Copner, who besides a very handsome fortune, is rich in every requisite that makes that honourable state amiable. '
'Thrice happy They in nuptial hands conjoin'd,
Where the Man's prudent, and the Woman's kind;
Long may their torch by winds unruffl'd burn,
Then late, yes, very late, fill up one urn. '

George Catcott was highly critical of Burgum in the final years of their partnership, but Burgum does seem to have had his good side. In 1767 Burgum was president of the Grateful Society, which was a non-political organisation whose object was 'the placing-out of poor Bristol boys to Trade' (George, 1879). He was also Deputy Governor and Treasurer of the 'Corporation of the Poor', another charitable society. It appears that Burgum was helped by a Bristol charity on his arrival in the city as a poor uneducated boy. As a successful self-made man he was trying to repay the city through good works.

Catcott's educated friends must have made fun of Henry Burgum, who was very much a self-educated man. (It is noteworthy that at a time when many were illiterate, Burgum taught himself Latin and Greek). Thomas Chatterton, himself largely self-educated, sympathised with Burgum and wrote these verses in 1769 in support of him in his 'Epistle to the Rev. Mr. Catcott'. (Rev. Catcott was George Catcott's brother.)

'Burgum wants learning, see the lettered throng
J Barter his English in a Latin song.
Oxonian sages hesitate to speak
Their native language, but declaim in Greek.
If in his jests a discord should appear,
A dull lampoon is innocently clear.
Ye classic dunces, self-suflicient fools,
Is this the boasted justice of your schools?
Burgum has parts; parts which would set astride
The labour'd acquisitions of your pride."

Ye rigid Christians, formally severe,
( Blind to his charities, his oaths you hear;
Observe his virtues: calumny must own
A noble soul is in his actions shown;
Tho' dark this original you paint
I'd rather be a Burgum than a saint'.

In 1770 Burgum had his portrait painted by Thomas Beach (1738-1806). Some years later Robert Graves (1798-1873) produced an Burgum's temper may have been behind this engraving based on this portrait. The present whereabouts of Beach's portrait and the original Graves' engraving are not known.

There is another portrait of Henry Burgum, which is currently hanging in the Georgian House in Bristol. This one is by John Simmonds (1715-1780) of Nailsea near Bristol. In this painting Burgum's right hand is holding a red leather-bound volume labelled 'Messiah'. This reflects Burgum's interest and enthusiasm for music, and Handel's music in particular. Burgum is said to have been hot tempered. This is a short part of a poem (probably by Chatterton again):

'But Burgum swears so loud, so indiscreet,
His thunders rattle thro' the listening street.'

Burgum's temper may have been behind this notice that appeared in Felix Farley's Bristol Journal for 17th March 1770. There is no record of any follow-up to this remarkable statement.

Whereas a villainous report hath been spread in this City and Country adjacent, that I had most inhumanly and cruelly treated one of my Apprentices, by striking him with an Iron Bar, breaking his jaw Bone, and two or three of his Ribs; nay, some have been so daring as to say he died of his wounds. Now I call upon, and ask, any and every person, who have been instrumental in propagating this Calumny, to ANSWER me in the Bristol News paper in their own, Name, this one plain question, IS THE ABOVE REPORT, OR ANY PART OF IT TRUE?
All those who would chuse to convince themselves to the contrary, are very welcome to call at my House, and hear the true State of the Case from the young Man's own mouth, or if calling at my House may be thought any way disagreeable, I will give the Apprentice Leave to visit'on anyone, at their own House, when and where they will have a fair Opportunity to ask him such questions as they please.
Bristol Bridge, March 13, 1770'

It is uncertain which apprentice is being referred to here. Burgum had two apprentices at the time. Joshua Gardiner (son of John Gardiner of Bristol, shipwright) was apprenticed on 12th December 1765 and became free on 3rd October 1774, and Samuel Hart (son of George Hart of Tickenham, yeoman) was apprenticed on 7th December 1769 (1.). No record has been found of Samuel Hart becoming free. Earlier Burgum did have another apprentice, James Gale, who had been turned over from William Lansdown in 1761. But Gale would not have still been an apprentice in 1770 (no record has been found of him becoming free, though).

Following the Parliamentary elections of 1774, Burgum was one of many Tories slandered in a scurrilous 23 page satire written by James Thistlethwaite. The satire stated that twenty men, whom Burgum was alleged to have paid to vote for the Tory candidates 'were decorated by him with pewter hats' (Meyerstein, 1930). Burgum seems to have spent almost all of his money trying to clear his name, and he issued a pamphlet (of 28 pages!) rebutting all the charges made (Burgum, 1775). Around this time he was probably starting to neglect the pewtering business. Catcott also accused him of spending too much time on his musical interests - he referred to Burgum as a 'musico-maniac'. And Burgum was also involved in a new distillery in the parish of St. Philip and Jacob - Fear, Shoreland, Burgum and Co. at 136 Redcliffe St. (Meyerstein, 1930). At the same time it should be remembered that the American War of Independence must have been making life difficult for all the Bristol pewterers who had relied heavily on trade with the American colonies. At all events, Burgum and Catcott's pewtering business was starting to fail and came to an end in 1779 (after 14 years.)

In 1783 Catcott wrote to one of his literary friends, Dr. Glynn, '- My late partner is now made a bankrupt He has completely ruined himself, his wife and his family, and by his haughty and artful behaviour made all his best friends his greatest enemies - As it is I shall lose upwards of £2,500 by his dishonesty and subtle evasions. In short I believe (and am by no means singular in my opinion) that a more complete and artful villain than Henry Burgum Esq. scarcely exists'! (Meyerstein, 1930).

On 29th April 1784, Henry Burgum's son, Henry Burgum junior was made free by patrimony as a pewterer. However it is unclear whether Burgum Junior actually traded as a pewterer in his own right.

In 1786 Burgum senior fell on really hard times. He lost the use of his legs because of gout, and was lodged in a Debtor's prison in London. He was rescued by his friends and returned to Bristol, where in September 1787 he became a musical impresario. He arranged for a performance of Handel's oratorio 'Judas Maccabaeus' - one of the earliest in Bristol. The ticket proceeds from this put him on his feet financially again. In April 1788 he arranged for the 'Messiah' to be performed in Bristol, and this too was profitable.

Around this time Burgum was also involved in the buying and selling of land and property, having himself owned a country house at Tickenham in Somerset for several years. Burgum had gone into print about his Tickenham estate in characteristically robust style in Felix Farley's Bristol Journal for 16th January 1779:

My Estate at TICKENHAM, in the County of Somerset, has been most shamefully overrun, the young j Woods trodden and spoiled in their Growth, fences broke down, and Locks on the Gates torn off, to the unbearable injury of myself and Tenants, by People whilst a Hunting, many of whom (as I am informed) are not qualified by Law:

THEREFORE, unless such unqualified persons forbear to do so, I am determined to give them some lawful Trouble.

This Estate is a Manor of itself; no Lord or Gentleman whatsoever hath any right to shoot, hawk or hunt ~, thereon, without my leave. "

I desire to be understood, that I do not forbid, or wish to interrupt any of the neighbouring, or Bristol r' Gentlemen (duly qualified by the Laws of the land) from hunting hereupon the said Estate, at the same Time hoping they will think of the Rule of, Doing as they would be done by.
Bristol Jan.13. 1779 HENRY BURGUM'

Henry Burgum died suddenly, aged 50, at his Bristol home on The Parade, St. James' Churchyard, in Bristol on 5th June 1789. He is buried in the pretty little church of St. Quiricus and St. Julietta in Tickenham. The gravestone is in the south aisle, adjacent to the font, but you will need to roll back the carpet to see it. The inscription, which can still just about be read, says:- 'IN MEMORY OF HENRY BURGUM OF THE CITY OF BRISTOL, PEWTERER WHO DIED JUNE 5th 1789. AGED 50 YEARS'

George was the second of three sons of Martha and Alexander Stopford Catcott (1692 to 1749). A.S. Catcott was the son of Rebecca and Alexander Catcott (a gentleman). He was born at Long Acre, St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster in 1692, and was educated at Merchant Taylors' School and St. John's College, Oxford. In 1722 he was elected Headmaster of the Grammar School Bristol. John Wesley testlfied to his ' eminent piety' and others described him as a divine and a poet'. (DNB) George's eldest brother was the Rev. Alexander Catcott. This Alexander was described as a 'divine and geologist' and, after education at Bristol Grammar and Oxford, he became the vicar of Temple Church, Bristol from 1766 until his death in 1779. (DNB) His spinster sister Martha, and bachelor brother George Symes lived with him. After Alexander's death George and Martha moved from Temple vicarage to Temple Back. George's other siblings were Augusta (married to Richard Smith, a surgeon whose brothers William and Peter were friends of Thomas Chatterton) and Thomas 'a mere accountant' employed by a copper company (Meyerstein, 1930).

George was born at Queen Elizabeth Hospital (then Bristol Grammar School) on January 31st 1729. It has to be presumed that like his brothers, he was educated at Bristol Grammar School, but unlike the majority of his contemporaries there he didn't go on to Oxford. Instead, at about 15 years old on 12th January 1744 he was apprenticed for seven years to Stephen Cox and Susannah at St. Thomas Street, Bristol. George was made a freeman 10 years later on 30th March 1754 at the age of 26.(1) There are no records of apprentices serving with George and no records of George's employment till he became involved with Henry Burgum in 1765.

A.S. Catcott died in 1749. His eldest son, Alexander, was the main beneficiary but George was well provided for (2,). George Catcott went into partnership with Henry Burgum in 1765 and and George is said to have brought his £3,000 inheritance into the business (Meyerstein, 1930 and (6).

Shortly after the Catcott brothers' acquaintanceship with the young Thomas Chatterton they were presented with the Thomas Rowley poems. Alexander thought Chatterton's Rowley manuscripts to be fakes - but believed Thomas to be a genius. George, in comparison, was convinced for many years that the manuscripts were genuine. (Martha Catcott also knew Thomas Chatterton and described him as 'a sad wag of a boy, always upon some joke or other.') (Meyerstein, 1930, Hutton, 1907)

George appeared to be a lively, eccentric man in his younger years. His nephews Richard and Henry Smith described George as an oddity (Meyerstein, 1930). While contemporary descriptions of Burgum and Catcott stated that Burgum ,was a musico-maniac, his partner George was described as 'honest George' - a safe pair of hands to run the pewtering business. However, two years after he commenced in business with Burgum, at the age of 38, he embarked on an escapade. The pewter shop he and Burgum shared, as already stated, was overlooking Bristol Bridge. The medieval bridge was in the process of being rebuilt and a year from the official opening. Once the last stone had been set in the central arch George Catcott set out to be the first person to cross the bridge. Between 7am and Sam on June 25th, 1767 he crossed the bridge, having bribed the workmen with five guineas to lay a few loose planks and borrowed Burgum's 'nag'. Burgum is said to have exclaimed 'there goes my horse and ass.' (Meyerstein, 1930)

George was even more foolhardy on December 12th, 1769. A new steeple was being constructed on St. Nicholas's Church. George scaled the 205 foot high steeple by the workmen's ladder to place in a cavity under the top stone two pieces of pewter, five inches square, engraved (probably by his brother Alexander) in Latin. The workmen are said to have removed the ladder before George could come down. Another bribe was expected.

The inscription on the pewter tablet was as follows:-
'Summum hujusce turris Sancti Nicholai lapidem posuit mense Decembris 1769 Georgius Catcottphil-Architector ReverendiAlexandri Stopford Catcott filius'.
(Meyerstein, 1930)

Thus George, as well as being notorious in Bristol, came to the note of the national newspapers. Town and Country in June 1771 ridiculed the brothers 'Sandy and George Catskin'. George is described as 'the man who in this city is the most ambitious of acquiring a name, in search of which, he has twice lately risked his neck.' The Grand Imperial Magazine of March 1771 had a caricature inscribed 'Mr. Catgut of B--------'

The caricature shows George armed with a spit, pot lid for a shield, pair of tongs for a sword and iron pot for a helmet. It is suspected both these works were performed by the hand of Chatterton. (Meyerstein, 1930, Grand Imperial, 1771).

Thomas Chatterton wrote many pieces in Felix Farley's Bristol Journal and in 1769 wrote a poem about George, which reflected some of the episodes in George's life.

A Character by Thomas Chatterton
Catcott is very fond of talk and fame;
His wish a perpetuity of name,
Which to procure, a pewter altar's made,
To bear his name, and signify his trade,
In pomp burlesq'd the rising spire to head,
tell futurity a pewterer's dead.
Incomparable Catcott, still pursue
The seeming happiness thou hast in view;
Unfinish'd chimnies, gaping spires complete,
Eternal fame on oval dishes beat;
Ride four inch bridges, clouded turrets climb,
And bravely die - to live in after-time.
Horrid idea! If on rolls of fame
The twentieth century only find thy name.
Unnotic'd this in prose or tagging flower
He left his dinner to ascend the tower.
Then what avails thy anxious spitting pain?
Thy laugh-provoking labours are in vain.
On matrimonial pewter set thy hand;
Hammer with ev'ry power thou canst command;
Stamp thy whole self, original as 'tis,
To propagate thy whimsies, name and phiz-
Then, when the tottering spires or chimnies fall,
A Catcott shall remain admired by all.

Other descriptions of George Catcott, mainly from his nephew Richard Smith, are as follows - 'he was impetuous and deformed about the back and shoulders and wore dark brown or blue leggings. He never ate animal food, except roast beef and always carried with him a phial of sugar and cream. He made his own toast in other people's houses and saved all his old teeth to go in his coffin' (6.) His pet author was Charles I, and he collected books and prints on this subject. Further, he had an extensive collection of books that were all more than a hundred years old. He stammered, but recited with ease the poems of Chatterton at the Bristol Theatre Royal. (he had free tickets for life after the recitations.) (Meyerstein, 1930).

One day in his shop, out of no ill-will, he spat in, a customer's eye. The customer had just come in to buy a pewter pot. George was chased around that the counter, over the bridge and into the High Street and narrowly escaped a beating. (No doubt his customer wandered off to another more congenial pewterer for his purchase.) (6.)

Catcott's portrait was painted by the Bristol artist Edward Bird RA, and there were two later engravings. All are missing at present (the Bird portrait was cataloged by the National Portrait Gallery in 1932 as owned by the Bristol Central Library). As we know Chatterton took an interest in the two pewterers and had probably started giving George some of his poetry around 1768. After Thomas Chatterton's tragic suicide in August 1770 the academic world became fascinated by the dead poet and his written works. A trade in 'Chattertoniana' developed and George Catcott involved himself in it until the end of his life. It was a very lucrative business especially up to 1776, when George sold the Rowley manuscript for 60 guineas to a London publisher. A copy of this book is in Bristol Central Library, inscribed by George Catcott to Thomas Hale Junior, the pewterer (Rowley Poems, 1777). George also published at his own expense, 500 copies of the poem 'Bristowe Tragedy', and sold it for half a crown. (6)

Meyerstein in his book A Life of Thomas Chatterton states that the most enduring thing that George Catcott should be remembered for is the fact that he kept a folder of original Chatterton memorabilia that has allowed historians over the years to gain a clearer perspective of Chatterton. This folder is also in the hands of the Bristol Library. Meyerstein also says that George Catcott was Thomas Rowley's midwife'. (Meyerstein, 1930 and (6.)

Boswell in his Life of Dr. Johnson writes of meeting George Catcott the pewterer in Bristol on 29th April 1776. Boswell and Johnson came to Bristol to investigate the authenticity of Rowley's poems. To quote Boswell 'George Catcott, the pewterer, - attended us at our inn, and with a triumphant air of lively simplicity, called out "I'll make Dr. Johnson a convert." Dr. Johnson, at his desire, read aloud some of Chatterton's fabricated verses; while Catcot (sic) stood at the back of his chair, moving himself like a pendulum, and beating time with his feet, and now and then looking into Dr. Johnson's face, wondering that he was not yet convinced. - Honest Catcott seemed to pay no attention whatever to any objections, but insisted, as an end of all controversy, that we should go with him to the tower of the church of St. Mary Redclif!, and view with our eyes the ancient chest in which the manuscripts were found.' Boswell and Johnson remained unconvinced, but believed Chatterton to be an 'extraordinary young man '.(Croker, 1876)

The pewtering business partnership progressed until 1779. One wonders how the two partners found time to make the business profitable. George was becoming the Chatterton expert and champion, while Henry had his charitable works, musical interests and social climbing to attend to. Burgum and Catcott dissolved the partnership on February 16th 1779 because the business had failed. George Catcott's nephews blamed Burgum for robbing their uncle of the £3,000 he brought into the business. (George said later in a letter that the sum was £2,500.) George called in the creditors in September 1779.

By 1783 George had paid back 17s/9d in the pound to his creditors, and continued slowly to payoff his debts. In a letter concerning Burgum and the creditors, George said Burgum wouldn't pay a shilling in the pound. Luckily the creditors had promised not to make a claim against George Catcott's private pr.operty.(6)

After the business failure George worked for the pewterers Richard and Thomas Hale in the Back, Bristol at 12 shillings a week. His occupation was to serve in the shop, assist in papering and packing up the goods and collecting the debts. The Hales were Presbyterians with strong republican principles that George detested. He was once reprimanded for reading a newspaper in the shop (Meyerstein, 1930). Catcott was 58 years old and felt humiliated by the reduction in his circumstances. In 1790 Catcott's fortunes changed - he became sub-librarian at King St. Library with a yearly salary of £31-10s, though he was still poor enough to be given financial help from a Chatterton scholar, Dr. Glynn. His duties were far from onerous, and his nephew Richard Smith said that he spent much of his working hours asleep in the warm library. George continued in this post until his death on November 19th 1802, aged 73. He was buried in Temple Churchyard. Temple Church was badly damaged in World War II, and now only the shell remains and is managed by English Heritage. George Catcott's grave is not obvious. The cemetery has become a peaceful inner city garden.

The final words of this story should go to Thomas Chatterton who mentioned George Catcott Henry Burgum in his will.
'I give and bequeath all my Vigor and Fire of Youth to Mr. Georgie Catcott being sensible he is in most want of it -
'To Mr. Henry Burgum all my Prosody and Grammar likewise one Moiety of my Modesty -'

We would like to thank Dawn Dyer of the Bristol Central Library for her great assistance in providing us with the George Catcott papers, and the Bristol Central Library for allowing us to use as illustrations the picture and cartoon of George Catcott. Karen Walton and Sheena Stoddard of the Bristol Art Gallery and Museum have granted us access to the Museum's pewter collection and given permission for publication of the Henry Burgum portrait and the Broad Quay picture. Thanks are also due to the staff of the Bristol Record Office for their ongoing support and guidance. Lastly we are grateful to Ron Homer for his never ending advice and encouragement.

Carl Ricketts, Henry Burgum & George Catcott of Bristol, Pewter Society Newsletter Number 24 - Spring 1997.
John Latimer, Annals of Bristol in the Eighteenth Century, printed for the author, 1893
Linda Kelly, The Marvellous Boy, the Life and Myth of Thomas Chatterton, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971.
E.H.W.Meyerstein, A Life of Thomas Chatterton, Ingpen and Grant, 1930.
William George, The Grateful Society in 1767 and its President, Henry Burgum, "Gloucestershire Notes and Queries" in the Stroud journal Feb.22, 1879.
Henry Burgum, A Narrative of Facts in contradiction of the many falsehoods contained injames Thistlethwaite's address to Mr Henry Burgum in Bonner and Middleton's Bristol journal of Saturday January 7th, 1775, Respecting A MOCK HEROIC POEM entitled THE CONSULTATION, privately printed for the author in 1775.
Stanley Hutton, Bristol and its FamousAssociations,j.W.Arrowsmith, 1907.
Dictionary of National Biography.
The Grand Imperial Magazine, March 1771.
Croker (Editor) Boswell's Life of Johnson, published by John Murray 1876.
The Rowley Poems of Thomas Chatterton published 1777, copy once owned by George Catcott, now in Bristol Central Library.

(1.) Bristol Apprentice and Burgess Books, Bristol Record Office.
(2.) Will of A.S.Catcott, Bristol Central Library.
(3.) Felix Farley's Bristol journal, 18th August 1764.
(4.) Felix Farley's Bristol journal, 23rd March 176 .
(5.) Extract from the poem" Happiness" published in Felix Farleys journal December 1769.
(6.) The Richard and Henry Smith Collection, Bristol Central Library.

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