In the final years of his life, Cass suffered from several bouts of ill health. He probably realised he might not live much longer, and realised that it was because of his school that he would be most likely to be remembered. So when he was planning his will, he left instructions that the school was to receive most of his property, and that school and property were to be looked after by a group of trustees. And he also left instructions that his birthday, 20th February, was to be celebrated every year by everyone connected with the school. There was to be a religious service and procession attended by all, followed by a grand dinner for the trustees (he left money for this) and roast beef, beer and plum pudding for the school children.
As soon as the school was re-opened in 1749, the trustees began to do this.
“20th February 1749/50: The children belonging to this charity being assembled together in the School House, were now cloathed and from thence accompanied by the Master and Mistress went in procession through the several principal streets in the ward of Portsoken and after their return and prayers said by the Master in the Schoolhouse at which the Trustees were present a Psalm was sung by the Children suitable to the occasion and then the children sat down to Dinner upon Roast Beef and Plumb Puddings ad the Trustees proceeded to the following business of the day…. Afterwards they adjourned the continuance of the meeting of this Day, to the Bell Tavern to Dinner”.
As the years went by, Cass’s birthday came to be known as Founder’s Day. From 1750-51 the service began to be held in St Botolph’s Church, with a sermon given by a visiting clergyman, sometimes a bishop, and printed afterwards as a souvenir. Hymns appear to have been written specially for the occasion in some years – there is a manuscript book preserved in the archive recording the words of some of these. For example
“Happy the Man whose tender care
Relieves the poor distressed;
Though in the dark and silent tomb
His name shall still be blessed”.
When the first specialist teacher was appointed for the school, it was a musician. One of his main duties was to play the organ on Founder’s Day and make sure the children could sing to an impressive standard.
One of the themes of Founder’s Day was gratitude. The children and their families were expected to be constantly grateful for the benefits being given to them (remember that only about half of London children had the chance to go to school in the eighteenth century). The pupils were being given chances in life they would almost certainly not have had otherwise, and in return they were expected to be humble, obedient and polite. Most, but not all of them and their families kept their side of this bargain.
The trustees regarded it as their duty to maintain the public reputation of the school very carefully. Founder’s Day was an important part of this, and has continued to be so through the years. Even when the school was evacuated to Aylesbury during the Second World War Founder’s Day continued to be celebrated in the local church. There could be no roast beef dinner because of rationing, but the children went to the cinema instead.