Lord Mayor of London William Russell Caught Red Handed Celebrating Slave Trader John Cass

In a recent blog we reported on how for hundreds of years those holding the top posts at the City of London council have been celebrating the slave trader John Cass whose memorials have been hastily removed from across east central and east London following Black Lives Matter protests. As we previously relayed, pages about the annual ‘Founder’s Day’ celebration of this slave trader have been deleted from the website of the foundation named after him. Although documentation of this year’s John Cass Founder’s Day debacle has not been preserved at the Internet Archive, at least some of what his foundation posted about this event prior to 2020 can be accessed there. These include a 2017 photo of City grandees at the event, with the current lord mayor William Russell prominent in his then role as sheriff, with everyone posing in front of a notorious set of seventeenth-century racist paintings by Robert Robinson.
John Cass Founder’s Day 2017. From left to right with relevant titles and positions from the time, some of these have subsequently changed: Clerk and Chief Executive of the Foundation Richard Foley, Alderman and Sherriff William Russell, Bishop of Stepney Right Reverend Adrian Newman, The Right Hon The Lord Mayor of the City of London Dr Andrew Parmley, Treasurer and Chairman of the Foundation Dr Kevin Everett (City of London councillor for the ward of Candlewick), Lady Mayoress Mrs Wendy Parmley, Rector, St-Botolph-without-Aldgate Reverend Laura Jørgensen, Deputy Treasurer of the Foundation Professor Michael Thorne CBE.

Before we go over what we’ve previously posted about the racist paintings current lord mayor William Russell and his sick friends chose to use as a backdrop in the photo above, let’s touch on the fact that the ongoing celebration of John Cass on Founder’s Day among this circle demonstrates an utter failure to seriously address institutional racism not just by the City of London council – and more specifically its Establishment Committee currently headed by Edward Lord – but also within the the criminal justice system, the financial services industry and the Church of England. Dealing with the latter first, the Founder’s Day event entails a parade from Jewry Street to St. Botolph’s church where there is a service, and present in the 2017 photo above are both Reverend Laura Jørgensen and Right Reverend Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney. The Church of England has claimed it is currently investigating problematic memorials in its buildings and in a previous post we made it clear there are a huge number we’d like to see removed from St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London – in particular the bust of Sir John Alexander MacDonald (who also has a memorial in Westminster Abbey). MacDonald statues have been removed from a number of public spaces in Canada and the Scottish government has removed all references to him from one of its websites due to his racism and the racist polices he enforced against indigenous Americans – we covered this towards the end of a previous post.

Moving on to the legal system, since 1385 every Lord Mayor of London has had to have held the post of sheriff before ascending to the top office in the City. One of the lord mayor’s functions is to serve as the Chief Magistrate of the City of London. Likewise, the sheriff’s duties include attending the Central Criminal Court. This ties the lord mayor and the sheriffs, two new sheriffs are ‘elected’ most years, to the criminal justice system and their regular attendance at Founder’s Day to celebrate slave trader John Cass illustrates just one of the ways in which institutional racism persists in the legal profession. Sometimes both of the sheriffs holding office attend Founder’s Day, usually alongside the mayor. For the 2020 celebrations on 27 February this year, William Russell was unable to attend as mayor – although as we showed in a recent post he was thanked for helping to organise it – because he was meeting top figures from the world of global finance, so ex-lord mayor Andrew Parmley went in his place alongside current sheriffs Christopher Hayward and Michael Mainelli.
John Cass Founder’s Day 27 February 2020, at the front in City of London council red alderman and sheriffs robes (as also worn by John Cass in the statue unseen here but directly above them – statue subsequently removed), left to right, Michael Mainelli (sheriff), Andrew Parmley (former lord mayor) and Chris Hayward (sheriff). Around them are their ‘consorts’ (wives) and various members of Sir John Cass’s Foundation. The man in purple on the far right is the foundation’s beadle (a minor official who assists more senior officers in their functions – City of London councillors who are alderman also have beadles).

In 2018 Assistant Commissioner of the City of London Police Alistair Sutherland participated in the Founder’s Day parade to celebrate slave trader John Cass according to a video placed on the David Game College YouTube site. At the time of writing this video was still viewable but it has been copied in case, like much other evidence of institutional racism relating to Cass, it is removed. We have yet to investigate whether other top officers from the City police have attended the Founder’s Day event but the fact Sutherland took part two years ago will further undermine confidence in this force, and confidence in it is likely to remain at a low ebb for as long as the City of London common council is its police authority.  Finally, the City of London council is inextricably linked to the finance industry, as anyone who reads a selection of posts from this blog will soon see. Moving on, Sir John Cass’s Foundation – like the City of London livery companies – is a perfect example of charity washing within the educational sector. The long and the short of this is that a number of charities and colleges tweeted out about the memorialisation of the slave trader John Cass on 27 February this year – as they would most years.
Cass’s Foundation retweets 2020 Founder’s Day message from Kings College London Widening Participation programme. As we’ve already pointed out Kings College have statues of the slave trader monarchs Elizabeth I and Queen Anne on the frontage of their Maughan Library (Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1LR) which should be removed.
Kathryn Caswell on behalf of the charity Share Foundation tweets out her pleasure at being able to celebrate the ‘great’ (sic) slave trader John Cass in 2020.
Fine art from London Metropolitan University tweet about this year’s slave trader celebration as a ‘wonderful Aldgate community event and reminder of where #thecass journey started’. Strangely they don’t seem horrified that this ‘journey’ encompassed slave trading.
It’s 2020 and an inner London Church of England parish tweets about how it is looking forward to seeing school children tricked into celebrating slave trader John Cass. In the article This Is How It Feels To Be Erased From Your Own History Lesson (by Léonie Chao-Fong, Huffington Post, 20 June 2020) Abdul Wahid makes it clear he is uhappy about his forced participation in John Cass Founder’s Day and also with the history he was taught at the John Cass Red Coat School: “I remember all the kids around me were brown and Black… Now I find it haunting that we were being told to pay homage to a man who benefited from enslaving people.”  We’re not going to publish pictures of the Founder’s Day parades we’ve found because they feature children who have been tricked into participating – the adults responsible for this abuse of care do, however, need to be identified – especially those at the top including but not limited to all those holding high office at the City of London council.
Cass Business School is now changing its name to disassociate itself from one of the City of London’s most notorious slave traders – but it tweeted out in celebration on John Cass Founder’s Day earlier this year.

Let us now return to the racist paintings current lord mayor William Russell and his sick friends are posing in front of during the 2017 Founder’s Day celebrations of slave trader John Cass. In a post last month we quoted academic Madge Dresser’s views on these paintings which were published in her 2007 History Workshop Journal (Volume 64, Issue 1) essay Set in Stone? Statues and Slavery in London:

A case in point is a series of painted panels commissioned in 1696 which allude to enslavement but avoid its actual significance…. these panels are worth discussing briefly as they were created when Cass, (former Lord Mayor of London Robert) Clayton and (former Lord Mayor of London John) Moore were in their prime and help us understand the mental world which they inhabited. Now installed in the premises of Sir John Cass’s Foundation Primary School in Aldgate, the panels were originally at a private merchant’s house in St Botolph’s Lane. Executed by the much sought-after City painter Robert Robinson, they portray a fantastical and ethnically blurred idyll of happy natives and other tropical exotica. One entitled ‘The Cultivation of Tobacco’ shows an African-looking labourer bending over tobacco plants in front of a western-style shack. The botanically accurate depiction of the tobacco plants and the western style of the shack implicitly indicate a plantation. Though the identity of the owner of ‘the painted room’ has not been definitively established, it seems likely to have been a well-known tobacco merchant, possibly the tobacco magnate Sir Jeffrey Jeffries, a neighbour and friend of Sir John Cass. See: https://web.archive.org/web/20200609151718/https://academic.oup.com/hwj/article/64/1/162/600955

Given the longstanding involvement of City of London lord mayors and sheriffs in the celebration of slave trader John Cass under the guise of Founder’s Day, we do not think it is enough to replace the current holders of those offices with other people. Rather the archaic and undemocratic posts of lord mayor, sheriff and alderman should be abolished, alongside the undemocratic business vote system that is emblematic of the City of London being the last rotten borough in England. Cass himself was an alderman and sheriff – and had he lived slightly longer would have almost certainly been a lord mayor – and after several hundred years in which he has been celebrated by those who went on to hold these same offices, it is high time these civic posts were scrapped.

Incredible as it may seem, William Russell has titled the lord mayor’s appeal he’s overseeing this year An Inclusive City, The Power of Inclusion. The blurb for this programme claims that: “We want to create a city that is inclusive and open to everyone. Inclusive workplaces are more productive, commercially successful, and have a happier and more engaged workforce.” If Russell actually wanted to foster diversity he wouldn’t have been celebrating a slave trader and posing in front of racist paintings as recently as 2017. He is a rich and powerful white man and if he is allowed to get away with such shocking displays of privilege then this is massive set back to realising an inclusive society. Russell should resign not just as lord mayor but also as an alderman. Likewise, isn’t it about time the statue of John Cass was removed from public display in the City of London council’s Guildhall headquarters?


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