St Botolphs Church Without Aldgate
Aldgate and St Botolph’s Church were bustling places in Sir John Cass’s time, just as they are today. Aldgate has always been one of the major ways in and out of the City, and the church standing just outside the gate was a major landmark for people coming and going.
There has been a church here for at least a thousand years – one of three next to the old gates into the City of London named for Botolph, an East Anglian monk who has become known as the patron saint of travellers.
In Sir John Cass’s time the parish church was not only a place of prayer but the centre of much of public life – it would be used for everything from public meetings to a place to store the parish fire engine. But the building in which Cass was christened in 1661 was not was not the one that stands there today.
A church built in the middle ages was enlarged in 1418, and had frequent repairs and rebuilds in the two centuries following. It survived the Great Fire of London, which did not reach that far, and was the church where the first service of thanksgiving at the opening of the new school was held in 1711. It had a square tower with pinnacles and an arched hollow dome. This is copied in the head of the staff carried in the Founder’s Day procession, a mark the important place the church has always had in the history of the school and the Foundation
The vicar of St Botoph’s, the Rev. White Kennet (he has a local street named after him) did not always see eye to eye with John Cass over the founding of the Cass school – Kennet wanted schools in his own ward, and claimed to have had the idea first . There were already several charity schools in the area, including the Starling school, to which Cass had contributed. Kennet said:
‘it is no small honour to this parish of St Botolph Aldgate, that here was first laid the foundations of these Charity Schools, here the good example was first given’ (quoted in ‘outside the Gate’ by Malcolm Johnson)
The first school building was built very close to the church, and in n 1740, the local churchwardens were worried about the state of the church building and called in a surveyor. He reckoned that it was too old to be repaired, and so the church was demolished and a new one built in its place, the one that still stands there today.
The school building was untouched by the building work, and when the school re-opened in 1748, the first Founder’s Day service was held in the new building, as it has been ever since.The trustees were determined that the children should be a credit to the charity when they attended church – the whole school was required to rehearse and sing hymns and psalms “suitable to the occasion” each year. And it was not long before a specialist music teacher was appointed.
The children of the school were expected to attend Sunday service regularly each week, with the headmaster and headmistress in charge – the vicar held confirmation classes for the pupils, who were expected to be able to be fluent in the Catechism – a long list of questions and answers related to their faith.. For many years the children were seated in upper galleries, above the present ones , which were crowded and dark, with their heads nearly touching the ceiling. These galleries were removed in the 1890s
The links between the church and the school have been strong through the years. For a short time the Cass Foundation administered the church’s funds, and many vicars have also been members of the Trustees of the Foundation and supported the school in all its forms.