WINCHCOMBE, alias SMALLWOOD, John (1488/89-1557), of Newbury, Berks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 1488/89, 1st s. of John Smallwood alias Winchcombe of Newbury, prob. by 2nd w. Joan. m. (1) Jane or Elizabeth; (2) Christian; 3s. inc. John Winchcombe 1 da. suc. fa. 15 Feb. 1520.2

Offices Held

J.p. Berks. 1541-?47; commr. benevolence 1544/45, relief 1550, ?to execute proclamation for victuals 1551, ?gaol delivery, Oxford castle 1553.3


John Winchcombe’s father was the renowned ‘Jack of Newbury’, whom Fuller called ‘the most considerable clothier (without fancy and fiction) England ever beheld’, and who described himself in his will of 1520 as John Smallwood the elder alias John Winchcombe. He probably originated from Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, where the name Smallwood appears in the parish registers. According to Thomas Deloney, of whose Pleasant History of John Winchcombe he is the hero, ‘Jack of Newbury’ came into a flourishing business by marrying his master’s widow, gave employment to 1,054 persons, and having led a contingent of 150 to the battle of Flodden and entertained Henry VIII at his house, headed a deputation of clothiers to the same King.4

If stories of the father are more impressive, the achievements of the son are better documented and show the esteem in which the family’s products were held. In 1539 Cromwell ordered 1,000 pieces of kerseys from Winchcombe, while in 1544 Stephen Vaughan wrote to the Council that ‘if your honours send hither Winchcombe’s kerseys they will, with great gains, make great heaps of money’. Between 1538 and 1544, at least, they were in great demand in Antwerp and the Levant and were used as the standard by which the quality of other kerseys was assessed. In both 1538 and 1539 rumours of a possible truce with the Turks created such demands for Winchcombe’s kerseys that merchants agreed to sell them only on condition that the customer purchased a stipulated proportion of other kerseys; such shortages were evidently not due to low production for of 2,106 kersey cloths sent by land to Morando in Ancona between January 1539 and October 1544, 640 were Winchcombe’s. In 1547 William Damsell at Antwerp came to the notable conclusion that although there was ‘wondrous little profit to be had presently in cloths or kerseys, it shall be best to have hither 1,000 of Winchcombe’s kerseys’. The status of Winchcombe among clothiers is evident from his success in 1541, with others unnamed, in securing the suspension of the Act of 1536 (27 Hen. VIII, c.12) regulating the manufacture of woollen cloth.5

The only lands mentioned by Winchcombe’s father in his will were those which he held of the ‘college of Windsor’, and since there is no evidence of an inquisition post mortem, it may be that Thomas Deloney was largely correct in assuming that his lands were his looms and his only rents those from the backs of sheep. The son, however, invested heavily in land. In 1540 he bought the manors of Bucklebury and Thatcham and other property formerly of Reading abbey from the crown for £2,620; in 1542 he obtained a lease of Farnborough manor, Berkshire, and six years later he purchased further Berkshire lands for £1,068. In February 1548 he appointed feoffees, including Edmund Plowden, to hold some of these lands to the eventual use of his heirs and in 1555 he further settled the manors of Bucklebury and Thatcham on his eldest son. In 1536 Winchcombe had been one of those to whom it was proposed to write for aid against the rebels in the north, but it was probably his acquisition of land that conferred on him the normal duties of a gentleman: he was selected for Anne of Cleves’s train at her reception in 1540, appointed to the commission of the peace in 1541, and listed to supply men for the armies in the Netherlands in 1543 and France in 1544. His estate was given official recognition when in October 1549 he was granted a coat of arms. It was undoubtedly this elevation which occasioned the painting of his portrait, once thought to be of his father.6

Winchcombe is first known to have been returned to Parliament in 1545, but he may have sat in one or more of the earlier Parliaments of the reign for which no returns survive. (Deloney’s mention of his father as Member for Newbury may be dismissed as fictional, if for no other reason than that Newbury was not a parliamentary borough.) Bedwyn, for which he was returned with John Seymour I in 1545, lay in the heart of Edward Seymour’s territory in Wiltshire; the future Protector is said to have lodged at Winchcombe’s house in 1537, and the two men must have been well known to each other. Seymour influence probably secured his return for Cricklade in 1547 when Admiral Seymour held the manor in right of his wife Catherine Parr, but he may also have owed something to the patronage of Sir John Brydges, as did his fellow-Member John Walshe. Winchcombe had witnessed the will of his neighbour Henry Brydges in 1538 and his son was to be returned to two Marian Parliaments for Ludgershall, a borough then controlled by (Sir) Richard Brydges. In the absence of nearly all the returns for Wiltshire to the Parliament of March 1553 it is not known whether Winchcombe sat again; his son was returned to that Parliament for Reading, but in view of the father’s advancing age, and perhaps his connexion with the Seymours, it is unlikely that he did so.7

Whereas the son was a Protestant, the father seems on the evidence of his will to have been at least conservative in religion, which makes it more likely that it was the father who was granted a pension of £10 a year by Mary for ‘service at Framlingham’, and was both commissioner of gaol delivery at Oxford castle in 1553 and a visitor at the trial of Julins Palmer at Newbury in 1556. If Foxe’s report of Palmer’s trial is accurate Winchcombe’s part virtually amounted to the recommendation ‘take pity on thy golden years, and pleasant flowers of lusty youth, before it is too late’.8

Winchcombe died on 2 Dec. 1557, perhaps a victim of the epidemic: he had made a will on that day which was proved on 23 May 1558. He made ample provision for his second wife and the bequests of movables to her and to other members of his family show him to have been a man of considerable wealth. He left £50 against any debts he might have, £800 in cash to the members of his family and £50 to be distributed among the poor. For six years the residue of the sum put aside for his obit masses was to be ‘delivered unto and for the exhibition of John Deale’s two sons in Oxford’. Half of any remaining goods was to go to his heir John, the other half to be divided between his younger sons Thomas and Henry. Winchcombe was buried in Newbury church on 8 Dec. 1557 and at the inquisition taken in 1558 the annual value of his lands was given as £158.9

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: R. L. Davids


  • 1. Hatfield 207 where his name is altered from ‘Warmecombe’.
  • 2. Aged 61 in 1550 according to inscription on portrait, Exhibition of House of Tudor, annoted by H. A. Grueber, p. 65. PCC 27 Ayloffe, 26 Noodes; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvii), 233; S. Barfield, Thatcham, ii. 304; DNB.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, xvi, xviii, xx; CPR, 1547-8, p. 81; 1550-3, p. 142; 1553, p. 351; 1553-4, p. 34.
  • 4. Ashmole, Berks. iii. 300; Fuller, Worthies, i. 137; VCH Berks. iv. 149; PCC 27 Ayloffe; W. Money, Newbury, 192; Popular Hist. Newbury, 25; T. Deloney, Pleasant Hist. John Winchcombe (Everyman 1929), 19, 23-27, 50-51.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xiv, xvi, xix; VCH Berks. iv. 138; Econ. Hist. Rev. vii. 57-62; J. Burnley, Wool and Woolcombing, 69; PPC, vii. 156.
  • 6. PCC 27 Ayloffe; Deloney, 28; LP Hen. VIII, xi, xiv, xv, xvii-xix, xxi; CPR, 1548-9, pp. 89, 90; Barfield, ii. 273-4, 300-2, 322-3; Vis. Berks. 232; VCH Berks. iii. 292; Lysons, Magna Britannia, i(2), 320.
  • 7. Deloney, 53, 68; Money, Popular Hist. Newbury, 27; PCC 24 Dyngeley; C142/124/191.
  • 8. PCC 26 Noodes; Lansd. 156(28), f. 94; CPR, 1553-4, p. 34; Foxe, Acts and Mons. viii, 214.
  • 9. C142/111/10; PCC 26 Noodes; Money, Newbury, 211; Popular Hist. Newbury, 148.