The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

A Wyncoll’s Tale

Let’s face it, every special collections library has at least a few mystery items in the vault that are quietly passed down over the decades from curator to curator (or cataloger to cataloger, or acquisitions librarian to acquisitions librarian). These items exist in a liminal space of low-level awareness and quietly dissipating institutional knowledge, awaiting the elusive day when they can be remembered and identified.

At the Folger, our expectations are generally pretty low when we open a nondescript folder or box from almost-forgotten land and try to interpret the handwritten breadcrumbs left by past colleagues. It was with some surprise and delight, then, when we started sorting through a small series of folders on current curator of manuscripts Heather Wolfe’s shelf in the vault, left behind by curator of manuscripts emerita Laetitia Yeandle, and found a Kodak box of color slides, some medieval manuscript binder’s waste in need of cataloging, some early 20th century correspondence… wait, what’s this thing?

Out of a four-flap white archival folder, we pulled an 18th century deed, trimmed on both sides and folded. An old callslip, dated 1965 and re-used as scrap paper for a label, noted that this item “came from large brown paper package of Folios in STC vault.” This fragmentary deed was stab-stitched around an old copy of The Winter’s Tale, but not just any old copy of The Winter’s Tale. We quickly established that it had been removed from a First Folio. On the first page of the play, an owner has inscribed: “Spring Wyncoll his Book feb:y ye 22 1727.”

Dated 1715, the recycled deed is part of a lease to one Henry Nash of various properties in the small town of Bures, located on the border of Suffolk and Essex. The properties were in the possession of Thomas Wyncoll and Roger Golding.

What quickly caught our attention (after realizing this was a First Folio fragment, of course!), was that the surname Wyncoll appears in both the text of the recycled deed binding from 1715 and in the ownership inscription from 1727 on the first page of the play. Not only do we have a stab-stitched binding of a First Folio fragment, but one that appears to have been bound by its owner with a not-particularly-old family deed, over a century after the First Folio’s publication. It is extraordinarily rare to find a manuscript recycled as a binding that actually belonged to the owner of the textblock it protects.

We know that people stab-stitched individual quarto copies of plays well into the 18th century (thanks, Aaron Pratt!), but we are not aware of any other stab-stitched individual plays removed from the First Folio. However, there is an earlier precedent: Frances Wolfreston’s copy of Jonson’s The diuell is an asse (London, 1631, part of Ben Jonson’s second Folio in 1640) was separately stab-stitched. Aaron Pratt suggests that this copy, now at Harry Ransom Center, may have been lent out as a reading copy.

Spring Wyncoll has written “The Winters tale No: 4″ in the same handwriting as the ownership inscription, hinting that this was part of a larger collection of individually-bound plays. For what purpose? Were they individually bound for household performance or as reading copies to be shared among friends? Why would a First Folio be disassembled a century after it was printed, when other more recent editions of The Winter’s Tale were available? Or was it already a fragment when Spring first encountered it?

Who was Spring Wyncoll?

Fortunately for us, the Wyncoll family has been studied in depth by their descendants and local historians. Local historian L.C. Sier published a small book with an extensive family tree and biographical essays in 1911, and Col. Charles E. Wyncoll expanded on this work with family lore and other resources in 1913. Later descendants have transformed these works into digital formats, and when we went looking for Spring Wyncoll, we were glad to find this web version, published by Charles Brewster in 2000.

Image of the “Twinstead Branch” of the Wyncoll family tree. From L.C. Sier, The Wyncolls of Suffolk and Essex, Essex Archaeological Society’s Transactions, 1910. Located at http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~cgb143/books/elder_pedigree.html, accessed February 20, 2020.

According to this family tree, despite the plethora of Spring Wyncolls in this branch of the family, there was no-one who was baptized as “Spring Wyncoll” who was alive in 1727. 1727 is our best guess, given that the third number in the year is formed the same way as the two numbers following February, suggesting that they could only be a 1 or a 2, for February 11, 1717 or February 22, 1727, although the last number of the year is also oddly formed, and could perhaps be a 4 or a 9. We decided on 1727 because this would allow for either Thomas Wyncoll III, who died in May of 1727 and may have used the nickname Spring, or one of his children, to have signed the document as “Spring.”

The Spring we initially thought fit most, who was baptized in Suffolk in June of 1715, is noted as dying in infancy on this family tree. However, through the Diocese of London records available on Ancestry.co.uk through the London Metropolitan Archives, City of London, we found a marriage allegation from 22 June 1736 in which one Spring Wyncoll, aged 22 and living in the parish neighborhood of St. Giles in the Fields, seeks a license for his marriage with a woman named Mary Broughton. We compared the signature on the marriage allegation, and it’s quite similar to the signature on our copy of The Winter’s Tale.

Detail of Marriage Allegation between Spring Wyncoll and Mary Broughton,  London Metropolitan Archives, City of London DL/A/D/004/MS10091/076 from the Diocese of London archives.
Detail of Spring Wyncoll’s signature as it appears on our fragmentary copy of Winter’s Tale, circa 1727

Is it possible that the family tree is wrong? Instead of dying in infancy, did Spring move to London? This Spring is definitely one of the “Springs” in this branch of the family. A court document (dated 1737) shows a legal suit between a Spring Wyncoll and his wife Mary (two of several defendants), and Penelope Wyncoll, widow of Thomas Wyncoll III (the father of the Spring baptized in 1715), and the parish register for St. George’s in Bloomsbury records the baptisms of several children born to Spring and Mary Wyncoll at St. George’s in Bloomsbury, a church next to St. Giles in the Fields in central London. Their children include a Thomas, a Penelope, and yes, another Spring. It certainly seems unlikely that another Spring Wyncoll, who would have been born at approximately the same time, would be unrelated to this family. Considering the use of family names for his children and the bridegroom’s age, the evidence that this reference is incorrect and that the Spring Wyncoll born in 1715 survived to sign his name to our copy of Winter’s Tale on his father’s old deed seems overwhelming.

Unfortunately, the problem with this attribution is that Spring’s brother, Thomas, is described in 1727 on a court roll as their father’s only son and heir. But who else could it be? As is often the case, further research was required.

A Family Feud

The Wyncoll family fortunes rose steadily throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and by 1700, the family manor, Twinstead, had generations of Wyncolls buried on its grounds. Other family properties came to include the manor of Netherhall, a farm called Ravensfield, and a smaller home called Butlers, located in Bures (Ravensfield and Butlers are named in the deed protecting The Winter’s Tale). The first Thomas Wyncoll (or the first one who matters to us, anyway), baptized in 1621 at the church in Bures, was a wealthy landowner who married the daughter of another member of the minor gentry, Mary Cooke. They had two surviving children: Mary and Isaac, born in 1653 and 1654. In 1658 Mary Cooke Wyncoll died, and roughly four years later, Thomas remarried. In 1663, Thomas and his new wife, Mary Spring, had a son, also named Thomas. Thomas II was followed by two other siblings, John and Catherine.

The elder Wyncoll children and their younger half-siblings did not get along. Isaac, in charge of erecting a monument to his father, left all mention of his stepmother and half-siblings out of an otherwise wordy and family-rich memorial. When he died in 1681, Isaac bequeathed all his property and money, including the Wyncoll manor of Twinstead, to his eldest nephew—the son of his sister Mary, who had married into the Golding family. His stepmother, Mary Spring Wyncoll, as well as his half-siblings Thomas II, Catherine, and John, were not named in his will at all. Around this time, Thomas II began going by his mother’s maiden name, “Spring.” More than a nickname, he adopted it to the point that it is the only name by which he is indicated on most legal documents, including his marriage settlement in 1683.

Thomas “Spring” Wyncoll (Thomas II) married Dorothy Umfreville; they named their eldest son Thomas (Thomas III) and their youngest son Spring. This Spring died as an infant in 1689, while Thomas Wyncoll III continued the naming traditions with his family as an adult; in 1715 he and his wife Penelope (neé Driver) named their eldest son “Spring.” Early 20th century descendants of the family assumed the Spring baptized in 1715 died as an infant, since Thomas III’s other son (Thomas IV), is referred to as Thomas and Penelope’s “only son” (filius unicus) on the court rolls a local manor in 1728. In this roll, Penelope mentions her 9-year-old son Thomas IV as the only son and heir as part of the process of claiming Wyncoll property following the death of her husband, Thomas III, earlier in 1727. Thomas Wyncoll III’s will was never proved, and does not survive. Family lore has it that his wife, Penelope, burned it in anger over the distribution of property. Although the early 20th century genealogical work refers to letters of administration granted to Penelope Driver Wyncoll that year by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, we have not yet been able to locate these documents.

It certainly seems possible that the Spring Wyncoll of St. Giles in the Fields, the father of children named Penelope, Thomas, and Spring, with a signature very similar to the one on our fragment, is the former owner of The Winter’s Tale. It is also possible that “Spring” was used by Thomas Wyncoll III as a nickname, after both his father’s habit and his deceased infant brother. As the Thomas Wyncoll named in the deed wrapping The Winter’s Tale fragment, he is as likely a former owner as his son, as he died in May of 1727. Or he could have passed his books to Spring shortly before his death.

Coda

In 1911, Henry and Emily Folger acquired this item for £10 from J & J Leighton, a long-established London antiquarian firm. Leighton had advertised this item in the fifth of a series of catalogs offering over 6,200 items from their stock. The description describes the play as “Evidently an acting copy,” although the evidence is far from evident to us, beyond a good number of ink splotches and unidentified stains. The description mangles Spring’s surname, dates the ownership inscription to 1739 (rather than our thought of 1727), and does not mention the familial connection between the deed’s Thomas Wyncoll and The Winter’s Tale owner.

Leighton, J. & J., Catalogue of Early Printed, and Other Interesting Books, Manuscripts and Fine Bindings. Part XV… London: 1911.

Spring Wyncoll’s copy of The Winter’s Tale presumably entered the mystery item category many years ago because it is both a manuscript and a printed item. Perhaps it ended up on the curator of manuscripts shelf because we wanted to describe the deed fragment before it was added to the collection. Or perhaps there was uncertainty about whether it should receive a manuscript call number and be stored with the manuscripts, or a print call number and be stored with the printed books. Now that it is back on our radar, and now that bibliographical control has advanced to a level where the item can be easily findable online as both a First Folio fragment and a lease of Thomas Wyncoll, it is no longer a mystery, and instead an opportunity to learn more about how the individual plays of the First Folio circulated in early modern England. We hope to have this (and our many other First Folio fragments) catalogued and assigned a call number soon. Check back here for updates!

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One Comment


  • That was a fascinating post!
    Regarding the splitting up of the folio, couldn’t it simply reflect Wyncoll’s reading practices? Folios are designed to look impressive (especially when they’re on display on a shelf), but as far as actual *reading* is concerned, they’re not particularly reader-friendly, because you have to handle a bulky, heavy volume all the time, so to read it, you either need extremely strong arms or a sturdy desk to support it. That basically turns it into a library book that can’t easily be used for any kind of ‘leisurely’ reading, e.g. reading while seated on a garden bench enjoying the weather, reading as a backdrop to a cup of tea or coffee (perhaps an explanation for those unidentified stains?), reading while travelling, or indeed a bed-time read. And perhaps that’s exactly how Spring Wyncoll liked to read.
    The thought of breaking up a folio with intact binding seems horrifying, of course, but if you were a reader rather than a collector and your great-grandfather’s bulky Shakespeare folio happened to have a broken spine anyway, owing to several generations of Wyncolls (including yourself) repeatedly battling with the inconvenient format, why not use it as an opportunity to have the plays rebound individually, so they’d be a bit more portable, like most 18th-century classics editions and could be read on the go?


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