John Burns
John Elliot Burns was an English trade union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

ist and politician of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly associated with London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 politics. He was a socialist and then a Liberal
Liberal Party (UK)
The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties of the United Kingdom during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a third party of negligible importance throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, before merging with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the present day...

 Member of Parliament and Minister. He was anti-alcohol and a keen sportsman. After retiring from politics, he developed an expertise in London history and coined the phrase "The Thames is liquid history".

Early life

Burns was born in Vauxhall
-Demography:Many Vauxhall residents live in social housing. There are several gentrified areas, and areas of terraced townhouses on streets such as Fentiman Road and Heyford Avenue have higher property values in the private market, however by far the most common type of housing stock within...

, the son of Alexander Burns, a Scottish fitter, and attended a national school
National school (England and Wales)
A national school was a school founded in 19th century England and Wales by the National Society for Promoting Religious Education.These schools provided elementary education, in accordance with the teaching of the Church of England, to the children of the poor.Together with the less numerous...

 in Battersea
Battersea is an area of the London Borough of Wandsworth, England. It is an inner-city district of South London, situated on the south side of the River Thames, 2.9 miles south-west of Charing Cross. Battersea spans from Fairfield in the west to Queenstown in the east...

 until he was ten years old. He then had a succession of jobs until he was fourteen years old and started a seven year apprenticeship to an engineer at Millbank and continued his education at night-schools. He read extensively, especially the works of Robert Owen
Robert Owen
Robert Owen was a Welsh social reformer and one of the founders of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement.Owen's philosophy was based on three intellectual pillars:...

, John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill was a British philosopher, economist and civil servant. An influential contributor to social theory, political theory, and political economy, his conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control. He was a proponent of...

, Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine
Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...

 and William Cobbett
William Cobbett
William Cobbett was an English pamphleteer, farmer and journalist, who was born in Farnham, Surrey. He believed that reforming Parliament and abolishing the rotten boroughs would help to end the poverty of farm labourers, and he attacked the borough-mongers, sinecurists and "tax-eaters" relentlessly...

. A French fellow-worker, Victor Delahaye, who had been present during the Paris Commune
Paris Commune
The Paris Commune was a government that briefly ruled Paris from March 18 to May 28, 1871. It existed before the split between anarchists and Marxists had taken place, and it is hailed by both groups as the first assumption of power by the working class during the Industrial Revolution...

 introduced him to socialist ideas, and Burns claimed that he was converted because he found the arguments of J. S Mill against it to be insufficient. He was ruled out as a try hard. He began practising outdoor speaking, with the advantage of exceptional physical strength and a strong voice.

In 1878 he was arrested and held overnight for addressing an open-air demonstration on Clapham Common
Clapham Common
Clapham Common is an 89 hectare triangular area of grassland situated in south London, England. It was historically common land for the parishes of Battersea and Clapham, but was converted to parkland under the terms of the Metropolitan Commons Act 1878.43 hectares of the common are within the...

. He worked at his trade in various parts of England, having joined the Amalgamated Society of Engineers
Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union
The Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union was a British trade union. It merged with the MSF to form Amicus in 2001.The history of the union can be traced back to the formation of the "Old Mechanics" of 1826, which grew into the Amalgamated Society of Engineers in 1851...

 in 1879. In 1881 he formed a branch of the Social Democratic Federation
Social Democratic Federation
The Social Democratic Federation was established as Britain's first organised socialist political party by H. M. Hyndman, and had its first meeting on June 7, 1881. Those joining the SDF included William Morris, George Lansbury and Eleanor Marx. However, Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx's long-term...

 (SDF) in Battersea
Battersea is an area of the London Borough of Wandsworth, England. It is an inner-city district of South London, situated on the south side of the River Thames, 2.9 miles south-west of Charing Cross. Battersea spans from Fairfield in the west to Queenstown in the east...

. He worked on board ship, and went for a year to the West Africa
West Africa
West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent. Geopolitically, the UN definition of Western Africa includes the following 16 countries and an area of approximately 5 million square km:-Flags of West Africa:...

n coast at the mouth of the Niger
Niger , officially named the Republic of Niger, is a landlocked country in Western Africa, named after the Niger River. It borders Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, Algeria and Libya to the north and Chad to the east...

 as a foreman engineer for the United Africa Company
United Africa Company
The United Africa Company was a British company which principally traded in West Africa during the 20th century.The United Africa Company was formed in 1929 as a result of the merger of the Royal Niger Company, which had been effectively owned by Lever Brothers since 1920, and the African &...

. He disapproved of treatment of Africans and spent his earnings on a six months' tour to study political and economic conditions in France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 and Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...


Radical politics

Burns delivered a speech at the Industrial Remuneration Conference in 1884 which attracted considerable attention, and in that year he was elected to the Social Democratic Federation's executive council. He stood for Parliament in the 1885 General Election at Nottingham West
Nottingham West (UK Parliament constituency)
Nottingham West was a borough constituency in the city of Nottingham. It returned one Member of Parliament to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom....

 but was unsuccessful. A year later, he took part in a London demonstration against unemployment
Unemployment , as defined by the International Labour Organization, occurs when people are without jobs and they have actively sought work within the past four weeks...

 which resulted in the West End riots when the windows of the Carlton Club
Carlton Club
The Carlton Club is a gentlemen's club in London which describes itself as the "oldest, most elite, and most important of all Conservative clubs." Membership of the club is by nomination and election only.-History:...

 and other London clubs were broken, where he encouraged rioters to loot bakeries. He was arrested and later acquitted at the Old Bailey
Old Bailey
The Central Criminal Court in England and Wales, commonly known as the Old Bailey from the street in which it stands, is a court building in central London, one of a number of buildings housing the Crown Court...

 of charges of conspiracy
Conspiracy (crime)
In the criminal law, a conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to break the law at some time in the future, and, in some cases, with at least one overt act in furtherance of that agreement...

 and sedition
In law, sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority to tend toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent to lawful authority. Sedition may include any...

. He was arrested again the following year on 13 November 1887 for resisting police attempts to break up an unlicenced meeting in Trafalgar Square. The demonstration against coercion in Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 ended in the 'Bloody Sunday' clashes; Burns was imprisoned for six weeks.

In August 1889 Burns played a major part in the London Dock Strike
London Dock Strike of 1889
The London Dock Strike was an industrial dispute involving dock workers in the Port of London. It broke out on 14 August 1889, and resulted in a victory for the strikers and established strong trade unions amongst London dockers, one of which became the nationally important Dock, Wharf, Riverside...

. By this time he had left the SDF and, with fellow socialist Tom Mann
Tom Mann
Tom Mann was a noted British trade unionist. Largely self-educated, Mann became a successful organiser and a popular public speaker in the labour movement.-Early years:...

, was focusing on trade union activity as a leader of the New Unionist movement. With other London radicals such as Ben Tillett
Ben Tillett
Benjamin Tillett was a British socialist, trade union leader and politician. He was born in Bristol and began his working life as a sailor, before travelling to London and taking up work as a docker....

, Will Crooks
Will Crooks
William Crooks was a noted trade unionist and politician from Poplar, London, and a member of the Fabian Society...

 and John Benn, Burns ('The Man with the Red Flag
Red flag
In politics, a red flag is a symbol of Socialism, or Communism, or sometimes left-wing politics in general. It has been associated with left-wing politics since the French Revolution. Socialists adopted the symbol during the Revolutions of 1848 and it became a symbol of communism as a result of its...

') helped win the dispute. He was still working at his trade in Hoe's printing machine works and was an active member of the executive of the Amalgamated Engineers' Union.

In 1889 he became a Progressive member of the first London County Council
London County Council
London County Council was the principal local government body for the County of London, throughout its 1889–1965 existence, and the first London-wide general municipal authority to be directly elected. It covered the area today known as Inner London and was replaced by the Greater London Council...

 in which he was supported by his constituents, who subscribed an allowance of £2 a week. He devoted his efforts against private (but not government) monopolies and introduced a motion in 1892 that all contracts for the County Council should be paid at trade union rates and carried out under trade union conditions. As a local politician, Burns is particularly noted for his role in the creation of Battersea's Latchmere Estate, the first municipal housing estate
Council house
A council house, otherwise known as a local authority house, is a form of public or social housing. The term is used primarily in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Council houses were built and operated by local councils to supply uncrowded, well-built homes on secure tenancies at...

 built using a council's own direct labour force, officially opened in 1903. He was connected with the Trades Union Congress
Trades Union Congress
The Trades Union Congress is a national trade union centre, a federation of trade unions in the United Kingdom, representing the majority of trade unions...

es until 1895.

Parliamentary career

In 1892, he was elected as Member of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 for Battersea
Battersea (UK Parliament constituency)
Battersea is a parliamentary constituency located in Battersea in the London Borough of Wandsworth. It is represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, to which it elects one Member of Parliament by the first-past-the-post voting system.- Boundaries :The...

 as an Independent Labour Party
Independent Labour Party
The Independent Labour Party was a socialist political party in Britain established in 1893. The ILP was affiliated to the Labour Party from 1906 to 1932, when it voted to leave...

 member and held his seat until 1918, although he changed his parliamentary allegiance in that time. He displayed fervent Parliamentary opposition to the Second Boer War
Second Boer War
The Second Boer War was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902 between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State...

 (1900). Burns became well known as an independent Radical, but while fellow socialist Keir Hardie
Keir Hardie
James Keir Hardie, Sr. , was a Scottish socialist and labour leader, and was the first Independent Labour Member of Parliament elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom...

 argued for the formation of a new political party, Burns remained aligned with the Liberal Party
Liberal Party (UK)
The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties of the United Kingdom during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a third party of negligible importance throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, before merging with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the present day...

. In December 1905 Campbell-Bannerman
Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman GCB was a British Liberal Party politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1905 to 1908 and Leader of the Liberal Party from 1899 to 1908. He also served as Secretary of State for War twice, in the Cabinets of Gladstone and Rosebery...

 included him in the cabinet as President of the Local Government Board
President of the Local Government Board
The President of the Local Government Board was a ministerial post, frequently a Cabinet position, in the United Kingdom, established in 1871. The Local Government Board itself was established in 1871 and took over supervisory functions from the Board of Trade and the Home Office, including the...

, the second workingman (after Henry Broadhurst
Henry Broadhurst
Henry Broadhurst was a leading early British trade unionist and a Lib-Lab politician who sat in the House of Commons variously between 1885 and 1906....

) to serve as a government minister. Burns remained proud of his working class roots, declaring to the Commons in a speech in 1901: "I am not ashamed to say that I am the son of a washerwoman". He received praise for his administrative policy and for refusing to adopt some of the extreme proposals of the Labour Party, and was retained in the government after H. H. Asquith
H. H. Asquith
Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, KG, PC, KC served as the Liberal Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916...

 became Prime Minister in 1908. He was sworn of the Privy Council in 1905.

In 1914 Burns was appointed President of the Board of Trade, but after the start of the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, he resigned from the government in protest and left political life in 1918.


Burns was a non-drinker and enthusiast for sporting activity. He was a long-time lover of cricket, being a regular at the Oval and Lords, and sustained severe injuries being hit in the face while watching a cricket match in 1894.

In 1919 he was left an annuity of £1000 by Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish-American industrialist, businessman, and entrepreneur who led the enormous expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century...

 which left him financially independent and he spent the rest of his life devoted to his interests in books, London history and cricket
Cricket is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of 11 players on an oval-shaped field, at the centre of which is a rectangular 22-yard long pitch. One team bats, trying to score as many runs as possible while the other team bowls and fields, trying to dismiss the batsmen and thus limit the...

. As a book collector, he created a very large private library, much of which he left to University of London Library. He developed an acknowledged expertise in the history of London, and in 1929, when an American compared the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 unfavourably with the Mississippi, he responded "The St Lawrence is water, the Mississippi is muddy water, but the Thames is liquid history”.

A collection of his papers is held at the University of London
University of London
-20th century:Shortly after 6 Burlington Gardens was vacated, the University went through a period of rapid expansion. Bedford College, Royal Holloway and the London School of Economics all joined in 1900, Regent's Park College, which had affiliated in 1841 became an official divinity school of the...

 library, and embraces many of his political interests, including universal
Universal suffrage
Universal suffrage consists of the extension of the right to vote to adult citizens as a whole, though it may also mean extending said right to minors and non-citizens...

 adult suffrage
Suffrage, political franchise, or simply the franchise, distinct from mere voting rights, is the civil right to vote gained through the democratic process...

, working hours and conditions, employment, pensions, poor laws, temperance
Temperance movement
A temperance movement is a social movement urging reduced use of alcoholic beverages. Temperance movements may criticize excessive alcohol use, promote complete abstinence , or pressure the government to enact anti-alcohol legislation or complete prohibition of alcohol.-Temperance movement by...

, social conditions, local government, South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

n labour, and the Boer War.

He died aged 84 and was buried in St Mary's Cemetery, Battersea Rise. His connections with Battersea
Battersea is an area of the London Borough of Wandsworth, England. It is an inner-city district of South London, situated on the south side of the River Thames, 2.9 miles south-west of Charing Cross. Battersea spans from Fairfield in the west to Queenstown in the east...

 are recalled by the naming of a local school and a housing estate after him, and one of the Woolwich Ferry
Woolwich Ferry
The Woolwich Free Ferry is a boat service across the River Thames, London, UK, which is licensed and financed by London River Services, the maritime arm of Transport for London...

 vessels also carries his name.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.