(more details and maps to be added – the following is just a temporary page until I have time to do that)
My research so far points to three main groups in the UK:
1. Gottams in parishes close to the northern half of the Shropshire / Staffordshire border, with the name becoming Gotham. Earliest I know of (based on VERY limited investigations): the marriage of a John GOTTAM in 1616/7, the earliest baptism being of a Walter in 1625. This is the smallest group.
2. Goathams in Kent, whose surname was often spelt Gotham (amongst a number of spelling variations) into the early C19th, and in the early days Goteham, Gotam and Gottam are found as well as Goatham. The earliest I know of, despite a fair bit of searching indexes for earlier records, is a court role entry for a Richard in 1533 (the earliest PR entry is the marriage of a Richard in 1565). This family ‘failed to thrive’ for centuries, before numbers increased rapidly from the end of the C18th and throughout the C19th. Many are still in the same area (East Kent) close to where a Goteham lived 1533.
3. Gothams in Devon, surname often Got(t)am in the past as well as many other spelling variations including Goteham and Goatham. The first I know of is a William of Gotham in Abbotskerwell whose house was robbed in 1238, in a parish where the name Gotham was common in the C16th, and found into the C18th, and an area in which the family remained to the early C20th.
Prior to the C19th most of the family remained mainly in the Teign Estuary area (i.e. near Newton Abbot and Teignmouth), but now all in Devon descend from one who moved to Plymouth c. 1863 and so are concentrated there. Several had moved to London over the centuries, but I’m not aware that there are any Gotham descendants from these (some also moved from the Kent group to London; any Gothams from descended from these ‘London strays’ are not in England or Wales). In the early C19th several Gotham mariners moved from the Teign Estuary to Liverpool, but only one who married there in 1826 has left Gotham descendants. His brother moved to Staffordshire, settling in the Stoke on Trent area, where confusingly members of the Shropshire / Staffordshire Gottams had also settled and settled on the spelling Gotham!
Possible links and origins
Whether these three groups have separate origins or whether 2 or all 3 have the same origin I don’t know. It seems safe to assume that the surname Gotham arose in Devon at least. Being first found near the coast, with a number of mariners and sailors from at least the late C16th, and probably a good few more in earlier centuries, it is possible one settled in Kent. In 1604 two Gothams from Stokeinteignhead drowned on a voyage to the annual herring fishing at Clovelly. While Clovelly is in the same county it is on the opposite coast, and to have sailed there would have meant a trip of about 250 miles each way, not much short of the distance to Kent. Harold Fox in ‘The Evolution of the Fishing Village: Landscape and Society along the South Devon Coast, 1086-1550’ (2001) shows that Devon men were also making fishing trips eastwards along the south coast to Winchelsea and Lydd by the 1460s. This, and the fact that Stokeinteignhead and other parishes where Gothams lived were on the River Teign, which would have provided shelter and enabled them to have vessels large enough to make such trips means I believe the Gothams had sailed to Clovelly, not crossed the county by land to seek employment on the herring boats. Even earlier, in 1455, one Robert Gotham of Bristol (who I suspect was related to the Devon Gothams) was master of a ship on a voyage to Iceland. Maybe one Gotham on a fishing (or trading) trip to Kent had settled there. The first Gothams I know of in Kent were a charcoal maker and husbandmen, not fishermen or mariners of any sort, but such a transition need not have taken long. Fox also shows that many fishermen were part time, also (mainly) farming, and he suggests that some young men were fishermen while waiting to take over the family farm. A mariner or fisherman Gotham settling in Kent could therefore have grown up on a farm, and have learnt husbandry skills as a child, and been equipped to become a husbandman or yeoman if the opportunity arose.
However, there are various other possibilities for the origin of the Kent Gothams. Besides a move from Devon it is possible that the name originate from Gothem in Flanders (in what is now Belgium). Being well inland, about 170 miles from Calais, it seems unlikely a man from Gothem was trading, a mariner or smuggler, with links to Kent and settled there. The distance that would have to be travelled, if going by land, from Gothem, Flanders or Gotham, Nottinghamshireto to Little Hardres, where the earliest known Kent Gotham lived, is about the same. Based on that neither seems a particularly likely origin of the name, but we do know that besides the protestant refugees who found a home in Kent, there were traders and others who settled throughout the centuries. In particular, Flemish weavers were encouraged by Edward III, King of England 1327-77, to come to England to boost the exchequer’s falling revenue. The weald of Kent was well suited to their needs, and where many settled. An index of names in a calendar for the City of London, 1364-81, shows there was at least one possible ancestor amongst the Flemish weavers in England (a Peter de Gotham, listed on this page, ‘Index of names and places: A – K’, Calendar of the plea and memoranda rolls of the city of London: volume 2: 1364-1381 (1929), pp. 321-340. Date accessed: 17 October 2014.).
If Gothams had been lurking in East Kent or nearby from the time surnames first became established it is possible they came from the manor of Gotham in Sussex. This name may have too recent an origin, though.
An inland move to the Shropshire / Staffordshire area seems less likely. I have come across no evidence of gentry Gothams who would be more likely to move this distance. The nearest place with the name Gotham is the village in Nottinghamshire, to me it appears near enough to be a real possibility, but not near enough to suggest strongly that it is the origin (53 miles on today’s roads).
Whether or not Gotham in Nottinghamshire has given its name to any living Go(a)thams, it seems clear that ‘de Gotham’, referring to it, was a byname and possibly a surname at one time. ‘de’ and the English equivalent ‘atte’ were widely used at one time, but generally dropped or incorporated into the name (e.g. Atwood) centuries ago, but during the period when giving surnames as middle Christian names was popular ‘de Gotham’ made had a surprising revival. A portrait and potted biography of the recepient, Hubert de Gotham Parker-Jervis can be seen on this web page. (There is also a portrait of his wife). I have not yet attempted to find out why Hubert’s parents gave him this middle name, whether they did believe one of them was descended from an early de Gotham.
Origins of emigrants
I know of a few Kent Goathams who emigrated to Australia or New Zealand, some of whom subsequently moved to the other, and from these there are now Goathams in both countries.
Whilst it seems probable there are now a few Gothams in Australia I am not sure if the name is set to continue there.
Robert Gotham, a ‘Devon Gotham’ (born after the family had strayed to the London area) and a Midlands Gotham, Mary, were transported to Australia early in the C19th, but neither appear to have left descendants. One of Robert’s brothers later chose to emigrate with his wife but I have found no evidence of children from the marriage, in England or Australia.
A brother and sister, Thomas and Ann, of the ‘Devon Gothams’ (Liverpool sub-group) emigrated in the middle of the C19th, both were married but only Ann had children so there are no resulting Gothams in Australia now.
Stanley, a ‘Devon Gotham’ (Plymouth sub-group) had emigrated by 1913 and more have emigrated later in the C20th, under the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme and the Special Passage Assistance Programme. First to emigrate in this way were two families with women born Gotham but who had acquired other names on marriage, one from the ‘Devon Gothams’ Stoke on Trent sub-group, the other whose link is unknown; subsequently two men, one from the Midlands group, the other from the ‘Devon Gothams’ Stoke on Trent sub-group, who had had a family in England but it is not clear that they also emigrated.
I’m not sure if there are any Gothams likely to carry on the name in Australia from any of these – more investigation needed.
A John Gotham settled in the US in the C18th, and there are now many Gothams over there who descend from him. Trees suggest various origins; I don’t believe anyone has any firm evidence. I think there is a strong case to be made for John being this John from the Kent group. It may be that most Gothams in the US descend from him but some clearly have other origins. It is possible similar names from other countries have been Anglicized to Gotham, and at least one dissimilar Russian name was changed to Gotham! It looks like the name Gotham has also a German surname, probably from a separate and coincidental start.
The Goathams who emigrated to the US now have no Goatham descendants there, with one exception, the descendants of my grandfather’s brother, William Frank Goatham. With both of his grandsons having only daughters the Goathams seem set to die out there again eventually.Last updated: 21 November, 2016