There can be little doubt that Chatterton Road was named for the 18th century poet Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770). There has been some speculation in the past as to whether the name was a reference to one of a couple of local Chattertons living in the area at the time of its development. But it seems too much of a coincidence that the other three roads built at the same time as Chatterton Road also share their names with distinguished men of letters from the previous century: Alexander Pope (1688-1744), Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) and Horace Walpole (1717-1797).

Today, Chatterton is a relatively little-known poet, his stake to a place in the literary cannon much more debatable than those of Pope and Johnson, and even perhaps Walpole. And Chatterton’s oeuvre was not extensive; he committed suicide by poisoning himself with arsenic when he was just 17. His reputation as a poet rested on a small number of poems purporting to be the work of a 15th-century monk by the name of Thomas Rowley. While he gained a small number of followers in his short life, Chatterton was condemned as a forger by Walpole, at that point a preeminent man of letters, best known for his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto.

But Chatterton’s reputation was enhanced posthumously by the Romantic poets, who regarded him as something of a pin-up for the movement and promoted his work in the early years of the 19th century. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats all penned tributes to his life. Interest in the tragic poet was sufficient for the pre-Raphaelite artist Henry Wallis, in 1856, to paint The Death of Chatterton. This depicted the poet lying dead by his own hand. The painting was well known and displayed in various cities over the following years, no doubt raising Chatterton’s profile during the period immediately preceding the development of Chatterton Road in the late 1860s.

Capture.JPG
The Death of Chatterton, Henry Wallis, 1856
Advertisements