Kendrick was born in Reading, Berkshire, possibly in Minster Street, in 1573 and educated at Reading School and St John's College, Oxford. After University, he moved to London where he amassed a fortune in trade with the Netherlands.
When Kendrick died on 30 December 1624, he left £12,500 to the towns of Reading and Newbury to provide employment and education for the poor. A house of industry, or workhouse, was erected in Minster Street, Reading with this money and called The Oracle as a compliment to Kendrick's vision; that name was revived for the Oracle shopping mall which now occupies the site.
Although the funds left by Kendrick were mismanaged, sufficient remained for the founding of two schools: Kendrick Boys School in 1875 and Kendrick Girls School in 1877. In 1915, Kendrick Boys School was taken over by Reading School, which now has a building named the John Kendrick Building. An oil painting of John Kendrick, rescued from the Oracle workhouse, hangs in the hall of Kendrick Girls School. The caption reads "John Kendrick, founder of this workhouse".