Moss, Henry Whitehead
- J. H. C. Leach
Moss, Henry Whitehead (1841–1917), headmaster, was born at Lincoln on 23 June 1841, the eldest son of Henry Moss, a draper, and his second wife, Louisa, née Bainbridge; there were four sons in all. After early schooling at Lincoln grammar school, Moss went in 1857 to Shrewsbury School (then under the headmastership of Benjamin Hall Kennedy) and thence in 1860 to St John's College, Cambridge. Here he won several university prizes (including the Porson prize three times, as Kennedy had done before him) and was senior classic in 1864. He was elected to a fellowship at St John's, but in 1866, just before his twenty-fifth birthday, and having been ordained earlier in the year, he was chosen, on the nomination of St John's, to succeed Kennedy as headmaster of Shrewsbury School, where he remained for forty-two years.
Under the successive headmasterships of Samuel Butler and Benjamin Kennedy, Shrewsbury had been rescued from being a virtually moribund foundation at the close of the eighteenth century to one which had greatly grown in numbers, while gaining an unparalleled number of university successes in the classics. But the school's location, in a cramped town site, would have been bound to hinder its future, and numbers had been declining in Kennedy's later years as headmaster. Moss's supreme achievement was to persuade the governing body, against much lasting hostility (especially locally, but also among the old boys) that the school had to be moved. Despite his youth, he first made the case for the move soon after his arrival; but it was not until 1875, after much diplomatic manoeuvring over possible sites and a catastrophic error of judgement by Moss himself (involving a birching scandal and arousing national interest) which had the result of ruling out his own choice for the school's new location, that the move to the site at Kingsland was agreed. This was initially of some 27 acres but grew to well over 100 by April 1882. There can be no doubt that this crucial move, virtually a re-foundation, saved the school from relapsing into the status of a local grammar school.
It was during Moss's headmastership that the three term year became the norm. Although no lover of games, he presented the school (on its new site) with a swimming pool. Regarded by the boys as rather distant and unapproachable (perhaps because of the difficulties arising from his appointment at so early an age), he also had the reputation of being a superb raconteur and excellent after-dinner speaker. His industry was prodigious. In politics both Conservative and imperialist, Moss was early convinced of the inevitability of war with Germany, and engaged a master to re-establish the school's cadet corps. With unusual prescience he had already foreseen by 1873 the increasing competition which the study of the classics would meet from other disciplines and which would ultimately lead to their decline in relative importance. He was chairman of the Headmasters' Conference from 1899 to 1902. He probably remained too long as headmaster, and numbers at Shrewsbury were again declining when he retired in 1908, though scholastic successes had been remarkably good.
In 1887 Moss had married Mary Beaufort (d. 1948), the daughter of another Salopian, the Revd William Augustus Beaufort; they had two sons and a daughter, the Egyptologist Rosalind Louisa Beaufort Moss. From 1887 he had been prebendary of Hereford. In retirement he lived in or near Oxford, latterly at Highfield Park, Headington, and died at 69 Lancaster Gate, London, following a stroke, on 14 January 1917. He was buried in the Shrewsbury cemetery. Such few literary remains as exist consist of some sermons and some Latin verses, preserved (in the case of one sermon and the Latin verses) by the biographical memoir written by his widow.
- J. H. C. Leach, A school at Shrewsbury (1990)
- M. Moss, Moss of Shrewsbury (1932)
- J. B. Oldham, Headmasters of Shrewsbury School (1937)
- The Salopian, 64/1 (1948)
- P. Baynes, caricature, 1897, Shrewsbury School
- H. Rivière, portrait, 1908, Shrewsbury School
Wealth at Death
£156,354 13s. 9d.: probate, 18 May 1917, CGPLA Eng. & Wales