Joseph Moss

Stockinger, Violinist, and Diarist

Mary Ratcliff

By Kevin Knifton
8th December 2021
Updated 5th September 2022

Joseph Moss was born in Boston, Lincolnshire, in 1801, and his parents may have been William and Martha (née Houltby); more research is needed to confirm this. In later life Joseph wrote a series of memoirs in several handmade exercise books, which as a family historian, I am ever thankful for. It is not known how many journals he wrote, but the exercise book he labelled as ‘2’ thankfully survives.

refresh your browser... The exercise book containing Joseph Moss’s memoir of 1817


Joseph’s memoir recalls events of 1817 at which time he was an apprentice stockinger, living and working in Lambley, near Nottingham, and was known as Joe. This memoir appears to be a continuation of a previous one, since it begins with a bracketed title ‘(Recollections of a Journeyman Stockinger)’ and carries no introduction. Rather it starts with an account of the trial of Thomas Savage and nine other men for the Luddite attack on Heathcote’s Mill at Loughborough in 1816, where it was alleged that there was an intent to murder John Asher. Joe records that ‘The evidence was all gone through and the Learned Judge summed up with great minuteness, and in a few minutes the Jury returned a verdict of guilty against all the prisoners. The Judge then passed sentence of death on them all, but before he left the Town he reprieved Clarke and Watson.’

Joe may have attended the trial, and perhaps the prisoners execution on 14th April 1817, which he described: ‘They ascended the platform about 12 o’clock, chained together by the wrists. Savage and Amos spoke a few words to the crowd, exerting them to take warning by their untimely fate and not put their trust in man... They then sung a hymn and ended by prayer, in which they all heartily joined, and was quickly after all launched into eternity.’

Joe was directly affected by the Luddite attacks, recalling that ‘we hope to hear no more of Ned Lud’s exploits but give them up as a very unfortunate speculation. The people in general was sorry that a lot of young men should come to such an untimely end. The Law had taken its course but it was not to be expected that those who had been selected to suffer the late outrages should sympathise with the Burglars who did it. It had been a great drawback and hindrance to all concerned in it and severely felt’. The shop were Joe worked as an apprentice lost ‘not less than forty pounds....The other shops would be a deal more’ and with knitting frames damaged ‘it was a very bad job for the hands having to toil very hard to get the frames to work again’.

At this time in his life, Joe had little money. The stockinger’s shop where he worked ‘had been doing very poorly all summer and the winter before on account of the frames being broke’. He tells us that ‘my fellow prentice and myself was getting very bad of for clothes’ and that ‘I used to attend a place of worship of a Sunday but I was got so bad of for clothes that I was ashamed to go out of doors.’ With little money and clothes, Joe describes himself as being very miserable. He enjoyed reading but ‘there was not a book or a newspaper to be seen until in time I got a piece of an old Bible from somewhere and then I was more content’. He recalls attending the singing and preaches by ‘ranters’ who visited Lambley; ‘I took great delight in going to hear them myself, although I was almost naked. I had great pleasure in going to hear the Ranters. I seldom missed when there was a meeting, for I became deeply convicted that I was a great sinner and I felt that I wanted a release.’

He continues: ‘[I] was often very miserable when one night I shall never forget. I was thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ and was very unhappy, but a spell came over me and all at once I felt peace and comfort to my soul and I wished every person in the World the same, my companions and relations and friends in particular. I felt real love to God & my Redeemer and to all mankind. And I am very sorry to add that I had step by step the misfortune to let it slip from me and have never been so happy since. I there had Peace, delightful, for the Peace of God possesses all understanding. I should be very thankful to have the same like feeling over again.’

Joe continued to attend the Ranter’s meetings and fortunately at work managed to earn ‘as much money over as bought me a new smock frock and I was very thankful for that. I could go to the meeting then comfortable. Before I had it I went in my shirt sleeves.’

Around August 1817 a group of stockingers decided to ‘strike for wages’ and when it began Joe noted that ‘even the Idler was dissatisfied because he had nothing to do’. The person who Joe was an apprentice for, who he refers to ‘as our Master’, entered the pig trade, and ‘left orders for us prentices to go a gleaning as the Farmers was beginning to cut the corn, but they would not let us go into the field till the corn was carried out of it. We idled our time away as all day, and when the night came our Mrs told us if there was no work there was no supper, so we went to bed without supper.

‘That night next I made up my mind to have a tramp and go to Boston amongst my kinsfolk, although I was very badly prepared for it. I was barefoot and had no hat or cap to my head. The Master had lent me an old pair of his boots to go a gleaning in. They was a deal too big for me, but I thought I would make shift with them. I also begged an old hat from one of my companions and about two o’clock I started to go through Southwell and Kelham to Newark.’

The journey by foot from Lambley to Boston was a distance of 50 miles, although Joe spent the night at Newark, visiting his friend William Taylor who, for his onward journey, ‘gave me a piece of bread & cheese, and not a little bit, and said he thought that would help me on the road better than anything else, and for which I was very thankful.

‘I started out of Newark betwixt eight and nine o’clock. I took the Lincoln Road to Leadenham about eight miles, and then turned off for Sleaford, past Byard’s Leap. I went through Sleaford. About two miles towards Boston, near to a pump, I sat down and got a very good refreshment. I was in good spirits and had sixteen miles to walk. It was about three o’clock. I went a nice gentle pace and was just going into Boston as the church bells was ringing eight o’clock.’

Joe headed to his grandfather’s house and, when he knocked on the door, his Aunt Jane opened it: ‘She stood a moment and shouts “Father who do you think this is”, but he was engaged reading the newspaper and took but little notice. She says “it is Joe Moss”. “Come in” she say to me “and sit down”. My grandfather then began to eye me over. He soon saw I was not very well dressed and looked at my feet. He says “what are you doing with those s__ great highlows on.” I felt ashamed but I was obliged to put up with it.’

Joe recalls that his Aunt Jane went to fetch his Uncle Jim, Aunt Fanny, and Aunt Bess, and that his Grandmother and Maria where away at Spilsby, but returned the following morning. He doesn’t indicate what relationship Maria was to him, and since his parent’s aren’t mentioned, they may have died. He does, however, mention Uncle John who he went to visit in his bed: ‘we lay talking a good while as we had done a many times before’.

After breakfast the next morning, Tuesday, his Uncle and two aunts returned with a bundle of clothes. ‘My Uncle says “Now Joe let us see if any of these will fit you”. At the same time he unbundled a suit of clothes and gave me. He also sent for his Tailor who lived close by to fit them on, which was done in the course of the day, and by the next afternoon I was newly rigged out from top to bottom. My Uncle also gave me pocket money, so that I was quite a new man and I was very thankful for it.’

That day he helped his grandfather set cabbage plants in his garden which he would sell in Spring. The garden belonged to a local MP, and contained an old tower of several floors. On the top floor, his grandfather kept rabbits and pigeons, and there was a window opening which allowed the cold in, so Joe spent the rest of the day bricking it up for him. After that, his grandfather ‘set me getting plums and told me to get into a tree and shake them off. I did so but I broke a bough off quite accidental, but he said I did it on purpose. He raved like somebody crazy. It was not a thick bough and I was very sorry, but he went on till he almost got my temper up. He would not hear me speak, so I told them I would leave the day but one after.’

Joe’s uncle tried to persuade him to stay longer ‘but I set my time and kept it. My Uncle gave me some money to defray my expenses and I started for Lambley on the Thursday morning, about the 28th of August.’ He arrived back at Lambley on Saturday, retuning via Gonerby and Bingham, and his friends had just returned to work after the strike, which hadn’t been a success: ‘They was out three weeks and went in at the old price.’

When Joe returned to work on Monday morning, his Master was pushing them ‘to go on faster or double speed to make up for lost time. Goose Fair was near at hand and the pig trade was very good. He was buying all he could for the Fair and “you Joe”, he says to me. “will have to go with me.” I says “very well”, but I did not like it so hindering to us. We had our stint to earn for us. He hindered much on little, so more we helped him the less time we had for ourselves, which put us about very much sometimes.’

The Nottingham Goose Fair was from Thursday to Saturday, 2nd to 4th October 1817, and the pigs his Master had purchased were to be taken to the market on the last day. ‘I went with him and we penned them in the Market Place. He took the work to the warehouse and I stopped with the pigs. He was away about twenty minutes and I sold three of the pigs while he was away. He gave me my old Allowance after we had sold all, which we was not long in doing.’

Joe returned home ahead of his Master, and made a decision: ‘My fellow prentice and I went to bed in good time that night. We began talking of our grievances. He began saying he should not stop there much longer for we shall never be no better off than we are so we may content ourselves with being slaves. I says I am not content so I think I shall bolt on Monday morning. Pete says no altering, stick to it, you know I shall not betray you.’ These are the last words in Joseph’s memoir.

We don’t know whether Joe left Lambley that Monday morning, 6th October 1817, but he had moved to Derbyshire by 1822. On 10th March 1822 Joseph married Mary Ratcliff at St Laurence’s Church, Heanor. The entry for their marriage records that Joseph and Mary were living in Heanor. Mary was one of thirteen children of John and Mary Ratcliff. She was born in Smalley in 1801, her father, John, being a coal miner.

Married life

After their marriage, Joseph and Mary lived in Smalley, where their first child Robert was born. He was baptised at St John the Baptist Church on 2nd March 1823. The parish register records that Joseph was a framework knitter, an occupation he would entertain throughout his life.

Their next child, Mary, was born in 1826, who was followed by Elizabeth in 1827, William in 1830, James in 1831, Fanny in 1833, and Martha in 1836. All the children were born in Smalley, although there is no record of them being baptised.

Joseph and Mary’s next child was a girl, born in the first half of 1838. However, she died within 6 months and was never named.

Between 1836 and 1839 the family moved to Horsley Woodhouse where their next child, Sarah, was born in the last months of 1839. There is no record for Sarah’s baptism.

On the night of 13th May 1840, thieves broke into Joseph’s shop.

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Joseph and Mary’s next child was a son who they named Ira. He was born in the autumn of 1842 but only lived to be 2 years old. Their eleventh and final child, Georgiana, was born in Horsley Woodhouse in 1844.

In April 1851, Joseph and Mary were living at Woodhouse Lane, Horsley Woodhouse. This was a home they would continue to live in for the rest of their lives. At the time of the 1871 census, their son James and his family were living next door to Joseph and Mary, and their daughter Sarah and her family where living next door but two.


As well as the memoirs mentioned above, we know from writings by the Reverend Charles Kerry1 that between 1855 and 1881 Joseph ‘kept a Diary of the principal events and incidents in the locality....Besides the registration of marriages and funerals, we have notices of storms, removals, incidents, sales, robberies, police captures, festivities, re-openings of churches, and many other matters.’ The whereabouts of this diary, and whether it survives, is unknown. However, Reverend Charles reproduced several entries which can be read here. One entry reads:

‘1856. Oct. 21. Subscription portrait presented to John Radford, Esq., of Smalley Hall.’

My great-great-great Grandfather William Knifton and his brother Thomas were included in the list of subscribers for this portrait.

Two other entries give an insight into Joseph's character:

‘1860. Sep. 11. Re-opening of Horsley Church. Collection £133 6s. A collation served in the Schoolroom afterwards—something after the fashion of electioneering:—the wealthy and proud were filled with good things, but the humble and poor were sent empty away.’

‘1860. Dec. 20. Thom. Bateman, Esq., celebrated the christening of his son and heir (Sachev) by giving a dinner, tea, and ball, at the Rose and Crown, Smalley. The musicians were George Burgoyne and Joseph Moss, author of this diary.’

Life in Horsley Woodhouse

The detail of events which Joseph captured in his diaries is likely to have been gathered as he visited the surrounding villages, playing his violin and singing at social occasions. Reverend Charles Kerry recorded that Joseph ‘was a violinist of some ability, and was in great demand at all rural festivities. He was a good singer, and sang (inter alia) ‘The Beggar’s Ramble’ with his own local variations, in good style, and usually with much éclat.’

The Beggar’s Ramble was a ballad of Derbyshire in which people and places were mentioned. A book2 on the history of the neighbouring village of Morley notes that Joseph provided entertainment at a Harvest Supper. These events were given by farmers for their workers and held in the stable yard at the Hall, after the harvest had been gathered in. The book mentions Joseph sang The Beggar’s Ramble which ‘included in its verses a mention of all the surrounding villages and inns, and the ‘Smithy’ and beer house at Ferriby Brook are duly mentioned’. It is not known if a copy of Joseph’s version of the ballad still exists. However, one of two versions3 printed includes text which mentions local villages:

‘Hark ye well, my neighbours all, and pray now can you tell
Which is the nearest way unto the Beggar’s Well?
There’s Eaton, and Toten, and Brancot on the hill
There’s Beggerly Beeston, and lousy Chilwell.

‘There’s Denby and Bottlebrook, from there to the Lane ends,
From there I went to Horsley, in hopes to meet a friend,
So turning down Coxbench, I made a sudden stop,
Thinks I I’ll up the closes go, for Potters of th’ hill top.

‘In Woodhouse lane, as I’ve been told, they used to get good coal,
And Stainsby is a pretty place, and so for the Dob hole,
There’s the Justice room, and Smalley Bell, likewise the Rose and Crown,
And at Morley Smithey, I’ve been told there lives one Saml. Brown.’

Joseph Moss died on 2nd October 1881 at Horsley Woodhouse. His son Robert was present at his death. Due to the negligence of Reverend William Bradshaw, the parish registers at Smalley were not completed for almost nine years. No burials were recorded between 1881 and 1884 and very few until 1890. In 1901 Reverend Charles Kerry compiled a list of some of the interments made during this period from copies of registrar’s certificates which were in the church safe. Although there is no record of Joseph’s burial, he was almost certainly interred at Smalley.

The list made by Reverend Charles Kerry includes the death of Mary Moss, aged 83, which was registered on 28th October 1884, thereby indicating that Mary was buried in the churchyard of St John the Baptist, which we can assume would have been in the same grave as her husband.

My transcript of Joseph’s 1817 memoir can be read here.

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Joseph and Mary Moss were my Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandparents.

1 C. Kerry, Smalley in the County of Derby - Its History and Legends (1905).
2 Morley Village History Committee, A History of the Parish of Morley Derbyshire (1977).
3 L. Jewitt, Ballads and Songs of Derbyshire (1897).