Kilkenny's Prominent Families The Mosse Family of Bennettsbridge

Pat Nolan

Reporter:

Pat Nolan

Fear not the tread, the seeded milling,

The trigger and scythe, the bridal blade,

Nor the flint in the lover's mauling.

Lines from ‘All, All And All The Dry Worlds Lever’ byDylan Thomas provide a somewhat fanciful summation of the ancient art of milling in a typical Dylan manner which helps to connect the miller with images of death, battle, rebirth and growth.

Milling is surely one of the oldest forms of food processing. Early civilisation might be said to have started when our ancient ancestors discovered the secret of using fertile soil, sun and water to create crops. The growth of farming, enabling the progress of man from a necessarily mobile role as hunter gatherer, was a very significant event in the advancement of civilisation. The Mosse family of Bennettsbridge do not boast of any direct connection with those events some millennia ago but they can lay claim to an unbroken eight generations of milling in Bennettsbridge.

THE FOUNDING FATHER

W.H Mosse the original founder of the business there, is the G –G -G- -G –G- G grandfather of Nicholas Mosse, who presently heads up the family in that village.The three sons of W H Mosse, Richard, Bill and Bob, all joined their father in the business which expanded on both sides of the River Nore. The current premises in which Nicholas Mosse Pottery is located, dates to about 1750. The earlier and smaller mill on the opposite side of the river, which is also Mosse owned, has been tentatively dated to the early 1500s.

The Mosse family prior to their arrival in Bennettsbridge was associated with mills in Ballyragget, prior to that in Mountmellick and even further back in time they were millers in what is present day Portlaoise.

Richard, descendant of the founder W H Mosse, successfully developed the business and in his turn passing it on to John S. Mosse (1921-1986), universally known as Stanley. Growing up in Bennettsbridge, Nicholas recalls his fathers Stanley’s deep interest in farming, which embraced the growing of hops and apples in addition to more ‘main stream’ farming activities. Both Stanley and his wife Elizabeth, in addition to their farming and milling activities were avid collectors. Their particular focus was on vernacular furniture, particularly kitchen furniture, dressers and solid timber tables in the case of Stanley, while Elizabeth favored more the collecting of traditional Irish pottery.

Their son Nicholas developed a keen interest in pottery, particularly hand thrown pottery. It is a mute point as to which came first; his mother’s expanding collection or his own growing expertise. Whichever it was it led to him studying pottery at the famous Harrow Art School in North London. After his training in England, Nicholas travelled to Japan and there was inspired by the functionality coupled with the simple beauty of their tableware. The ancient technique of sponge ware much used in the 18th Century, while seeming simple is a process which calls for considerable coordination of eye and hand, making for a delightful, visual and tactile pleasing result.

Stanley had by then become engrossed with the world of art and particularly the visual arts. He with James White, Gordon Lambert and others formed The Contemporary Irish Art Society with Sir Basil Goulding as its Chairman. From their own resources this group were determined to purchase works by living Irish artists and make them available in the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin. Their pioneering efforts were finally recognised and aided in 1974 when Dublin Corporation provided purchasing funds for this gallery.

KILKENNY ART GALLERY

Stanley then directed his considerable attention towards the establishment of an art gallery for Kilkenny working with his close friend and near neighbour, Susan Butler, wife of Hubert Butler. His organisational ability coupled with his prowess as a negotiator was to prove a winning combination. The Kilkenny Art Gallery, part of the huge Kilkenny Castle complex, became a reality and a date was set for its official opening. While preparing to travel to Kilkenny to be a part of the opening celebration Stanley suffered a fatal heart attack. With a tragic stroke of faith he was denied on the very day of his success seeing his plans come to a delightful fruition. The shock of his sudden and unexpected passing naturally caused the abandonment of any celebrations. However the dream that he had worked so hard with other to achieve, has over the years continued to give pleasure to the many hundreds who visit the numerous exhibitions that have been mounted there.

During the middle and later 20th Century milling, like most industries, was increasingly subjected to quota restrictions. As a small operator, competing with the giants of the industry, Ranks and Odlum’s, Mosses Mills found themselves squeezed from both sides. An innovative development was the decision to harness the Hydro Electric potential of the River Nore to power the various mill wheels, thus helping greatly to reduce rising energy costs.

With growing competition the large W H Mosse Mill on the west bank ceased flower production, while another member of the family (Cousin Bill) continues to run the mill on the east bank which is the birthplace of the popular Kells Wholemeal. As regulation and economies of scale intruded ever more and competition become ever more difficult, on the advice of his father, Nicholas decided to expand his boutique pottery firing facility and gradually this became his full-time, absorbing occupation.

The most expensive element of pottery production is the enormous heat that must be generated in the kilns. This consumes very considerable electricity and, following closure of the mill in 1975-1980, Nicholas proposed to buy the hydro electric element of the former business to power his nearby pottery. Following protracted discussions and negotiations he ended up buying not alone the hydro electric scheme attached to the old flour mills but the extensive mill building also!

This was a major development and as events proved a very successful transformation both in size, reach and status of Nicholas Mosse Pottery. While still being decorated by hand from a wide range of natural forms and patterns reflecting the quiet, rural surroundings, a much expanded range of products was now possible in the more extensive premises. A café, expanded retail space and demonstration area were added, making for a pleasant and appealing visit in a relaxed atmosphere.

Susan Mosse, Nicholas’s wife hails from Saint Louis, USA and she too is from a milling family. They met while they were both on holiday in the strange and gripping setting of The Burren in County Clare. That near magical, lunar landscape was the backdrop against which they met, fell in love and decided to settle down together in Bennettsbridge. Susan brought the energy, so often correctly associated with the American ethos, with her to Ireland.

KILFANE HOUSE AND GARDENS

The couple decided to buy Kilfane House a short distance from Bennettsbridge. With energy, style and commitment they started into the task of improving and updating their new home. Full of character, the house was surrounded by an almost impenetrable, wooded area. Some months later at a party in Dublin, Nicholas was approached by an acquaintance wh

o warmly shook his hands, congratulated him on their purchase and enquired “And what are you planning to do about the wonderful glen”? The reality was that up to that point they had not been aware, that buried deep in the woods was a truly magnificent romantic garden, believed modelled on Marie Antointte’s Petit Trianon.

Research soon indicated the extent of this previously unknown element of their purchase. As they explored further, it became obvious that enormous efforts had been made to create an idyllic, rustic setting for a cottage in a man made glen. A river had been diverted for quite some distance to create an artificial, cascading waterfall directly opposite the cottage. The whole was probably originally designed in the 1790’s when it became fashionable for wealthy land owners to retreat to a part of their estate where they enjoyed a highly romanticized ‘peasant lifestyle,’ often featuring at its heart a small but well designed Cottage orné. Needless to remark, this ‘peasant lifestyle’ bore little resemblance to the grinding poverty of many tenants.

Painstakingly, over time the cottage was restored in keeping with the design revealed in a surviving 1921 print. The roof was thatched. Leaded window panes, in keeping with the original, were installed. As more and more features were rescued from the encroaching vegetation a formal pool garden, a blue orchard, a mysterious hall of mirrors and a wildlife pond were added to the attractions in this delightful wooded area of the estate.

THE QUAKERS

While the family’s involvement with milling, going back several generations, their association with the gentle, Society of Friends –The Quakers -dates only to the marriage of Stanley Mosse with his Bride, Elizabeth of the famous Quaker Pitt family. Following his marriage, Stanley too joined the Quaker religion finding their shared experience of silent worship, seeking to practice Christ’s message of love and compassion both appealing and satisfying. Quakers meet together in silence, believing that the Holy Spirit, however perceived, will lead them to worship. Small in numbers there are just some 1,500 in total in Ireland presently. Stanley was buried in the Quaker Burial Ground in Newtown, Waterford while there is an inscribed plaque in St. Peters Church, Ennisnag which reads ‘John Stanley Mosse, Friend, Husband, Father, Grandfather 1921-1986’. The decoration on this wall plaque depicts heads of wheat on its outer ring representative of his membership of the Mosse milling family of Bennettsbridge.

For Quakers, financial prudence in business affairs is their watchword and therefore to run one’s business otherwise was deemed unacceptable. To minimise risk, the Quakers kept a close eye on each other’s commercial activities. From the very beginning men and women were on equal footing, Margaret Fell, the founder’s wife, was an impressive woman and powerful personality, so there was little chance of the ‘little woman’ playing second fiddle!

Quakers trusted and helped each other; some took the sons of relations and fellow-Quakers as apprentices. That proved very beneficial for the conduct of business. This system, their honest dealings and plain living enabled them to grow prosperous as manufacturers, tradesmen, merchants and bankers.

The Mosse family of Bennettsbridge however have wisely stayed well away from banking. Nicholas joked “None of us could count”, as the likely reason. In truth all of the family are blessed with very creative, artistic talents. Nicholas himself a very successful potter, his brother Paul, an artist-painter based in Enniscorthy, sister Tanya is a stone mason working in East Wales specialising in intricate lettering on stone, while Keith, pursues a creative career based on timber carvings in Australia.

As his father and his forbearers did in their time so Nicholas Mosse in keeping with his quiet and deep seated Quaker beliefs continues to add lustier and prestige to the Mosse family of Bennettsbridge, another of Kilkenny’s Prominent Families.