Time: the night of Thursday 14 May 1936 Place: Ascott Park, Stadhampton,

PILLAR AND MOON

Paul Nash’s Pillar and Moon, held by the Tate Gallery, was painted between 1932 and 1942.  It is inspired by Ascott Park, Stadhampton, a few miles south east of Oxford. This picture was based around ‘the mystical association of two objects which inhabit different elements and have no apparent relation in life... The pale stone sphere on top of a ruined pillar faces its counterpart the moon, cold and pale and solid as stone.’ Though not explicitly about mourning, the deep, unpopulated space and ghostly lighting gives the scene a melancholy air. Rather than depict a real landscape, Nash said that his intention had been ‘to call up memories and stir emotions in the spectator’

The purchaser in 1947 of Pillar and Avenue, an early drawing by Nash of this same subject, was classical scholar Professor Sir Roger Mynors (1903-1989), Fellow of Balliol College Oxford.  Mynors, who became a member of the literary committee for the New English Bible, taught at Oxford from 1929, at Cambridge as Professor from 1944 and at Oxford again as Professor from 1953. He received honorary degrees from many British Universities and the University of Toronto  - Mynors took a major part in editing the works of Erasmus on behalf of the University of Toronto press.  He died in a car crash.

Ascott Park Farm Stadhampton outside Oxford was the place where the body of Thomas Patteson “Pat” Moss, a six-foot Canadian undergraduate, was found in the remains of a burned hayrick on 15 May 1936. The rumour that a Balliol undergraduate had been found murdered spread round Oxford on that evening.

This was a high-profile case with potentially sensitive links to people in the public eye.  Sir Bernard Spilsbury, Britain’s best-known forensic pathologist, was brought in to investigate.  He was known for his ability to work with minimum remains, such as those in the 1930 blazing car murder near Northampton.  Was this a case of murder, suicide, or had the victim merely fallen asleep and been overcome by fumes from smouldering hay lit by an unattended cigarette? The puzzle remains unsolved to this day.  Spilsbury took his own life in 1947.

Moss, from Toronto, had developed an interest in Canadian art.  One of the first on the scene to help the authorities with their enquiries was Vincent Massey, High Commissioner for Canada.  Massey, too, was a Balliol man, and himself perhaps the most noted collector of Canadian art.  By a strange irony, considering where the body was found, Massey’s world-renowned family business was in harvesting and haymaking machinery.  His family home was in Port Hope just east of Toronto, and the young Pat Moss had attended school at Trinity College there, leaving as head boy in 1931.

 

 

 

Canadian Press Cable

        STADHAMPTON, Oxfordshire, May 15. --   T. Patteson Moss, Oxford University undergraduate, and a native of Toronto, was found dead today in the remains of a burned hayrick on a farm near Stadhampton.

His charred remains were found after fire of unexplained origin had broken out in the rick during the night,

Cause of death could not be immediately ascertained and an investigation began to determine whether or not Moss had met with foul play. 

Authorities, however, surmised that Moss had dropped asleep on top of the rick.  They believe he fell off the rick and was knocked unconscious.  His presence in the district also remained a mystery.

Both Arms Broken.

The fire was discovered in the middle of the night by a farmer in the vicinity.  Investigation later revealed the badly-burned body of the six-foot student, who has lived in Great Britain for some years. Both arms were broken and the skull was fractured. 

Moss was in his third year at Balliol College, Oxford.  An official of the college went to London to inform his mother.

Prior to attending Oxford, Moss had been a pupil at Marlborough, boys’ school in Wiltshire.  He spent two years there.  Moss’ father is dead and his mother came to Great Britain three months ago.

The theory that Moss might have been murdered was not definitely abandoned, pending careful investigation into his death.  The fact that both arms were broken and the skull fractured lent some credence to the possibility he was slain.

____

Canadian Press Despatch

        TORONTO, May 15. -   T. Patteson Moss, reported burned to death in a haystack at Stadhampton, Oxfordshire, was the grandson of Thomas Patteson of Toronto, who died in 1907.

Thomas Patteson, an Englishman who attended Oxford University where young Moss was attending, was postmaster of Toronto from 1879 to 1907.  He was editor of the old Toronto Mail in 1872 and was founder of the Ontario Hockey Club.

____

The late Mr Moss was nephew of Mr. G. B. Patteson, of 202 Elgin street.  The former Oxford University students had made several brief visits to his uncle in this city but had not been here for the past several years.  The victim of the tragedy, was named after Mr. Patteson’s father.

 

 

THOMAS PATTESON MOSS,

Toronto youth attending Oxford University, whose charred body was found under peculiar circumstances in an English haystack.  Police believe that death may have been accidental, but there is suspicion of foul play. He was a nephew of G B Patteson, 202 Elgin St., Ottawa.

 Associated Press Despatch

        STADHAMPTON, Oxfordshire, May 16. --   A small patch of unburned hay in the middle of the smouldering hayrick where the body of T. Patteson Moss, Toronto-born Oxford undergraduate was found today provided a fresh slim clue for authorities seeking to unravel the mystery of his death.

The charred body of the Balliol College student was found yesterday in the ashes of the rick, which caught fire mysteriously during Thursday night.

Police temporarily discarded the theory of foul play after a post mortem examination conducted by Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the famous Home Office pathologist.  They emphasized, however, that the possibility Moss was murdered was not dismissed entirely.

Mr Massey on Scene

Hon. Vincent Massey, Canadian High Commissioner in London, went today to Oxford, eight miles away from this village, to assist authorities personally in their effort to solve the puzzling death.

The rick where the body was found—on a farm just outside Stadhampton—was still smouldering today when Henry Taylor, farmer and owner of the ricks, accompanied a reporter to the spot and pointed out the place where Moss was found.  This proved to be the only patch of hay that was not completely burnt out.  In Taylor’s view, this patch of hay must have been wet before the fire Wednesday and would therefore be unlikely to attract a tired man who had four dry ricks to sleep on.

A curious circumstance in connection with the discovery of the body is that farm hands and others attempting to put out the fire in the ricks failed to discover anything amiss until a drove of cows which was passing sniffed suspiciously and nosed into the debris, refusing to be shooed away.

Sir Bernard worked for three hours in his shirt sleeves in conducting the post-mortem. He used a wooden door placed on zinc pails as a table, using the farmer’s white kitchen cloth as a covering.  The famous pathologist worked in full view of all passing along the lane leading to the farmhouse.

The only means of identifying the body was a remnant of a small brown trouser belt 1 ¼ inches wide, on which was scrawled “Thomas Moss.”  A pair of cufflinks and three shillings and two pence (about 80 cents) in cash were the only other articles not completely burned.

Cracked By Heat

Spilsbury decided the broken arms and skull were due to the terrific heat to which the body had been subjected during the fire, causing the bones to crack.  At first it had been thought the fractures were the result of violence or of a fall from the top of the hay-rick.

Police stated that despite an intensive search, there were no signs that the hay-rick had been deliberately fired.  Nor was there any clue as to how the blaze originated.

One theory considered by police was that Moss had fallen asleep on top of the hay-rick, then had fallen off and in so doing had knocked himself unconscious.

Moss was last seen in Oxford Wednesday night.  The hay-rick fire was discovered that night, but not until it had died down was the body found.  Police were anxious to learn what Moss was doing so far from Oxford.

The student’s mother, who came from Canada just three months ago, was told of her son’s death by an official of the university who went to London to inform her.  Moss was in his third year at Balliol College.  He was a grandson of the late Thomas Patteson, postmaster of Toronto from 1879 to 1907. 

 

 

Elizabeth Montizambert wrote in her May 22 report to the Montreal Gazette which appeared on June 6:

 

DEATH OF THOMAS MOSS

   Canadians in London have been shocked over the tragic and mysterious death of Thomas Patteson Moss and sympathy is felt for the relations of a young man of whom everyone speaks as possessing unusual qualities of both heart and mind. A member of a family known in Canada for brilliant achievements in the legal profession, Mr Moss never allowed the years he spent in England at Marlborough and Oxford to change his decision to live out his life in Canada, where he intended to be called to the Bar. He was keenly interested in literature.  One of his contemporaries writes: “I have a vivid impression of him from the few times when I did meet him.  He was above all a scholar in the truest sense, and besides mastering his own subjects, he read a good deal and was a very interesting and amusing talker.  He had recently been drawn towards French literature and Canadian art.  He had a most lovable character, perhaps best observed by his acquaintances through his manner towards his mother.”

   His grandfather, Chief Justice Thomas Moss, was the youngest man ever to hold that post in Ontario.

   In 1931 “Pat” Moss left Trinity College School, Port Hope, with ten first class honors and three scholarships.  He was only sixteen, too young to go straight to college, so he put in the next two years at Marlborough, travelling a great deal in the holidays and studying archaeological discoveries in Greece.  The clouding uncertainty about the way in which this young man went out of a life that seemed so promising must, in these harrowing days, obliterate all other aspects of his untimely death.  It is difficult to remember the truth that made a great poet write of another much-loved youth

“      He hath awakened from the dream of life—

Tis we, who, lost in stormy visions keep

With phantoms an unprofitable strife,

And in mad trance strike with our spirits knife

Invulnerable nothings—”

________________ 

 

Moss had attended Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario. In 1941, forty acres of hilly countryside were given to the school “in memory of Pat Moss, a brilliant student who had been tragically killed while studying at Oxford University.   After the war it became a camp for underprivileged boys during the summer months, financed and operated by the boys of the School. … As a week-end refuge in a lovely countryside, it is recalled with pleasure by numerous Old Boys.”

__________________

 

RIP

… ”those beautiful and mysterious gate piers framing a grand entrance to nowhere, just the other side of Stadhampton -Chris Koenig, Oxford Times

 

 http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/exhibitions/past_exhibitions/paul_nash_the_elements.aspx

http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/exhibitions/coming_soon/the_group_of_seven.aspx

 

PASSION FOR PLACE & TIME:  John Moriarty

 

THE LOST GARDEN OF PENICUIK

 

 

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