Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Walking with John Burns

110 Clapham Common Northside

John Burns was remembered in two ways by Battersea & Wandsworth TUC on Saturday 9 August, as founder of its predecessor in Battersea in 1894 and for his resignation on 2 August 1914 in protest against the pending declaration of war against Germany. I led a walk about Burns ending at the Bread & Roses pub owned by the BWTUC’s Workers Bear Company, where there was a dedication of a room to Burns, speeches and later on music.

The walk was attended by members of the BWTUC and of the   public who had read about it  in the recently published 4 page BWTUC Burns wrap around in the local Guardian.
The walk started in St Mary’s Cemetery with general observations about the state of cemeteries and the fact that individual grave plots were privately owned. We saw Burns’s grave which had been renovated by BWTUC in 2002. Buried underneath him were his wife and son Edgar who died aged 26 from the ill health and injuries resulting from being wounded in the First World War. I drew attention to some of the other people who were also buried there from Burns’s time, like the Worthys, husband and wife who both served on the Council, Isaac Stanley, the restaurant owner on Lavender Hill/Lavender Gdns with his masonic hall, and Andrew Cameron who had stood as against Burns for the Battersea LCC seat in December 1888.

Aspects of Burns’s life were talked about at various stages of the walk, including his imprisonment for his role in the Bloody Sunday attack by police and soldiers on demonstrators trying to enter Trafalgar Square, his leadership of the New Unionist wave of strikes for better pay and conditions, and his shaping of the municipal socialist agenda of fair wages, direct labour, housing, services, open spaces, etc, his support for temperance and land nationalisation, his role in helping obtain legislative changes to enable Battersea Council to build the Latchmere Estate, his work as the President of the Local Government Board as a Cabinet member from 1905 to early 1914 especially the Housing and Planning Act of 1909, his independence of views such as voting to give women the vote against the majority of his Cabinet colleagues.

Walking from the cemetery via Bolingbroke Grove and Wakehurst Rd to Northcote Rd we stopped to talk about Stephen Sanders named after the man who helped Burns put together the Progressive Alliance and was first Secretary of the Battersea Trades & Labour Council from 1894, Bolingbroke Hospital and the role of Rev Erskine Clarke in setting up new churches and parishes, facilities like the Hospital as well as running a children’s newspaper. We also saw the houses where had lived Victor Delahaye, the French Communard who influenced Burns to become a socialist, and Edward Thomas the poet killed in the First World War who had recalled being bowled out by Burns playing cricket.
As we walked along Northcote Rd I was able to explain how much of the neighbourhood was bought by the Conservative land organisation to have it developed as housing for potential Conservative voters. Street names like Northcote and Cairs reflect that link. We noted the entrance to the Council yard used as a depot for its direct labour force, and the Co-op shop with its past history as a cinema. The building where No 3 stood allowed me to talk about the former Tyne Main coal company office and shop and the importance of North East coal to the industrial and domestic life of Battersea in Burns lifetime.
Then round into Battersea Rise to discuss how the former Church of Nazarene building reflected the history of divisions in local Protestant sects, and the Goat pub in the former Temperance Billiard Hall.

Then up the Rise to Leithwaite Rd where I was able to explain about Burns attending the funeral of Richard Hinton, a Chartist socialist who had fled to the USA, become a supporter of John Brown, led a black regiment in the Civil War, and was active in setting up an early  American socialist organisation. He died while on a visit to London staying in Leathwaite Rd.

The next stretch of the walk was to go up Lavender Gdns to Lavender Hill and back down Sugden in order to see Burns former home at 37 Lavender Gdns, past Stanley’s complex of buildings, the Municipal Buildings (now Battersea Arts Centre), the Town Hall housing scheme behind it, going into what is now Battersea Arts Centre to see the symbols of the bees – the co-operative commonwealth. We then passed the offices of Battersea Labour Party at 177 Lavender Hill which had at one time been shared by the BWTUC and its Workers Beer Company, passed the former Labour (now British Legion) club. Referring to various side streets I was able to explain about the building of the Shafetesbury Park Estate, the trial of Baxter Langley its Chair for corruption, the development of its community activities and base for many labour movement activists, the move of the temperance Shaftesbury Club to the Hill in order to be able to serve drink. Other side streets included important people like Caroline Ganley, who became Battersea South’s MP 1945-51, and Clive and Noreen Branson, the Communists.

We then went down Sugden Rd to look at the blue plaque to Fred Knee the socialist campaigner for working class housing and founder of the London Labour Party, and the house where Joseph Hyder the organiser of the Land Nationalisation Society lived – Burns being a Vice-President. Finally to 110 Clapham Common Northside to see Burns’ final home with its blue plaque.

The next section of the walk was along Clapham Common Northside moving from the old Battersea into the old Clapham parish, which from 1900 to the mid-1960s was part of Wandsworth and from then in Lambeth. Burns connection with the Common included his arrest for public speaking in 1878 and his playing cricket. Northside had seen many substantial villas and estates from the 18thC. Both parishes had been lived in by members of the Clapham Sect like Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce, who worshipped at Holy Trinity Church. The African Academy of youngsters form Sierra Leone was housed in some of these properties. Alongside Sect members were also supporters the slavery business like George Hibbert. Although they had their differences over slavery they were able to work together on other issues of common interest. Memorialising Wilberforce was an issue in 1908, with Burns prepared to put money towards a drinking fountain. 

The walk then proceeded into Old Town to note the RMT building opened by the former National Union of Seamen in 1939, the Sun pub, an important meeting place for especially building workers in the lead up to the London strike and lockout of 1860 and the subsequent formation of unions that later were to merge into today’s UCATT. The last part of the walk took us through Grafton Square to get to the Oddfellows Hall building from 1852, with me being able to explain about the importance of friendly societies. And from there it was a short walk to the Bread & Roses.

For more information about the BWTUC Burns initiative see  http://www.bwtuc.org.uk/news.

A booklet is available from BWTUC organiser Carmel Pollen at carmelpollen@bwtuc.org.ukcarmelpollen@bwtuc.org.uk.

More information about Burns and the Battersea context is available from me – sean.creighton1947@btinternet.com

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