The Dorset novelist Thomas Hardy set many of his stories in fictitious Melstock, actually modelled on his beloved Stinsford, just west of Dorchester. In Under the Greenwood Tree or The Melstock Quire one member of the quire, Voss, seems to have got tasked with the carrying of the refreshments. In chapter 5 he writes:
“And, Voss,” said the tranter terminatively, “you keep house here till about half-past two; then heat the metheglin and cider in the warmer you’ll find turned up upon the copper; and bring it wi’ the victuals to church-hatch, as th’st know.”
and in chapter 6:
They now crossed Mellstock Bridge, and went along an embowered path beside the Froom towards the church and vicarage, meeting Voss with the hot mead and bread-and-cheese as they were approaching the churchyard.
I understand that, while Hardy often modelled his characters on those he knew, he normally changed their names. There really were, or had been, Vosses living in Stinsford where they had a smithy. In 1783 disaster struck in the form of an outbreak of distemper, which killed no less than six Vosses within ten days. One can only imagine the poor sanitory conditions that must have prevailed, and the impact of losing so many family members, emotionally and economically. The widow of one victim had to depend on parish relief thereafter. Vosses remained in Stinsford even after this disaster.
Contemporaneous with Thomas Hardy was one Thomas Havilland VOSS (1806-1889), a brick layer, painter and plasterer by trade, who lived in Dorchester and was a friend. A newsletter reads:
Members of the Thomas Hardy Society visited the Westgate on 20th April to view a display of photographs of Winchester buildings mentioned in various works by Hardy. Also on show was a selection of death masks from the Museum’s collection (see article in this Newsletter). Thomas Hardy [jnr, b. 1840] had a particular interest in these gruesome objects. He remembered, as a child, visiting his father’s friend, Thomas Haviland Voss, who made death masks in Dorchester.
And from Hardy’s biography:
T. Voss used to take casts of heads of executed convicts. He took those of Preedy and Stone. Dan Pouncy held the heads while it was being done. Voss oiled the faces, and took them in halves, afterwards making casts from the masks. There was a groove where the rope went, and Voss saw a little blood in the case of Stone, where the skin had been broken, — not in Preedy’s.