Sir John Cass and food
Sir John Cass knew that hungry children can’t learn.
One of the first things he decided about his school was that all the pupils were to have a free dinner each day. In Cass’s time food was very expensive, and poorer people would expect to spend half of their income on it. It was quite accepted that the very poor would go hungry.
Very many of the children who went to the new school came from families where no one got enough to eat. So the school dinners were essential.
When the school reopened in 1749 little had changed, and the new trustees took the matter of school dinners very seriously too. The minute books tell us the trustees spent a lot of time discussing what the children should eat and where the food should be bought.
Here are the week’s menus the trustees finally agreed:
Monday: Rice Milk
Tuesday Boiled Beef
Wednesday Pease Porridge
Thursday Boiled Mutton
Friday Rice Milk
Saturday Stewed Beef and Broth
The only extra item to be served was bread, with butter on rice milk days and plain on other days. The rice milk was a kind of rice pudding, made with milk and sugar but no additional flavourings. No vegetables or puddings were offered. We know this because all the food bought is listed in detail in the minute books.
In summer the children had bread, cheese and butter instead of pease porridge, which was a thick soup made with dried peas.
Local shop keepers competed for the contracts to supply, for example, milk, bread and meat for the children.
This food, plain, monotonous and lacking in vitamins as it sounds, was far better than what most of the children would have had at home. In offering the pupils meat on three days a week, the trustees were being generous.
The school employed a cook, and the trustees took care that the children’s food was well prepared. They also checked up on the quality of the meat and bread provided for the school. Sometimes they asked one or two of the pupils to attend a meeting and tell them what they had for dinner. And sometimes they sent for samples of food from the school kitchen.