Kettering in Northamptonshire is sometimes called The Town That Gotch Built. The Gotch family were prominent in the town for 150 years, but in many ways my 3x great grandmother’s cousin Mary Anne Davis married the Gotch who made the most.
John Cooper Gotch was the only surviving child of thirteen of Thomas Henry Gotch, a Leicestershire farmer who brought the family to Kettering and started making boots there. Thomas Gotch was a deacon of his local Baptist chapel in Kettering and influential in the founding of the Baptist Missionary Society in October 1792. His financial support of its early missionaries developed into a fully fledged banking operation, which was grown when John Gotch took over the running of both the financial and footwear operations. (John in turn handed them on to two of his sons, who – initially at least – made a bit of a hash of things. But that’s a story for another time.)
Gotch boots were originally made as piecework in the homes of the bootmakers – this factory in the centre of Kettering was designed later in the nineteenth century by John Cooper Gotch’s grandson, renowned architect John Alfred Gotch (1852-1942) – another reason why Kettering is The Town That Gotch Built
With John at the helm things went from strength to strength. The bootmaking factory employed 500 people at its height and the bank had added an insurance operation for the benefit of missionaries for whom such earthly protection could be hard to find. At the time of his death the Gotch assets extended beyond the firm’s core activities to a tannery and a brewery.
The bank was at first a partnership, Keep, Gotch & Cobb, only later known as Gotch & Sons. In 1812, when it was still called Keep & Gotch’s Bank, it had the embarrassing experience of being broken into without knowing it. A gang led by a local ne’er-do-well called Huffey White entered the premises of the Kettering bank so easily and with so little trace that Messrs Keep and Gotch were completely unaware that Huffey had been there at all. It was only some time later that it came to light; when White was arrested for another burglary, one of his accomplices turned king’s evidence and confessed to the earlier crime.
Even then, Gotch and Keep were incredulous – surely such a thing was not possible without their knowledge? Only when the informant recited information about accounts and balances which he could only have known by reading ledgers kept in the bank did the owners accept the truth of the matter.
An 18th century iron chest used by the Bank of Scotland;
and a wrought iron chest from the 1820s,
this one made by James Gray of Edinburgh.
Safes in the modern sense began to appear in the 1830s and 1840s.
Apart from their tidiness as burglars, another reason for their invisibility was that they didn’t take anything. As they were searching the premises for loot, the gang came across a big old iron chest which they couldn’t open. Rather naively, they imagined that it must contain gold, in the manner of a pirate’s treasure chest; but with a certain criminal logic they decided that, since they had broken in so easily this time, they would slip away leaving everything as they had found it, and come back again another time with a selection of suitable keys.
It was a good plan in essence, and might well have worked had Huffey White not soon afterwards been fingered by around forty witnesses for the theft of money and papers from the strongbox of the Leeds-London mail coach. White and his accomplice Richard Kendall were arrested, despite their violent resistance, in a house cellar in Liverpool the following April. They were to be tried by Judge Baron Thomson, who two months earlier, in January 1813, sent 17 Luddites to the gallows with the no-nonsense remarks, “It is of infinite importance to society that no mercy should be shown to you. It is important that your sentence should be speedily carried out and it is but right to tell you that you have but a short time to remain in this world. I trust not only those who now hear me but all without these walls to whom the tiding of your fall may come, will be warned of your fate.”
White and Kendall cannot have held out much hope for their own future.For this crime there was no turning king’s evidence. They were found convincingly guilty by the jury, and sentenced by the learned judge to death by hanging. Which rather put an end to any plans to return to Gotch’s bank for another crack.
A one-pound banknote
issued by John Keep, John C. Gotch & Co in the 1810s