The Cass

I have not been following in detail the controversy surrounding the proposed closure of the Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, but have been encouraged to do so by Bob and Roberta Smith, a stalwart campaigner on its behalf.

Cass himself was a great east end philanthropist, a Tory MP, sheriff, master of the Carpenter’s Company and a Commissioner for the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches.   There’s a statue of him in the Guildhall and a monument in St. Botolph’s:-


His Foundation was established in 1748.   This funded the Sir John Cass Technical Institute in 1899, which became the Sir John Cass College in 1950 and merged with the Department of Silversmithing from Central School of Art in 1965.   This in turn grew into London Guildhall University which merged with London Metropolitan University in 2002.   Three years ago the long-established Architecture School moved in with teachers including Florian Beigel, the Head of Department, Tony Fretton, Peter St. John and Deborah Saunt to create what Bob and Roberta Smith calls ‘the Aldgate Bauhaus’, based on the craft workshop tradition.   The previous Vice-Chancellor of London Metropolitan University was keen to capitalise on the fame of The Cass to add lustre to the University as a whole and allowed it considerable independence.

Now, Central House, the building it occupies, originally designed as workshops in the 1960s and recently refurbished by Florian Beigel, has been sold by the University (or is believed to have been) for £54 million and the faculty is being relocated to the Holloway Road, away from east London, thereby depriving the east end and the nearby Tech City of a key cultural element – access to teaching and craft workshops.   I can see why the University would want to extract the maximum value from its property portfolio and capitalise on the value of the building.   But were no commitments made to retain art teaching in the east end at the time of the merger ?  Does the Sir John Cass Foundation still exist ?  And what do its Trustees think ?   And is there no-one on the Board of the University fighting for art teaching in the east end ?







8 thoughts on “The Cass

  1. Graeme Preedy says:

    This seems tragic. When the heart of art and design education is transplanted elsewhere, chiefly for financial reasons, so much of the history of making and creating is lost. The building, the space, location and the artists/designers (past and present) are the Sir John Cass Faculty of Art…

  2. edward chaney says:

    it’s just more of the same from a culture promoted by a ghastly gang of ‘growth’-fixated financiers and their political stooges, who have apparently never encountered the paleo-conservative (and pacifist) principle that ‘if it not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change’… Let’s hope this is the year of the great crash,when our fake, foreign-inflated economy is finally obliged to get real…

  3. pbmum says:

    In the Christmas break of 1982 when I was in my second year of university my dad (then in his mid 50s) died very suddenly. Although I was in receipt of a full local authority grant it looked unlikely that I was going to be able to afford to go back to university in Manchester – especially as the circumstances meant that I was likely to want to travel back to London frequently to be with family. A local councillor who we knew from St Mary and St Michael’s Church in Stepney arranged for me to apply for a grant from the Sir John Cass Foundation. The money they awarded me ensured that I was able to continue my education. I went on to get a first class degree and a PhD so I like to think that I made good use of their investment. A quick google shows that they still exist and are still doing the same sort of thing – funding low income students through higher education.

    That corner of Aldgate is so monumentally changed. I have memories of 1972 when, as a nine year old, my dad piled me and my sister into the family Cortina to go and watch the inferno that was engulfing Gardiner’s Corner clothing store.

    I don’t know the ins and outs of the Cass Art developments but there are, of course, some positive developments in the East End as regards design education with Loughborough University’s presence in the Here East development in E20 and the London College of Fashion’s move to Olympicopolis.


  4. kate moss says:

    using London mets reasoning all London universtities and colleges should sell off their property portfolios and relocate outside the M25
    but what about the donations and charitable gifts that were for the art school, who is standing up for them. or does money trump everything?

  5. Pingback: Press cuttings | Save the Cass at Aldgate

  6. Gareth Evans says:

    I agree with the comments posted – Graeme’s, Edward’s back… There were some truly great staff members – and a wondrous course around film being developed – now cut short. And they have resigned in protest. So it goes. The ongoing erasure of the public realm. Working as I do at Whitechapel Gallery it felt crucial to know there was work actually being made locally, and not only shown.

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