Dan Chatterton

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Dan Chatterton
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Born(1820-08-25)August 25, 1820
Clerkenwell, England
DiedJuly 7, 1895(1895-07-07) (aged 74)
Other namesDaniel 'Dan' Chatterton
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
  • Political pamphleteer
  • Propagandist
  • Author

Daniel 'Dan' Chatterton (25 August 1820-7 July 1895) was a political pamphleteer and propagandist and publisher of the book “Chatterton's Commune”.[1]


Chatterton was born in Clerkenwell in central London. His father was a japanner, a form of laquerwork, but following an accident was unable to continue in this skilled craft.[2] Chatterton suffered poor health when young and his attempts to establish himself as a bootmaker were unsuccessful. In the 1850s, at the time of the Crimean War he enlisted in the army, but appears to have spent much of his military service in a hospital in Malta. He subsequently earned what seems to have been a precarious living as a bill poster and a peddler of left-wing literature.[3] Chatterton married twice - his first wife, Emma, died in St Pancras workhouse at the age of 32. He lived in slum housing in the Cromer Street area of King's Cross and later around Drury Lane in Covent Garden. He was buried in an unmarked grave in St Pancras cemetery in Finchley. Of his children, only one, Alfred, outlived him.

Political activism

Chatterton said that he imbibed his atheism and freethought from his father. By his own account, he was 'badly injured' when police used violence to clear a Chartist protest on Clerkenwell Green in 1848[4]. He appears to have been influenced by the ideas of the Chartist and socialist Bronterre O'Brien and was prominent in several of the small extreme radical groups which emerged in the early 1870s. At about this time, he published the first of his own pamphlets, in total producing at least twenty titles often incendiary in tone, denouncing the royal family, organised religion and government and urging workers to revolt. He also advocated birth control so that women could enjoy 'all the sexual pleasures of love, of life, of all desire' without giving birth to children they could not afford to feed.[5][6] In 1884, Chatterton began publishing the 'Scorcher', which appeared roughly every three months for the rest of his life, often produced on cheap paper with irregular type and printed without a press.

Chatterton was a regular orator at outdoor speaking pitches and often spoke from the floor at religious and political meetings. His outlandish appearance and fierce polemics gained him a reputation and several novelists based fictional characters on him, including Richard Whiteing, W. Pett Ridge and the anarchist John Henry Mackay and perhaps George Gissing.[7]


  1. https://books.google.co.in/books/about/Chatterton_s_Commune_The_Atheistic_Commu.html?id=0bsHzQEACAAJ&redir_esc=y
  2. Biography of Dan Chatterton, atheist and communist, by Chat, undated but about 1891
  3. Andrew Whitehead, 'Dan Chatterton and his 'Atheistic Communistic Scorcher, History Workshop Journal, 25, Spring 1988, pp83-99
  4. Biography of Dan Chatterton
  5. D. Chatterton, 'Babies and Bunny Rabbits',undated but about 1883
  6. Angus McLaren, 'Birth Control in Nineteenth Century England', 1978, pp174-7
  7. Andrew Whitehead, '"Against the Tyranny of Kings and Princes": radicalism in 'Workers in the Dawn', Gissing Newsletter, 22/4, 1986, pp13-28

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