The Goltrip family of Histon and Littleport

The Goltrip family appear in my maternal family tree, with their most recent ancestral appearance being in the fenland village of Littleport, just a few miles north of Ely in Cambridgeshire, England during the early 19th century.

Gawthrop at Histon

The earliest ancestor that I have identified in records for this surname was my 7x Great Grandfather Richard Gawthrop (the most common version of the surname at that time), who first appears in August 1728 when he marries widow Mary Gigner (formerly Mary Edwards) at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge.

It is unclear where Richard originates, but in his Will of 1744, he appears to have considerable knowledge of the inhabitants of Low Catton in Yorkshire, which perhaps hints that he was a Yorkshireman before heading south to Cambridgeshire with some of his relatives.

Richard and Mary become parents within a year of marriage, and the youngest of their six children was my 6x Great Grandfather, William Goltrip, born in 1742.

The move towards Littleport

It seems to be William that brought my branch of the Goltrip family close to Littleport, as he is documented at the parish church at Mepal, when he marries Ann Langford in 1768.

The family set up home at neighbouring village of Witcham and are known to have four children, including my 5x Great Grandfather, John Goltrip.

It was John who brought the Goltrip surname into Littleport in 1798, the year after his father's death. Here, he is documented in the parish register of St. George's Church on 16th October, when he married Elizabeth Padget.

The couple would go on to have six children, but after their fifth child, John found himself in trouble with the law.

Criminal ancestors

My Goltrip family tree provides me with two criminal relatives, both with different life-changing outcomes.

From burglary to Baltimore

In 1763, Richard and Mary's son Richard Gawthrop was found by the Assize Court of Cambridge guilty of breaking into and stealing five pounds and two shillings from the house of Thomas Ives. His punishment was transportation to the American penal colonies for a period of 7 years.

This saw him leave behind his wife Sarah Archer, who had previously been his late-brother's wife, and their children. By 1767 she had re-married, presumably on dessertion grounds.

When Richard was freed in 1770, he married again, this time to Mary Brady, and they raised a family reputed to be of ten children. He died aged 60 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

A spoonful of trouble at Littleport

Several years later in 1816, England was suffering from poor harvests, soaring food prices, and left tired and broken from the Napoleonic War, the mood was turbulent in the fenland. In Littleport and Ely, groups of people rioted in desperation of the poverty they faced. This led to vandalism, physical violence, theft, criminal damage, and even death, as the poorest took issue with those of status.

My 5x Great Grandfather, 42 year old John Goltrip was one of those who rioted, but he was apprehended after allegations were made that he stole two silver spoons during the riots.

He was taken to Ely and imprisoned in the gaol (now Ely Museum), and stood trial on 17th June 1816 at Ely:

'John Gaultrip was then charged with stealing two silver spoons at the same time and place, and as there was a great contradiction in the evidence, the Jury returned a verdict of not guilty.'

Essentially, the claims of the Rev. J. Vatchell vs those of Vatchell's servant Christopher Crabb differed, meaning that the correct number of spoons, and whether they were silver, could not be determined by the court. Another witness placed John elsewhere in Littleport at the time. The case collapsed and John was freed.

A reconstruction of prisoner conditions inside a cell Ely Old Gaol.
Above: A reconstruction showing the conditions prisoners faced inside the cells at Ely Old Gaol. Photo: Andrew Martin.

Now out of trouble, John returned to his family, and in 1818 became a father for the final time - to my 4x Great Grandmother, Hannah Goltrip. Had John have suffered the same fate as some of his fellow prisoners, then he may have been hanged at Ely, or have been transported to Australia, and Hannah would never have existed.

Hannah went on to marry my 4x Great Grandfather William Barber in 1836 at Littleport, therefore ending my Goltrip surname run, although the name did live on with the birth of their son Galtrip Barber in 1839.

Goltrip family connections

My research has found that the surname has connections to other surnames in my ancestry.

Variants of the Goltrip surname

The Goltrip surname has quite a few variants that easily interchange even within the same parish register. This is probably due to low literacy levels, strong fenland accents, or perfunctory vicars, or some kind of combination of all three. The most common variants that I have observed have been:

  • Galterup
  • Galtrip
  • Gaulthirpe
  • Gaultrip
  • Gawthrop
  • Gawthroup
  • Golthrope
  • Goltriss
  • Gotrop

I'm sure that there are many others, each potentially spawning what appears to be an entirely new surname. The surname is widely discussed in genealogy forums.

It might even be possible, that this surname is a derivation from my Gothard family.