The Newbury Coat, Berkshire
The Berkshire town of Newbury is famous as the site of not one but two Civil War battles, home to the lengthy protests over the Greenham Common missiles, and for many years - though happily no longer - the site of one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in Britain. But it also has a jollier, and more sporting, claim-to-fame: The Newbury Coat.
Newbury had long been a major textile centre. The Cloth Hall, begun in 1626 as a textile works, is now part of West Berkshire Museum , and houses a display on the legendary coat, and raising sheep was one of the area's major agricultural activities too.
It appears that local worthy Sir John Throckmorton had his imagination, not to say his sporting spirit, fired by a conversation with local textile big-wig John Coxeter, owner of Greenham Mills. Coxeter had boasted he could take the wool coat from Sir John's back, reduce it to the wool content, and process it from wool to yarn to cloth to coat all within 24 hours.
The idea stuck in the baronet's mind. After a later conversation in which Coxeter confirmed his belief, backed by calculations, that he could go from shearing wool from sheep to a coat made of the cloth using that wool in less than the time from sunrise to sunset on an English summer's day, he decided in modern parlance to have a punt on it.
Throckmorton placed a bet backing Coxeter's boast, for the considerable sum of 1000 guineas, the task defined as having the finished coat - well-woven and made, a properly manufactured article - on his back as he sat down to dinner on June 25th (no fool he choosing that date) 1811.
Thus as dawn broke two sheep were sheered at Greenham Mills, and the race was on.
The wool was washed and processed into yarn, and that yarn woven on one of the mill's looms by Coxeter's son.
The raw cloth was then scoured, fulled, the stretch taken out by it being treated on a stenter, the cloth given texture and a finish by raising with teasels, dyed and fixed, the finished bale being ready by four in the afternoon. James White, a tailor, assisted by nine of his employees, then set about converting the cloth into a coat. White had measured Sir John as the earlier work went on, saving time.
The pattern was made, the cloth cut, all seams stitched, all buttons attached, and the finished article pressed and ready by just six twenty in the late afternoon.
Crowds had gathered to watch the event, and as news spread more and more came to witness the scene. Throckmorton of course won his bet, wearing the coat as he joined forty friends for dinner at eight.
Coxeter was no fool either, and made the most of his publicity, having the two sheep killed and roasted whole to feed the crowds in what had become a famous spectacle. He even threw in 120 gallons of free beer for good measure. Coxeter even more than Sir John has passed into legend for his part in the feat and the party afterwards.
Sometime later the Throckmorton family moved from Berkshire to Warwickshire , where the original coat is displayed at Coughton Court near Alcester . Newbury, however, has its own version of the coat, produced when the feat was repeated in 1991 - knocking a further hour off the record!
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