John Cass was born in Rosemary Lane in the City of London in February 1661.  His father, Thomas Cass, was as a carpenter for the Royal Ordnance, which began as the Royal Gunpowder Factory in 1560 and grew into a series of factories manufacturing military materials.  In 1665, London was ravaged by the bubonic plague, which was to cause the death of some 100,000 residents.  In the hope of escaping the effects of the plague, Thomas Cass moved his family to Grove Street in South Hackney.
John Cass was active in the life of the City of the London as a merchant, a builder and politician.  His political career began when he was elected Alderman, an old English term meaning elder man, for the ward of Portsoken, which was one of the 25 wards of the City of London and located to the east, outside the London Wall, near to Aldgate.  Each ward elected an Alderman to the Court of Aldermen and Commoners who oversaw the running of the City.

Aldermen (including women) of the City of London

Top Left: The coat of arms of the City of London;
Bottom Right: The Lord Mayor of the City of London with the Queen;
the Lord Mayor is required to serve as both an Alderman and a Sheriff
before being eligible for this position
In 1710, he was elected as a Tory Member of Parliament for the City of London and served until 1715.  Meanwhile, in 1711, he was elected as one of the Sheriffs of the City, which brought him legal, political and ceremonial duties.  In addition, he performed other duties in the City including commissioner of the newly formed Commission for Building Fifty New Churches.  The commission was set-up to oversee the building of new churches to serve the expanding population of the City.  In addition, between 1709 and 1715, he was treasurer of both the Bethlem Royal and Bridewell Hospitals.  In 1713, he was knighted for his public service and philanthropy and became master of the Carpenter’s Company and in 1714 he moved to the Skinner’s Company.

Bethlem Royal Hospital

The original building was first mentioned in 1247, as a priory for the Sisters of the Star of Bethlehem and later, in 1357, when it became a hospital. The original site is where Liverpool Street Station now stands (Top right). Later, it became the first hospital in the world dedicated to mental illness and became known as 'Bedlam'. After 1557, it became a Royal Hospital and managed by the City of London. In 1675, the hospital moved to Moorfields just outside the City. During the 18th Century, the hospital became a place to visit and view the ill. Hogath's painting, The Rake's Progress (Top middle) represents a daily scene at the hospital. In 1815, the hospital moved to St. George's Fields, Southwark (shown in 1828, Top right) and remained here until 1930 when it was moved to the suburbs. The old hospital (shown in 1896, Bottom left) became the home of the Imperial War Museum in 1936. In 1999, the hospital became part of the South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (Bottom right).

Edward VI granting a charter to Bridewell Hospital in 1553.

Bridewell Hospital was originally built on the banks of the River Fleet as a palace for Henry VIII in the early 16th Century on the site of St. Bride's Inn. In 1553, Edward VI gave the palace to the City of London as a haven for homeless children and 'disorderly' women. It eventually became a school and a prison. Most of the building was destroyed in 1666 during The Great Fire of London and rebuilt the following year. In 1700, it became the first prison to hire a doctor. In 1855, the prison was closed and demolished in 1863. The school, now known as King Edward's School, was moved to Wiley in Surrey and marked its 450th anniversary in 2003.

In 1709, Sir John Cass founded a school in buildings in the churchyard of St. Botolph’s in Aldgate, which was attended by fifty boys and forty girls.  By 1718, his health began to fail.  This prompted him to write a new version of his will where he hoped to secure future provision for the school by leaving all property acquired since making his first will to the school.  Today, Cassland Road in Hackney commemorates land holdings once held by the Cass family in this area.

Cassland Road, Hackney Today

Top left: Hotel; Top middle: Terrace house front door; Top right: modern flats
Bottom left: Terrace House; Bottom middle: school; Bottom right: Terrace House, detail
While completing his new will, Sir John Cass suffered a brain haemorrhage and died with only three pages of his new will signed.  This prompted his heirs to contest the latest will before the Court of Chancery and this action was to continue for some thirty years.  Meanwhile, his widow continued as patroness of the school until her death in 1732.  Following her demise, one of the school’s trustees named by Sir John, Valentine Brewis, acted as patron, but with his death in 1738, the school was closed.  In 1740, the remaining trustees petitioned Parliament for a permanent endowment for the school and were successful and Sir John Cass’ will finally upheld, which eventually led to the establishment of the Sir John Cass Foundation in 1748.
Sir John Cass was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary Matfelon in Whitechapel.  The original church was built in 1329 and its outside walls were covered with a bright whitewash made of lime and chalk.  This caused the inhabitants of the area to refer to the church as the white chapel, which eventually gave its name to the area.  This church fell into a poor state and was taken down in 1673.  The third and last church on the site was built and re-consecrated in 1877, but was destroyed by fire in 1880, leaving only the tower, vestry and church rooms.  The church was rebuilt and opened in 1882, but suffered severe damage during an air raid on the 29th December, 1940.  I remember seeing the red brick remnants of the church on my way to school and always found the colour of the brick attractive and was most disappointed when demolition began in 1952.  Today, all that remains of the church are a few graves and a small external arch on Whitechapel Road.  Following demolition, the churchyard and church area were turned into St. Mary's Park, which was renamed in 1998 as the Altab Ali Park in memory of the young Bangladeshi clothing worker who was murdered close by in 1978.

St. Mary Metfalen-Altab Ali Park

Top left: the church after being bombed in 1940; Top middle: print of an earlier church;
Top right: the churchyard, now a park today;
Bottom left: the foundation - one of the few remaining features of the church;
Bottom right: a remaining grave site

(picture reproduced by permission of Matt Hucke -

Part of what little remains of the church (2006)

The Sir John Cass Foundation has continued to fund the Sir John Cass Foundation School in Duke’s Place, Aldgate and has provided funds for secondary and tertiary education as well for the support of work with young people across inner London.  This began in 1899 with the founding of the Sir John Cass Technical Institute. 

Sir John Cass Foundation School - Assembly Hall

In 1902, the Institute became housed in a new building across Aldgate High Street from Duke’s Place in Jewry Street. In 1950, the Institute became Sir John Cass College and in 1965, the College’s Department of Fine & Applied Art was merged with the Department of Silver Smithing & Allied Crafts of the Central School of Art. Together, these departments formed the Sir John Cass School of Art, which was relocated to Central House found opposite the Whitechapel Art Gallery.

Sir John Cass College on Jewry Street

The Sir John Cass College was merged with the City of London College in 1970 to form the City of London Polytechnic.  In 1992 the Polytechnic was awarded university status with the name, London Guildhall University.  In 2002, the university merged with the University of North London to form the London Metropolitan University.  Today the Sir John Cass Foundation provides financial support to the Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Media & Design within London Metropolitan University and the Cass Business School within City University.

London Metropolitan University

Top left: The original Sir John Cass College building, Jewry Street;
Top middle: Central House, Whitechapel; Top left: Electra House;
Bottom left: Commercial Road Campus; Bottom right: Post-Graduate Centre.

The Foundation has also provided funding for the Sir John Cass School of Education at the Stratford campus of the University of East London and for the Sir John Cass Hall, a student residence in Well Street, Hackney.  In addition, the Sir John Cass Foundation has also provided funds for other projects including funding of a row of almshouses through land owned by Sir John Cass on Hackney Marshes and which were subsequently rebuilt in 1849 by the Foundation.

The building occupied by the Sir John Cass Foundation School in Duke’s Place was built in 1902 and served as both a primary and secondary school until 1965.  In that year, through contribution by the Sir John Cass Foundation, the London County Council and the Department of Education, the Sir John Cass Foundation & Redcoat Secondary School was established in Stepney and incorporated the secondary school sector of the school in Duke’s Place.    The existing school in Duke’s Place then became the Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School.  The Sir John Cass Foundation continues to provide support to both schools and has representatives on the each school’s Board of each school and holds the freeholds of both school sites.

On Founder’s Day, which is celebrated in February each year, the pupils of the Sir John Cass schools wear red quills in their lapels and make their way St. Botolph’s Church in Aldgate to attend a service in remembrance of Sir John Cass.  As in the time when I attended the school, each pupil receives an orange and a bun, thanks to the generosity of the founder. 

Pupils of the 1950s - I can be found in both photographs on the left
I am on the second from the end on the right of the top row in the top photograph
I am the second from the left in the middle row of the bottom one

The year 2010 marked the tercentenary of the Sir John Cass Foundation School.  On 2nd February, 2010, this special Founder’s Day was observed and celebrated with the usual service at St. Botolph’s Church and by a luncheon at the Mansion House that was attended by City dignitaries and the Duke of Gloucester. 

References:   (The Sir John Cass Foundation)


I had intended to write a third part to this tale, but ince this story is very long, it is to appear along with Parts One and Two as a short book on Amazon's Kindle in the near future.

The book will be for sale at a ROCK BOTTOM price since I am aware of the economy and the lack of extra money we have at this time.


St. Botolph’s-without-Aldgate is the official name of St. Botolph’s, a Church of England church, which is found at the north-east corner of Houndsditch and Aldgate High Street in the City of London.  In 1709, Sir John Cass founded a school in its churchyard that was attended by fifty boys and forty girls.  Once the school moved to Duke’s Place, the church continued to serve as the site of the school’s Founder’s Day Remembrance Service.

The first recording related to St. Botolph’s was made in 1108 by the Rector.  Construction of a Saxon church began in 1115 and was enlarged in 1418 and rebuilt in the sixteenth century.  In 1739, this church was deemed unsafe and was demolished.  Construction of the current church began in 1741 and completed in 1744.   It was designed by George Dancer the Elder who was also responsible for the design of the Mansion House.  It was constructed in brick and has stone quoins and window casings together with a squire tower topped with an obelisk spire.  The architect of Westminster Cathedral, J.F. Bentley, undertook the remodeling of St. Botolph’s at the end of the nineteenth century.  This included the carved ceiling and associated plasterwork, the chancel, construction of a balustrade at the front of the gallery and replacement of the seating. 

In 1941, the church was hit by a bomb, which failed to explode and, in 1965, the interior was damaged by fire.  Rebuilding included the formation of the Baptistery under the tower.  St. Botolph’s was designated a Grade I listed building in 1950 and re-hallowed on the 8th November, 1966 by the Bishop of London.  Those present included the Queen, the Queen Mother and the Lord Mayor of London.

Jack the Ripper murdered his victims close by the church in 1888.  At this time, the church was often referred to as the Church of Prostitutes since it was close to where such women offered their services to passers-by.