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Goatham / Gotham


About the study

As I expect is the reason for most one-name studies, I (Teresa Goatham) have started the Goatham / Gotham surname study as a result of researching my own family history. To some extent it was an interest from when I started tracing my family tree in about 1977; I was told all Goathams were related and was interested to find out if that was true and I could link them all up. (I was told we were all supposedly related by my Dad, who had no interest in genealogy but had been told by a relation, identity not remembered, in his (to then) 56 years, so if someone else had done some research leading to this conclusion there was no obvious way to find out who and where the fruits of it might be.

As I started to accumulate information which might have referred to Kent Goathams, but which turned out not to, and as it helped to have a picture of Go(a)thams elsewhere (mainly Devon) to see if I could work out where strays fitted in, in 2014 I decided to formally make a study of all the Go(a)thams (etc.) and registered it with the Guild. That means I have now deliberately gathered data on these other Gothams even where it is relatively recent and clearly does not refer to Kent Goathams.

Much more about this study can be found in a

Contributions and quality

I am happy to widen it to include the research of others - contributions from others are not only welcome but will be full acknowledged. I will, though, be trying to ensure that it is a quality study, and only include information either that is reliably sourced and / or well argued, or with suitable warnings. That said, if you wish to include data from here in your own family tree, or are just looking out of interest, please be aware there probably are mistakes. Full details of sources will be added to my tree, but sources often do not prove links.

Wherever I am aware of uncertainty I note it, but mostly before the introduction of censuses we have but one source of a link of parent to child: the child's baptism. When several people with the same name and of similar age lived near each other later in life it can be hard to be sure which was which. The precise parish they lived in and names they gave their children can be useful, but inevitably sometimes by chance the less likely is what happened. If I could work out the chance of being right and only added what I was 99% sure was accurate I could be wrong one in a hundred cases, and there are far more than one hundred links on my trees!


The majority of data I have so far relates to England, although I do have a little from other countries, probably including most of those no longer living from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. What is listed here relates to English records.

As you will see if you read what follows, I have yet to add source and record details for a lot of events on the trees on my website. Although adding all of them will take a fair amount of time in most cases I should be able to check the details for individual events quite easily so please do ask if there any particular events you are interested in.

Also please contact me if what follows suggest I may have data of interest to you that I have not yet added to my website.

Parish Register entries (baptisms, marriages and burials)

I have details of many PR entries, probably for most of the surviving English Parish Register entries. I have found many of these through using indexes; I have started browsing for missing entries but much more remains to be done. I have barely started viewing Bishop's Transcripts to fill in gaps in the registers.

Most events are on my tree; many source details and exact transcriptions to be added.

Census entries

I have most of these for the Kent Goatham surname, and many for other parts of the country - certainly enough to work out tree links.

Source details and transcripts not yet added to my tree in most cases, but I plan to add all eventually.

  • I have copies of the wills in the PCC collection with Go(a)tham testators, and a few others with Gotham beneficiaries.
  • I have copies of all the pre-1858 Kent wills with Goatham testators that I am aware of, and several others with Goatham beneficiaries.
  • Unfortunately whilst quite a few Devon Gothams left wills most were destroyed by enemy bombing in 1942.  I know of a few abstracts and inland revenue copies which I have yet to see.
  • I have copies of a few wills of Gothams elsewhere in England.

I have transcribed most of the above and hope to add to my website soon (where not already present).

Chancery Court records (and similar)

I have a copy of bills and answers for all of the Court of Chancery and of Star Chamber cases where a Goatham or Gotham is mentioned in an index. I also copies of a couple of sets of depositions for Court of Exchequer cases where a Gotham was a deponent, as listed in the Bernau index. I  have started transcribing these and will be adding to my website, but it will take some time. I have started looking for decrees and orders and other index entries relating to these cases, but most of this remains to be done.

Unfortunately not all names in these records are included in indexes, and with millions of documents clearly reading through all is out of the question. The indexes are being improved and more put online so I will be repeating my searches from time to time. In addition, in time I may look at some likely documents - based on place, date and the names of close relations, but as some index entries only have a county, the surnames of first plaintiff and defendant, and a date range I am not likley to find all.

Mariners' Records

References to merchant and Royal navy sailors, to fishermen and boatmen and to ship owners are extensive and come in many different guises. I have copies or details of some records relating to Go(a)thams, with a good number of other references to follow up. These include references found Keith Matthews name file for Gotham. Most if not all of the 'following up' involves visits to archives, and looking at the archives some references can be quite time consuming to find (e.g. the entry in bundle of merchant ship muster rolls where a reference has no folio number).

If anyone would like to help with this I would be pleased to hear from them.


I have started looking for these in Kent and in Devon, beyong the close family ones I know of, and have photos / records of inscriptions of a few (some not yet added to my website). I also know of a few Liverpool ones through websites. I am sure there are more to be found - I would be grateful for details / photos that I can add to the person / people on a tree. I suspect most will be in Staffordshire, not an area convenient for me to do much searching in.

I had hoped to search for more Devon gravestones on a recent holiday in Devon (May 2015), but the weather and poor evening light were against me. 

Other Records

I have copies of a variety of other records relating to Go(a)thams, some with details on my website, most not yet.They date from the C16th to the C20th century, and include work and school records, indentures for property leases, court roll entries.

I also have a 'to do' list of many more records to see.

Variant names

Both the 'main' spellings, as well as others, were used in Devon and Kent; one of the more common other spellings found in both counties at one time was Goteham. In the Midlands Gottam was a common spelling, but when the 'h' was omitted in Devon and Kent the spelling was more often 'Gotam'.

(Gottam is also an Indian surname; it appears to be from an Indian deity, not a variant of Go(a)tham from an English settler in that country and so is not part of this study)

When spellings became standardized, mostly in the C19th, Goatham became the spelling for the Kentish Goathams, Gotham for those in Devon and the Midlands. Where did this leave a family from Devon who had moved to Deptford in Kent (well west of the Kent 'Goatham' territory?). As befits their involvement with both counties they used the two spellings throughout the C19th! 

I am not sure if the name Gotha from Cornwall or Gatham from Topsham (Devon) are really variants of the same name, though I think both sometimes used Gotham. More about this to be added to my website in time.

Name origin

Clearaly a locative surname, but from where? The name could have more than one origin, and at least one place name may well come from the surname.

There are several possible places both in England and on the Continent. Gotham in Nottinghamshire is the most well known, but there are a couple of places in Devon, and it seems almost certain that the Devon Gothams originate from one of these, probably all from Gotham in Abbotskerswell parish. I think Kent had stronger links with the low countries than with Nottinghamshire, and probably also with places along the south coast. So did they (we) have Devon origins, or were we once van Gothems, or maybe from Gotham manor in the neighbouring county of Sussex? From my reading and investigations so far I think a Devon origin for the Kent Goathams most likely, due to the earliest known locations of those with the surname in both counties, i.e. near the coast. The Devon Gothams were concentrated around the Teign estuary, from where it is known that vessels large enough to travel significant distances around the coast could be harboured, and where many, including some Gothams, were mariners and fishermen.    

And the Shropshire / Staffordshire origin? - I have no idea, but they are closer to the Nottinghamshire village and also a Gotham in Derbyshire, either of which could be the origin. I have noticed some similar sounding names in that area; I do wonder if the name arose as a variation of a name more common in the area. 

I have found it is true that all present-day Goathams are related (i.e. those of us who spell our name with 2 'a's, but I don't know if Goathams are related to Gothams, or even if all Gothams are related. 

There is also more than one possible meaning, deriving from goats or Goths, though older spellings suggest the name was pronounced as per the animal, not the human tribe!

Historical Occurrences

No Go(a)thams are believed to have achieved fame of any sort. Amongst those for whom records survive of criminal activities, perhaps the most interesting is one Edward Goatham of Ramsgate was given a large fine for selling smuggled liquor. I suspect a much wider involvement of Goathams in smuggling. Co-incidentally, or maybe not, given the common coastal link, it seems at least one Gotham in Devon was also a smuggler.

A more heroic figure is Ashley Goatham, a victim of the 1879 Anglo Zulu War. While 'googling' him will bring up many results, it is the letters he sent to his family that have attracted notice rather than any particular part played in the war. Their eloquence disguises his humble origins; clearly he was an intelligent chap.

Perhaps as interesting is finding how individual Go(a)thams lives were affected by events that must have touched all of our families: by plague, the Reformation, the Civil War as well as C18th and C20th wars, attempting tax evasion c.1600, and last but by no means least disputing inheritance.

Distribution of the name

 While the name 'de Gotham' can be found in the East Midlands in early records, some at least almost certainly referring to the Nottinghamshire village, it is not yet clear to me if the surname Gotham existed in the East Midlands at one time, or if it was only ever a by-name.

Either way, by the Early Modern period there appear to have been three main areas where the surname Goatham / Gotham / Goteham / Gottam was found: Devon, Kent and Shropshire / Staffordshire.  So far, I am aware of the name found in Devon records back to the C13th,  in Kent from the early C16th and in Staffordshire / Shropshire from the early C17th. Given the very small numbers it is quite possible that the name was in Kent much earlier, but records have not survived or I have not so far discovered them. The same applies to Staffordshire / Shropshire, especially as I have yet to consult any early indexes for this area. 

Prior to the C19th the name seems to have been most common in Devon, followed by Kent, then the Midlands. In the C19th this changed. Numbers in Devon declined, due to a combination of lines dying or daughtering out and the higher than average rates of migration from the county (both internally in the UK  and externally i.e. overseas). In Kent the Goathams had mostly lived in unhealthy areas in the North and East of the county, where malaria seriously reduced life expectancy. A move to Bredgar by 2 brothers in the late C18th was followed by numbers increasing rapidly, and all bearing the Goatham version of the name now descend from one or other of those brothers. In the Midlands industrialisation in the late C18th was accompanied by Gottams becoming Gothams in Stoke-on-Trent, where  the small long-standing population was joined by an emigrant from Devon who proceeded to have a large family and a significant effect on numbers there. A brother of this incomer to Staffordshire moved further north, to Liverpool, and increased the numbers there, although the first Gotham event I know of in that city was 1703. It seems several mariner Gothams from Devon found their way to Liverpool, although only one has left 'Gotham' descendants.

At present I know little about the distribution of Go(a)thams overseas.

A few Goathams have emigrated to various parts of the world though in a number of instances the name has not survived. In addition, the afore mentioned Ashley left a family in South Africa. Several times a Goatham has emigrated to the US, but only Goatham descendants of one of these survive, and that line looks set to 'daughter out' eventually. There are now many more Gothams in the US than in England, but I have not yet started looked seriously at the distribution of Gothams in North America. Many, though certainly not all, of these appear to descend from one chap. The varied origins suggested by different researchers points to noone really knowing.

A Goatham from a family orginating from Devon was transported to Australia but appears to have left no descendants. Others with the names Gotham and Goatham have chosen to settle in Australasia. The giving of family (or occasionally other) surnames as a second Christian name, found from the C18th century onwards, but particularly popular in the C19th has resulted in a number of people having the middle name Gotham or Goatham. I am including these people in my study. A Potter family who emigrated to Australia was particularly found of using Gotham as a middle name, and one branch eventually combined the names to form the surname Gotham-Potter. (I suspect these descend from a Potter - Gotham marriage in Teignmouth, Devon in 1824 but have not yet confirmed this).


Page last updated: 5 June 2015