Winchcombe, John (DNB00)

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WINCHCOMBE, alias Smalwoode, JOHN (d. 1520), clothier, popularly known as Jack of Newbury, describes himself in his will as 'John Smalewoode the elder, alias John Wynchcombe, of the parishe of Seynt Nicholas in Newberry.' He is said by Herbert to have been descended from a Simon de Winchcombe, a rich draper of Candlewyk Street, London, who was sheriff of London in 1379 (Livery Companies, i. 394, 401; Mon. Franciscana, ii. 157). He was, however, associated with Newbury from his earliest years, was there apprenticed to a clothier, and subsequently acquired great wealth through his successful pursuit of that trade. The chapbook stories of his having led 100 or 250 men, equipped at his own expense, to the battle of Flodden Field; of his having entertained Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon and refused a knighthood; of the doings of William Sommers [q.v.] and other courtiers at Winchcombe's house, are unsupported by contemporary evidence, and are probably as apocryphal as the legends which gathered round Richard Whittington [q. v.] There is, however, no doubt that Winchcombe was a pioneer of the clothing manufacture, and possibly he was, as Fuller states, the 'most considerable clothier England ever beheld.' He is said to have kept five hundred men at work, and 'Winchcombe's kerseys' were long considered the finest of their kind (Burnley, Hist. of Wool and Wool-combing, p. 69). He is said in an epitaph in Newbury parish church, for the 'edification' of which he left a large bequest, to have died on 15 Feb. 1519–[20]. He was buried in the chancel of the church with his first wife, Alice, and a brass effigy with inscription is fixed to the east wall of the north aisle. He was survived by his second wife, Joan, and apparently an only son. His will, dated 4 Jan., was proved on 24 March 1519–[20] (Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 6033, f. 46; History of Newbury, 1839, p. 78).

His son, John Winchcombe (1489?–1565?), carried on his father's trade, but took more part in politics. In October 1536 he was one of those to whom letters were addressed for aid in view of the northern rebellions. In February 1538–9 Miles Coverdale [q. v.], when at Newbury, employed him as a means of communication with Cromwell, who in the same month gave Winchcombe an order for a thousand kerseys (Coverdale, Remains, Parker Soc. pp. 500, 502; Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, xiv. i. 396). In December following he was one of the ‘squires’ appointed to receive Anne of Cleves, and on 12 Feb. 1539–40 he was granted Bucklebury and Thatcham, besides some lands in Reading, all previously the property of St. Mary's Abbey there; on 4 Feb. 1540–1 he was placed on the commission of the peace for Berkshire. In March 1541 he was leader of a movement among clothiers to protest against the provisions of the statute of 1535 dealing with the manufacture of cloth (27 Henry VIII, c. 12). The council stayed the execution of the statute, and directed Sir Thomas Gresham and others who had procured it to prepare for its defence (Nicolas, Acts P. C. vii. 156; Letters and Papers, xvi. 625). On 20 Jan. 1544–5 ‘John Winchcombe, gent., of Newbury,’ was returned to parliament for West Bedwin, Wiltshire. In 1549 he was granted a coat of arms, and on 8 Feb. 1552–3 was returned to parliament for Reading. Three portraits of the younger John Winchcombe, all dated 1550, were exhibited at the Tudor Exhibition in 1887. An original portrait, erroneously ascribed to Holbein, belongs to Mrs. Webley Parry, a copy to Mrs. Dent of Sudeley, and another original portrait to Mr. Walter Money (Cat. Tudor Exhib. Nos. 448, 201, 218).

It was probably his son who, as ‘John Winchcombe, jun.,’ represented Ludgershall in 1553–4 and 1555 with Dr. John Story [q. v.], was directed in the latter year to maintain order at Reading fair (Acts P. C. 1554–6, p. 163), and in Elizabeth's reign was suggested by Parker as a commissioner in Berkshire to prevent the scarcity of corn (Strype, Parker, iii. 121). His descendant, Sir Henry Winchcombe, was created a baronet in 1661, and died in 1667, leaving a son Henry, on whose death in 1703 the baronetcy became extinct. The estates passed to his eldest daughter, Frances, who was married in 1700 to Henry St. John, the great viscount Bolingbroke [q. v.]

The cult of the legendary ‘Jack of Newbury’ began before that of Whittington. Wood mentions (Addit. MS. 6033, f. 46 b) having bought from a pedlar in Warwickshire the ‘Life and Ghests of Jack of Newbury’ printed in black letter, of which no copy now appears to be extant. Late in the sixteenth century Thomas Deloney [q. v.] published his ‘Pleasant History of John Winchcomb, in his younger yeares called Jacke of Newberie, the famous and worthy clothier of England.’ The earliest edition extant appears to be the eighth, published in 1630; a copy in the Douce collection in the Bodleian Library contains a note by Douce to the effect that the first edition was published about 1597, and on his flyleaf is ‘a sketch of Jack of Newbury's house from recollection, made by Flaxman for F. Douce.’ A ninth edition appeared in 1633 (London, 4to), a fourteenth about 1680, and a fifteenth about 1700 (both London, 4to). A shortened version of the story, ornamented with rough woodcuts and entitled ‘The History of Jack of Newbury,’ was published about 1750 (London, 12mo; another edit. London, 1775? 12mo), and another version, entitled ‘The History of Mr. J. W.,’ appeared at Newbury (1780? 8vo).

[Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, ed. Gairdner; Acts of the Privy Council, ed. Nicolas and Dasent; Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 3890; Official Returns of Members of Parliament; Deloney's and other Histories in Brit. Mus. Libr.; Fuller's Worthies, ed. 1811, i. 95; Berry's Berkshire Genealogies, p. 149; Ashmole's Antiquities of Berkshire, ii. 289, iii. 300; Lysons's Magna Britannia, 1806, i. 329; Hist. and Antiq. of Newbury, 1839, pp. 77–80; Burke's Extinct Baronetcies; Kirby's Winchester Scholars, p. 136; Ashley's Economic History, i. 229, 236, 255; Cunningham's Growth of English Industry and Commerce, 1896, i. 515, 523; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. viii. 304; authorities cited.]

A. F. P.