The History of Wandsworth Common

John Burns Beats the Battersea Bounds, unknown date [c.1868?]

Politician and trades union activist John Burns as the Colossus of Battersea, by Leonard Raven-Hill, Punch magazine, 15 December 1909. (Image: Wikimedia, public domain)
(Click on image to enlarge)

On 17 March 2023, Sean Creighton sent this very interesting account of future Battersea MP John Burns "beating the bounds" as a schoolboy:

Battersea's civic leaders were conscious of the need to protect the parish boundaries, especially from encroachments from neighbouring parishes.

Every year there was a ceremony "Beat the Bounds" going round the boundaries. John Burns was a member of a group of school children who accompanied one of these 'Beatings'.

As well as a trip along the Thames in rowing boats, they were driven in carriages and brakes to other parts, including Wix's Lane where the boundary line 'intersected a garden and the pass [?] of the house at the corner of Wix's Lane and North Side.'

The parish beadle 'glorious in green coat, gold lace, and cocked hat, pompous in manner, strident in his patronage of lesser folk', ordered them 'to climb the wall and beat the bounds, my lads, as the law and the vestry directs."

After being chased around the garden by the house maids, the children tapped the boundary walls and passage of the house with their willow wands.

The group then went to Crystal Palace and other parts of Penge which were part of the parish until 1900.

[John Burns. "Foreword to E. A. Woolmer, The Story of Battersea (Sampson Low, Marston & Co. 1924), pp.iii-v, quoted in Sean Creighton, Battersea in the 1870s and 1880s (2020, pdf). Sean's terrific essay can be downloaded from his website, History and Social Action, and here.]

My reply:

Thanks, Sean

Any idea when this might have been? Since John Burns was born in 1858 (in Grant Road, Battersea), attended a National School locally until age ten, and then had a variety of jobs in the area until was fourteen, can we assume he is most likely to have beaten the bounds in the mid- to late-1860s or early 1870s?

Interesting that by this time the school children were given rides in rowing boats, carriages and brakes — unlike John Buckmaster's "beaters", they didn't have to walk the whole way!