Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Customs and Ceremonies of London: Sir John Cass Commemoration

Over the course of 2011 I want to try to mention some of the lesser-known ceremonies that take place each year in London. They are covered in my Folklore of London book but are always subject to change or even disappearance. The chapter on customs and ceremonies was the most difficult to compile, as it was surprisingly difficult to get up-to-date information; also given my work and living situation it was, and still is, impossible for me to visit very many of these ceremonies. I managed quite a few during the research period for the book, but there were many more that I just couldn't get to or was not permitted to attend. If I get the time I'll try to get to a couple this year, but there are so many other demands on my free time these days.

Here's one from this month, which I have not personally seen. NB the link takes you to the Foundation's website which gives Cass's birth date as 1 February 1661, although the ODNB has him baptised on 28 February 1660:

Sir John Cass's Foundation - Founders Day took place on 1 February 2011

[original text from Folklore of London book]
Around the first week in March staff, pupils and governors from the Sir John Cass Foundation schools attend a memorial service at the church of St Botolph-without-Aldgate; formerly the date was on or near the birthday of its founder. Sir John Cass was probably born on 20 February 1660 and baptised at St Botolph Aldgate on 28 February. During an illustrious career he was Alderman of the Ward of Portsoken, elected Sheriff in June 1711 and became a Member of Parliament for the City; he was knighted in 1713. In 1710 he established his school in the churchyard of St Botolph’s for the education of fifty boys and forty girls. The church was declared unsafe in 1740 and rebuilt four years later to the designs of George Dance.

As he lay dying at his home, in Grove Street, Hackney, on 5 July 1718, legend has it that Sir John Cass struggled to write his will, in which he intended to leave all his property to the school. After having initialled only three pages of the lengthy document he suddenly suffered a fatal haemorrhage that stained the writing quill with his blood. The incomplete will was contested, but was finally upheld by the Court of Chancery in 1732. The school, which by this time had been forced to close, was reopened and the Foundation established. Today, as well as the Primary School, there is a secondary school in Tower Hamlets, Sir John Cass Department of Art, Media and Design (part of the London Metropolitan University) and the Cass Business School (part of City University).

For the commemorative service children from the primary school sport red feathers, which appear on the Cass coat of arms, a rather morbid reminder of the dramatic moment of death of the school’s founder. The event commences with a procession of around thirty pupils and guests from the Foundation’s Jewry Street offices to St Botolph-without-Aldgate. The service includes performances by pupils from the Foundation's primary and secondary schools. The reception afterwards is by invitation only, but members of the public are welcome to attend the service.

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