Thomas Herbert Chatterton: miner, father, soldier – poet?

Poem  -

Title: Poem - "Forty Ninth Division"
Description: Poem in the collection of Doncaster Heritage Services. by-nc

Thomas Henry Chatterton was born in 1884 in Hull but spent most of his life in Pontefract. His father, Henry, was born in Bradford and worked as a painter and decorator. When Thomas was 7 the family was living in West Bromwich. By the time he was 17 they were finally established in Pontefract, living in North Bailey Gate, though mother Elizabeth is not recorded as living there on the night of the 1901 census. Thomas had gone down the mine and was working as a pit pony driver.

Thomas, or Herbert as he seems to have called himself, given that that was the name he was registered under in the census of 1911, was still working as a coal miner at that time, living in lodgings. He seems to have had a fairly colourful life – his father was imprisoned in Wakefield Gaol for debt in 1902 and in 1906 at the age of 23 Thomas did a 2 month spell there too for “Bastard arrears” – meaning he had a child born out of wedlock and had neglected to provide for its welfare. He married Martha Piper in 1912, a bar maid who lived three doors away from him and who also had a son born out of wedlock (in 1910). It’s not clear if the boy was Thomas’ son but Thomas certainly listed him as such when he joined in the army in 1914. By this time he had 3 children, was aged 31 and was living at 5 Nags Head Yard.

Thomas joined up early in the War, enlisting in the 5th Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in October 1914. He went out to France with the British Expeditionary Force on the 26th May 1915 with a not entirely unblotted copybook – he had been charged with “smoking cigarettes on parade” in March and with being Absent Without Leave for 3 days just before they left for the front. Despite all this he did well in the Army, being promoted to Sergeant in August 1918. He was wounded once – a gunshot to the arm, which left him classed as “50% disabled” on discharge in 1919. As well as the standard service medals he was awarded the Military Medal in December 1918.

His effects included a touching poem about a phosgene gas attack entitled “Forty Ninth Division” which is in the collection of Doncaster Museum. Did he write the poem, following in the footsteps of his famous 18th century namesake?

Thomas Herbert died in Pontefract in 1955 aged 72.

One Response to “Thomas Herbert Chatterton: miner, father, soldier – poet?”

  1. Leanne Roddison

    Thomas Herbert Chatterton was my great grandfather. There are some things in your writing that I didn’t know and some I did. You mentioned that his mother Elizabeth wasn’t listed in the 1901 census. This was true as she had died in 1899. Thomas himself was born out of wedlock (as yet I can’t find a birth record for him, his mothers name was Wilkinson) as his parents didn’t marry until the early 1890’s. His father Henry was married previously to Sarah Ann Hepworth. I haven’t been able to find a death record for Sarah but Henry’s marriage to Thomas’ mother states that he is a widower.

    I didn’t know that either Henry nor Thomas had served time in prison.

    Martha’s Pipers’ son that was born out of wedlock in 1910 was Thomas’ son, my Grandfather. He was registered as George Herbert Chatterton Piper. The surname Piper was dropped (I presume after their marriage as he was still Piper on the 1911 census) and he was known as George Herbert Chatterton. Thomas’ marriage to Martha ended in divorce and she went to live in Canada for a time. So it seems my grandad had a half brother or sister. This has given me more information for me to continue researching.

    Thank you for your write up on Thomas Herbert.

    Kind regards
    Leanne Roddison, Great Grandaughter of Thomas Herbert Chatterton (Wilkinson)

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