Ebenezer Place

Thomas Gotch founded his leather and footwear business in Kettering in 1778. In 1793 he acquired Chesham House in Lower Street, where he established a shoe warehouse, currier’s shop and tan yards and built up an increasingly prosperous business. By the middle of the nineteenth century the Gotches had the monopoly of boot and shoe manufacture in the town and even possessed their own bank. However, in 1857 the bank collapsed into bankruptcy after falling victim to fraud, resulting in the sale of Chesham House and all the family’s properties and assets. Among the many ‘new’ masters who moved to fill the vacuum created in the footwear industry was John Bryan, the son of a silk weaver and former apprentice and journeyman of John Cooper Gotch, son of Thomas. In 1869 he entered partnership with William Meadows, a Kettering grocer and chemist, and John Jenkinson.

In the 1820’s Jenkinson’s father, a charismatic preacher, Temperance advocate, parish politician and Chartist had established Ebenezer Calvinistic Baptist Chapel in Ebenezer Place. Following his move to Oakham Baptist Chapel in 1849 the building became obsolete and was converted into a factory by his son and business partners. The firm came into the market at a fortunate time, the onset of the Franco-Prussian War stimulating demand for army boots, and it’s reported that they made 237,000 boots in the period between 1869 and 1874.

The firm’s motto, inscribed in a stone which once adorned the factory wall, reflected the strong religious convictions of its founders: ‘Nisi Dominus Frustra translated as Unless God be with us, all will be in vain’.

Like JT Stockburn, Thomas Bird and other Victorian entrepreneurs Meadows and Bryan took advantage of land tenure reforms achieved by the Midland Railway’s agent, solicitor William Garrard. Garrard acted for developers by contesting the old copyhold system and obtaining freehold tenure enabling them to put their profits into real estate, purchasing available land and selling it off for building. In 1876, the pair purchased a large estate of almost 72 acres east of Rockingham Road.

As the area was developed, they established the Nelson Works on one of their plots in Nelson Street, replacing the factory in Ebenezer Place. Bryan later developed the West End Estate to the west of Lower Street, relocating the Nelson Works to the appropriately named Trafalgar Road.

On his death in 1910, at the age of 76, John Bryan was described in his obituary as a ‘Captain of Industry’. Boot and shoe manufacturer, land developer, Local Board member, non-conformist and temperance activist, he was also, along with Charles Wicksteed, a significant contributor to the establishment of the Rockingham Road Pleasure Park. The handsome iron drinking fountain that he donated in 1894 stood in its grounds until 1972. It was then deemed to be unsafe and was taken down and stored until its eventual restoration and relocation to the Horsemarket, just a short distance from Ebenezer Place, in 1985.

Researched by Ian Addis

error: Content is protected