Reclaim EC1 took a trip to Jewery Street yesterday to check whether or not the statue of John Cass was still in place above the entrance to the foundation that bears his name. We were pleased to see the statue was gone and took a photo of the building with its empty niche – which we’re using as our header and also reproduce here.
Entrance to the Sir John Cass’s Foundation, 31 Jewery Street, London EC3N 2EY on 18 July 2020, note the empty niche at third floor level where a statue of the slave trader the Foundation is named after stood until recently.
The Sir John Cass’s Foundation announced last month the slave trader statue would be removed but said this might take several weeks. Having spent some time checking we have to date been unable to find any mention of its removal online – we assume this will change after we post this. As well as making general searches we checked the website and Twitter accounts of the Sir John Cass’s Foundation. We also looked at sites such as Topple The Racists – which lists some contentious monuments including this statue of Cass but misses most of those we’ve flagged up as problematic in the City of London and Islington – as well as the Wikipedia List of Monuments and Memorials Removed During the George Floyd Protests. At the time of writing (19 July 2020) neither Topple The Racists nor Wikipedia suggest the Cass foundation statue has been removed, although the latter does say there are plans for this to happen.
Photo of Sir John Cass’s Foundation building taken before 18 July 2020 with statue in place above the entrance.
Somehow we are not surprised Sir John Cass’s Foundation did not announce the removal of the statue on or before 18 July 2020, despite using its Twitter account to tweet on the day we visited Jewry Street and saw the empty niche. The foundation has not been transparent about its history and has recently removed a number of its web pages that we would like to access; these seem to be documentation of events the foundation organised that took place in recent years up to and including this year (2020). Likewise the foundation now enforces strict control over access to its paper archives, whereas until three years ago researchers could see these records without undergoing a screening and vetting process:
Since 1st June 2017, access to the Foundation’s archived records, which date from the early 1700s, can only be achieved with the written permission of this Foundation.
Applications for permission, which must include the name and contact details of the applicant, specific details of the item(s) and the purpose of the request, should be sent to the following address:email@example.com
Please take the letter of permission from Sir John Cass Foundation with you when you visit London Metropolitan Archive to view material.
Access to Sir John Cass’s Foundation Records at London Metropolitan Archives by Anon on Sir John Cass’s Foundation website, undated. Web archived version here.
We would assume that primary records of John Cass’s involvement in the slave trade are to be found within this archival material. The foundation’s resistance to making a clean break with its past and unwillingness to act transparently would seem to be in part a result of it being very much in the orbit of the unbelievably undemocratic City of London council. This can be seen from an examination of both its staff and its governors. Details about the foundation’s governors can be found on its website, and they include City of London councillors Dr Kevin Everett and Sophie Fernandes. The lord mayor and other top City officials such as the sheriffs regularly visit the foundation and its satellites including its schools and associated church St Botolph’s Aldgate. The Lord Mayor of London, his sheriffs and the city also organise events with the Sir John Cass’s Foundation – such as Founder’s Day to celebrate the birth and life of slave trader John Cass.
Cass’s Foundation retweet liveryman Jim Barclay (Honourable Company of Master Mariners) thanking the foundation, William Russell (Lord Mayor of London), City of London sheriffs Chris Hayward and Michael Mainelli, and City & Livery, for organising the 2020 celebration of John Cass’s birthday. While material about this year’s and earlier Founder’s Day celebrations can be found on Twitter, it seems to have been removed from the Sir John Cass’s Foundation website.
Moving on, another Sir John Cass’s Foundation governor, Dr Denise Jones – who will be known to some of our readers as the owner of the Brick Lane Bookshop – is a recipient of the Freedom of the City of London, an ‘award’ given to those the City council has brought into its orbit or wishes to bring into its orbit. The Foundation’s web page devoted to staff is equally revealing, clerk and chief executive Richard Foley also has a Freedom of the City of London award and belongs to a city livery company. Building manager John Mead also belongs to a city livery company – entitling him to vote at common hall on candidates for Lord Mayor of London and offices in the city such as sheriff – and is a member of the Portsoken Volunteers, a military re-enactment society whose main activity appears to be celebrating Founder’s Day AKA John Cass’s birthday.
Portsoken Volunteers in action celebrating the birthday of slave trader John Cass in 2019 in a tweet that says they’ll be doing the same again this year (2020).
Let’s not have any illusions, John Cass was a City of London sheriff and an MP for the district too, and the City of London council would continue to celebrate him – just as it and the Sir John Cass’s Foundation did earlier this year – if it’s grandees thought they could get away with this. This municipality is the last rotten borough and is in urgent need of democratic reform. The removal of its slave trader idols such as the Cass statue from public space – other than museums where such items can be properly labelled as relics of a barbarous colonial nightmare – should be the beginning of this process, not its end.
Removing the most visible manifestations of institutional racism such as memorials is only the start of much more and much needed anti-racist work. That said we’ve still got a long way to go on cleaning up public space in and around the square mile. Not only does the City’s Sir John Cass’s Foundation Primary School require a name change, there is still a statue of Cass in the Guildhall Old Library Lobby. Likewise there is also a statue of former Lord Mayor of London and slave trader William Beckford at the Guildhall. It was reported in the press a few days ago that the school named after Beckford in Camden will change its name, which will add to the pressure being put on the City of London council to remove its statues of Beckford and Cass from its main civic building. We’ve demonstrated in earlier posts just how extensive the number of problematic memorials in the City of London is, and how endlessly embroiled it was and is in slave trading. We have to force change on the City of London council, it won’t willingly transform itself for the better!
The statue before it was removed from above the entrance to the Sir John Cass’s Foundation building in more detail. Note Cass is wearing his alderman robes. An alderman is a member of the upper chamber of the City of London council which despite its undemocratic nature still exists and governs the square mile today. You have to become an alderman and then a sheriff before you can become lord mayor.