b. 1893 – d.1916
Full name: John Matthew (Aaron?) Sheffield Cassan.
John was born on 6th November 1893 in the registration district of Elham, Kent.
He was the second of five children born to Matthew Sheffield Cassan (1852-1910) and his wife Alice Mary nee Field (1868-1947.) Alice was born in Brixton, Surrey.
Matthew and Alice were married on 2nd May 1892 at All Saints Church, Notting Hill, London, he claims to be 33yrs but is actually 39yrs old and Alice is just 24yrs. Matthew is shown as a ‘Commercial Traveller’.
By the time of the 1901c they have all their children. The house is also occupied by visitors, Gerald Madden a Captain in the Irish Guards and Amelia Farquharson (living by own means), as well as Housemaid, Kitchen maid and Lady’s maid. This shows a sign of wealth.
- Edward Douglas Laurenceson Sheffield Cassan – 1892 – 1951
- John Matthew Sheffield Cassan – 1893 – 1916
- Victoria Mary Sheffield Cassan – 1896 – 1989
- Flora Kathleen Sheffield Cassan – 1898 – 1968
- Matthew Reginald Sheffield Cassan – 1901 – 1957
Following the birth of their first two children in Kent Matthew and Alice made the move up to London and all three of their remaining children were born in St George’s Hanover Square Dist, Westminster.
The family is living at 40 Ebury Street, Westminster which, according to Booth’s Poverty Maps, is a ‘middle class, well to do area with good lodging houses interrupted by shops’. Matthew has no occupation shown.
In 1903 Matthew and Alice have all of their children baptised together on 27th January 1903 at St John the Evangelist, Wilton Rd, Westminster.
The Sheffield name comes down through Matthew’s family; they were large land owners in Cappoley, Laois, Queens Co, Ireland where they built Sheffield House.
John’s father Matthew was born in 1852 in Ireland, his grandfather, also Matthew Sheffield 1820 -1905, was a land owner and gentleman farmer’ from a family of Barristers, Magistrate’s and landowners, his wife Phoebe Louisa Dawson was the daughter of John Dawson, Earl of Portarlington. Theirs is a complicated family of possibly eleven children all born in Ireland.
Sadly on 26th January 1909 John’s father Matthew Sheffield Cassan, was admitted to Hanwell Asylum Southall, where he died on April 24th 1910. We do not know why Matthew was admitted but possibly he suffered from Epilepsy as his son John appears to have done also.
It was just four months later in April 1909 that John is first admitted to a ‘Lunatic Asylum’ aged just 16yrs, what a terrible time for Alice and the family.
John Sheffield Cassan was initially admitted to Colney Hatch Asylum, Hertfordshire from the Northumberland Street workhouse, St Marylebone on 29 April 1909. He was discharged from Colney Hatch ‘Reld‘ and the Workhouse authorities sent him onto the Devon County Lunatic Asylum, Exminster on 20th Sept 1909.
He was discharged on 12th November 1909 ‘not improved‘.
On 12 March 1910 he was admitted to the Marylebone Workhouse and is noted as “supposed insane” and from there, on the 17th March 1910 he was re-admitted to Colney Hatch Asylum in Hertfordshire.
When Colney Hatch was opened in 1851 it was the largest and most modern asylum in Europe and also the most expensive ever built, but by 1858 serious defects in construction began to appear. Expansion continued and later temporary wooden buildings were erected but in 1903 a terrible fire occurred in a temporary building killing fifty one people, the worst disaster in English asylum history.
Between 1908-1913 whilst John was living there, seven new permanent brick villas were built including one for “subnormal boys with Epilepsy or disturbed behaviour” so we can hope that John benefited from this new system.
The 1911c for Colney Hatch records patients by initials only and on checking initials and age I have not been unable to find him but we must assume that he remained in Colney Hatch until he was transferred to the Epileptic Colony (Ep.Col.) on 13th Feb 1913 where he remained until his death on 31st March 1916.
John was buried in the Horton Cemetery on 7th April 1916 in grave 4b.
The ‘Epsom Colony’ part of the Epsom Cluster of five mental hospitals, had been opened in 1903 to care for “the Epileptic insane of the Metropolis”. This new approach housed patients in a collection of villas, avoiding the stigma of living in a mental asylum. The treatment consisted of a specially regulated diet and doses of Potassium bromide, the first effective treatment for controlling epilepsy. The patients were expected contribute to their costs by working on the hospital farm or in the kitchens, laundry or bakery all of which supported the Epsom cluster of hospitals. As yet we can know little of John’s life in the hospital but we hope to discover more in time.
By the 1911c, with her husband dead and son John in an Asylum we find Alice Mary Sheffield Casson as a ‘boarding house keeper’ at no’s 6,8,10 York Street, Marylebone, at the Bakers Street end of York Street. In total there are 27 guest and 10 staff plus her son Edward the only one of her children living with her. This area was, according to Booth Maps was at the “well to do, middle class” end of the street. Flora was a boarder at a private school in Folkestone, Kent but Victoria and Matthew Reginald cannot be found.
Life after John – New York, New York!
The 1920 United State Federal Census shows Alice Sheffield and son Reginald immigrated in to America in 1915. Reginald is a paid (waged) actor. The family seem to have dropped the Cassan part of the name.
According to the 1930c USA, Alice, son Edward, daughter Flora and son Matthew Reginald are also shown to have arrived in New York in 1915, so the whole family left England. Edward is an accountant at a bank and shown as ex military. Flora is an actress and Reginald is an actor.
John’s mother Alice Mary Sheffield Cassan nee Field died in 1947 in Missouri, USA aged 79yrs. In her lifetime she had travelled back and forth across the Atlantic several times, seen her family fall apart and then go on to undreamt of success. How hard must it have been to leave John behind in the Epsom Colony, did she or any other member of the family make one last visit to say goodbye, we cannot know at the moment but may find out more as records become available to us.
Edward Douglas Laurenceson Sheffield (Cassan)
John’s brother married on 23 Oct 1923 to Agnes M Loskant. Edward trained as a accountant. In the 1931 ships log travelling from Folkstone to New York with his mother he claims he is the Manager of Lloyds Bank, Cologne. Edward died on 18 July 1951 in Washington, District of Columbia, USA.
Matthew Reginald ‘Reggie’ Sheffield (Cassan)
Brother ‘Reggie’ married in 1927 to Louise Sanderson Van Loon 1905-1987 and they had three children.
- Mary Alice 1928 -1977
- John Matthew (Johnny Sheffield) 1931 – 1010
- William Hart (Bill) 1935 – 2010
Reginald ‘Reggie’ Sheffield had been acting on the stage and screen in England since 1913, the lure of the American film industry must have been a big draw. He went on to play David Copperfield in the 1923 film and worked with many famous actors such as Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster, acquiring ~130 film and TV credits.
Reggie’s son (John’s nephew) Johnny Sheffield starred as ‘Boy’ alongside Johnny Weismuller in the Tarzan films and as ‘Bomba the Jungle Boy’ in a number of films as well as many other screen appearances. His Brother Bill was also an actor and starred in an Oscar award winning short film.
Victoria Mary Sheffield (Cassan)
John’s younger sister became a ballerina and when they moved to the USA she spent 6yrs with the Anna Pavlova dance company. After retiring she taught dance and many of her pupil’s went on to professional careers .
She married in Fareham, Hampshire in 1924 to Lieut. Cmdr. Robert Lewes Burridge and they had two children. Victoria died on 28 March 1998 in St Louis, Missouri and is buried in the Oak Grove Cemetery, Bel-Noir.
Flora Kathleen Sheffield (Cassan)
Known professionally as Flora Sheffield, John’s youngest sister went into the film business and was involved in a number of productions but is best known for her role as Kitty Verdun in the 1931 production of Charley’s Aunt, and as Barbara Hare in East Lynne (1931) (shown left). She married on 15 March 1932 to Ethelred Barrs Wilden Jnr 1905-1967. Flora died in Los Angeles California on 26 Dec 1968.