Answers to Questions


W. B. MOSS, Hitchin, from 1861

May, 2010




Keith Daniels (beedan @t of Australia writes: My grandfather Sidney George Thomas Daniels worked as manager for W. B. Moss and Sons who I believe was/is a grocer. Sidney died (1932) while working for them in Buntingford. Moss's had stores throughout Hertfordshire and as well as the owners all store managers and many staff attended his funeral. In an effort to find out if any company staff records still exist I have searched the internet but have only found the odd photo of a Moss store. Various ancestry forums have turned up nothing. Do you have any info on this company or can you guide me to a site where I can find out more about them?

I am an ex Letchworth boy born 1946 and have been living in Australia since 1954. I thank you for the work you do on this site as it has given me an insight to a place I still call home.

First let me deal with the Moss business.

A incomplete survey of old trade directories and census returns shows that in 1861 15 year old William Benjamin Moss (born Stevenage) was an apprentice in a drapers shop in Hitchin Market Square, run by James Ross. Ten years later he was married and running a grocers and drapers shop in Bancroft, Hitchin. By 1878 he had move his business to (13) High Street, Hitchin and his description as "grocer and provision dealer" may indicate that it was already a retail and wholesale business. In 1881 he was living in the High Street with his family, two domestic servants, two assistant grocers and two apprentice grocers - suggesting a significant business. He already had a second shop in Nightingdale Road, Hitchin, because a family history web site records:

The wife of another Fairey was also accused of theft from a shop at Hitchin. In May 1878, Elizabeth, the wife of Arthur Fairey (son of John and Charlotte nee Watson) was convicted for stealing three shillings from W. B. Moss shop at Nightingale Road. She was sent to gaol for 14 days with hard labour.

This shop was mentioned in  1882 and later trade directories. He was still living in the High Street in 1891 where he is described as a tea dealer and provision merchant, while trade directories in 1894 describe him as a grocer.

There were significant changes by 1899 as revealed by a longer paid-for trade directory entry. William was no longer living over the shop in the High Street but had moved to Westbourne, Bedford Road, Hitchin. His head Office was in the High Street, with branches at Nightingale Road and Fenny Stratford. He is describes as merchant, grocer, tea packer & blending stores, wholesale provision warehouses & bacon curing factory at Portsmill, Hitchin. By 1906 an additional shop had been opened in Bancroft, Hitchin (see Picture). By 1908 the Business was William Moss & Sons while branch grocers shops had been set up in The Market Place, Baldock and Leys Road, Letchworth, Four years later he was trading as a limited company - W.  B. Moss & Sons Ltd. A grocers shop had been opened at Kimpton, an another by 1914 at High Street, Shefford, Bedfordshire. Shops in Buntingford and Royston are listed in 1926. The business was still in existence in 1937, with another branch grocer's shop at Welwyn.  

W. B. Moss & Sons shop in Bancroft

(formerly the Trooper Inn) from Valentine PC No 35175, photographed 1906

See Golden Square, Hitchin, circa 1890

There is a monument in Hitchin old graveyard which reads:

GEORGINA ELIZABETH MOSS / the beloved wife of / W. B. MOSS / Westbourne, Hitchin / who died Feb 20th 1920 / aged 72 years / also of the above named / WILLIAM BENJAMIN MOSS / a well known business man of this town and a Wesleyan local preacher for 65 years / who died Jan 26th 1927 / aged 83 years

The book Buntingford contains a picture, presumably taken during the 2nd World War, showing a tank passing Moss's Wine Stores in the High Street, Buntingford.

The company is not currently registered at Companies House and the only reference I have found post-war is in a planning document relating to a property in Nightingale Road where it is said:

The site was originally purchased by William Benjamin Moss. The Hitchin Historical Society is aware that the building was used by WB Moss as a grocer's shop, probably until the late 1960s.

The Moss business records and the Buntingford Branch.

Having outlined the history of W B Moss one comes to your question of any information relating to the employment of your ancestor. Sidney George Thomas Daniels, at the Buntingford branch.

It helps to get things in proportion. If you look at the 1920s W. B. Moss was running a number of grocer's shops (probably with a fair number of customers having deliveries and settling up on account), a wholesaling grocery business and a bacon curing factory. It is hard to imaging that the business generated less than a box file of paper a week - or 50 box files a year. The business varied with size over time, and early records were probably in large ledger books, but over nearly 100 years operation the complete company records, if nothing was thrown away, could be the equivalent of a thousand or more box files.  There is no legal reason why such old records relating to private businesses and companies should have been kept, even if the firm was still in existence - which it not. I can't say that no business records for W. B. Moss have survived - but the omens are not good.

My own experience with my own family is typical. For instance we only know the trading name of my great grandfather's brick works in St Albans because a blank sheet with a letterhead was used to draw a planting plan for a garden, and then used as a bookmark to be discovered and its importance recognised some 70 years later. No business records of my grandfather's veterinary practice have survived, and neither have any for the retail shops my father had. The only reason I know the names of my father's employees was because I knew them personally as a child.

You mention that you have the names of some of the managers and staff who attended the funeral (possibly from a press account?). In these circumstances it might even be useful if you could let me have the information you have, to post here, as it may be the only surviving record of Moss's employees in 1932. I have spent a lot of time trying to identify my great grandfather's employees on the farm, in the dairy and the brickworks. Nearly all I have tracked down come from press accounts such as the court case of a dishonest milk roundsman, a farm labourer giving evidence in a murder case, a child drowning in a brick pit, etc.

Other Information

There may well be other information available and you could perhaps contact the Buntingford Railway and Local History Society (see The Bunt) to see if any of its members know of information on the Buntingford shop. The Hitchin Historical Society could be worth approaching for possible information/contacts on the company as a whole.

June, 2010

Keith Daniels (beedan @t replied: Sidney Daniels' obit, which was covered in detail by two newspapers of the time (1932), notes that present at the funeral service were; Mr W. B. Moss, Mr W. D. Moss, Mr & Mrs H. J. Moss along with the following branch managers; Messrs D. Swain (Bletchley), C. H. Lake (Letchworth), A. J. Parfield (Shefford), C. L. Tutty (Kimpton), F. Griffin (Royston), R. Males (Baldock), C. Allen (Ampthill); and the departmental mangers from Hitchin; Messrs E. C. Wilmot, H. L. Osmond, E. Clayton, J. Drange, B. Izzard and W. J. Weedon.

This usefully add two new shops to the list - at Bletchley (Buckinghamshire) and Ampthill (Bedfordshire).

March 2011

Simon Glendenning (sglendenning @t of Otley, West Yorkshire, writes: I work in a former W. B. Moss building (still a grocer's!) in Otley, West Yorkshire, and was interested to find that there was no mention of this branch in your message. Were there other branches around the country, and if not, why Otley? Moss' appear to have had quite an impact on the town, building a parade of shops on Weston Lane, and two consecutive premises in the Market Place. This building, like the one in Hitchin, was also called Moss' Corner.

Prior to your message I was unaware of W. B. Moss trading outside Hertfordshire and immediately adjacent counties, and as this a a specifically Hertfordshire site I hadn't looked for such links. However a check of the 1901 census show a William Henry [should be Harry] Moss (31, born Hitchin) was a grocer and shopkeeper living at Newall Mount, Otley. His wife, Fanny, was born at Otley, as were their three children, the oldest aged 4. In 1891 William was unmarried and was trading as a grocer in London Road, Reading, while in 1881 he was living with his parents William B Moss & Georgina in Hitchin.

The 1911 census shows that another brother, Sydney George Moss had married a Yorkshire girl, Mary Gertrude, in about 1905 and was a merchant grocer living at Ripon. A further brother, Herbert John Moss was a grocer dealer in Hitchin.

Why two of W. B. Moss's sons married West Yorkshire girls, and opened branches of the company there is far from clear from census records.


W. B. Moss & Son, Otley

In reply Simon sent  a picture of the Otley branch of Moss & Son. This building (which they built) no longer exists, having been replaced by the existing one in which I work (also built by Moss', and following the same footprint.)  The parade of shops I mentioned has a carved stone on it which reads, "W.H.M. 1924." This was obviously William Harry Moss.


May 2011

Caroline Moss.(carolinemmoss @t of Kendal, Cumbria, writes: I am a grand-daughter of (William) Harry Moss who managed the Otley branches of the family business including Gomersal. Harry and Fanny's youngest son was my father, Philip, who died last year. I have a large number of cousins still alive from the Hitchin, Otley, Ripon and Knaresborough branches. We have a full family genealogy and a wealth of family papers, photos and business memorabilia. I remember visiting at least 6 of the original branches and most of my father's 8 siblings (6 died in my lifetime). I am in my fifties, so I am surprised that you have not been able to track any of us down. My cousin, Michael Harrison ran a family web site, though it may no longer be on line since his death a few years ago. I am sure his widow in London will retain copies. My father's uncle left his house in Hitchin as a Methodist Home for the Elderly and they also keep records about the family..

A very useful update. I am contacting Caroline to ask about the URL of the old family web site - as it may be accessible using the Way Back facility/

There has also been some informative discussion, with pictures, about the Moss shops on the Secret Leeds web site, including a link to Methodist records.

January 2017

Dianne Bedford writes: I worked at W B Moss in Hitchin High Street (Head Office) from  1959 to 1961 where I looked after the branch retail accounts. At the time the branches were:- Ampthill; Baldock; Bletchley; Buntingford, High Streeet, Hitchin; Kinpton, Latchmor, Letchworth, Royston, Stevenage, Welwyn - Otley; Ripon.  I think it was in early 1961 that W B Moss were bought by Keeley & Tonge and a Supermarket was opened  on Bancroft, Hitchin.

March 2017

John Southwell writes: I worked for Kearley & Tonge in Mitre Square, London EC3 from 1954 for almost 30 years.  Kearley &  Tonge was the wholesale arm of the International Tea Company Stores Ltd. As far as I can recall W B Moss was already one of its subsidiaries  along with George J Mason of Birmingham (as well as some others)

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

May 2010   Page created
June 2010   More information from Keith.
March 2011   Otley information
May 2011   Family information from Caroline
January 2017   Stores circa 1961
March 2017   Further update