A review of our February talk - by Mike Chitty

They say that 'there's a book in all of us', but Graham Trust - our speaker on 6th February - thought that was nonsense 8 years ago. Or so he told us. But, as a result of a chance event, he is now the deservedly proud author of John Moss of Otterspool (1782-1858) which was published last year. That event was his purchase of a dilapidated cottage in Aigburth, and the decision to collect the bundle of old deeds which his solicitor would otherwise have thrown away. That bundle included a copy of the will of John Moss, who was a previous owner of the cottage and of the land around it.

'Who was this John Moss?', wondered Graham. A relative remembered that a man of that name had founded St Anne's Church in Aigburth. Graham found his gravestone there, and the date of death allowed him to track down an 'enormous' obituary in the Liverpool Mail, which revealed that Moss had lived at Otterspool House (demolished in 1931), was a railway pioneer and 'owned West Indian property'. But, apart from this, very little appeared to have been written about a man who, in his lifetime, had moved in influential circles and had been able to exercise power both nationally and internationally. Graham's curiosity led him to the Flintshire Record Office, where a series of letters from John Moss to John Gladstone (father of W.E. Gladstone) is held. These letters became the raw material for his book.

John Moss was the son of a Liverpool timber and general merchant. After inheriting his father's business, Moss set up a bank (Moss, Dales & Rogers) of which John Gladstone became a client. Gladstone was a merchant who, amongst other things, owned sugar plantations (and slaves) in Demerara - the present day Guyana. In 1820 Moss inherited over 1,000 slaves from his Uncle James, who was in the process of moving them from the Bahamas to Demerara. Moss wrote of the 'misfortune' of inheriting slaves - he was a nephew of William Roscoe and an admirer of William Wilberforce - but this did not stop him working with John Gladstone to negotiate compensation arrangements (for the slave owners, not the slaves!) when slavery was abolished by the British Government in the 1830s. Moss and Gladstone were also involved in the controversial employment of 'indentured servants' from India to replace the slaves on their plantations.

When the Liverpool & Manchester Railway was proposed in the 1820s, John Moss took a keen interest. The engineer George Stephenson stayed as his guest at Otterspool, and Moss became the company's first Chairman. Moss continued his involvement with railways, not only in Britain but also in France and the Netherlands.

Graham concluded his talk by describing Moss as a man who 'hid his light under a bushel'. But, thanks to Graham's researches, he will never now be entirely forgotten.

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