John Hugh Burland: A Barnsley Chartist

Paul Stebbing, BMBC’s Archives & Local Studies Officer, examines the work of a 19th century local historian.

Barnsley has had many local historians over the years who have attempted to document the history of the town and generate interest in the past. The list includes names like Rowland Jackson, Eli Hoyle, Edwin Bayford, and more recently Brian Elliott and the late Harold Taylor, all of whom have contributed to the historical record. Perhaps the best remembered of the early historians is John Hugh Burland, due to what he left behind – huge handwritten volumes recording details of people, events and places from the past. These volumes and additional papers were amongst the earliest items to find their way into the Barnsley Library collections when the service was first formed in the 1890s, and have been used by historians ever since.

A photo showing two pages from Burland's book, he had very small wriitng!
An extract from Burland’s Annals of Barnsley – as you can see his writing was tiny!

Born at the Golden Cup tavern (subsequently known as the Hole in the Wall) in Sackville Street, Barnsley on April 5th 1819, Burland by his own admission was a radical character and affiliated himself with the Chartist movement in the late 1830s, being forced to leave the town to avoid imprisonment. He pursued a career in education, training as a national schoolmaster at the York and Ripon Diocesan Training School in York, following which he took up a post in County Durham. However, before long, he was back in the Barnsley area, writing for local newspapers, and beginning to record details of local events. He was also involved with numerous local societies and institutions – all of which are detailed in his short autobiography which forms part of the Burland collection.

Burland’s masterpiece is his ‘Annals of Barnsley and its environs,’ which is a chronological account of events in Barnsley and District from 1744 to 1864. Barnsley Archives and Local Studies hold not only the final five bound volumes, which contain over 1.5 million words, but also Burland’s original handwritten notes. One can only imagine how many dedicated years he must have spent painstakingly writing by candlelight. During a period of industrialisation and huge change in the area, he includes incredible details of local occurrences, deaths, parties, trials, characters, buildings and a great deal more. Much of this information could simply not be found elsewhere. For example, when commemorating the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo in 2015, archives staff went immediately to the Annals of Barnsley, where Burland had usefully written brief biographies of all local men who had fought in this decisive battle of the Napoleonic wars. Although the battle occurred prior to his birth, veterans were still living locally at the time he was writing.

Such is the importance of these volumes that they were voted ‘Barnsley’s Greatest Treasure’ by the public, following a campaign in early 2015. Burland’s varied interests also included creative writing and there are numerous examples of his poetry amongst his papers.

In his personal life, Burland married into the well-connected Surtees family in 1852, his wife being Eliza Hannah Surtees of Tankersley, a descendant of the founder of the antiquarian Surtees Society. Married for nearly thirty years, Burland lost Eliza in 1880, aged 68. His final post was that of School Warden at Hoyland Nether and it was in St. Peter’s Church Burial Ground there that he was buried following his own death at the age of 66 on June 2nd 1885. A large gravestone was erected by private subscription.

Annals of Barnsley Transcribed

Barnsley Archives volunteers: Val, Chris & Sue

Thanks to a small group of dedicated volunteers the works of Burland have now been fully transcribed, all 1.5 million words have been typed out, checked and indexed. You can see an index to all four volumes on our website

The interest in Burland remains high because of his immense work in recording local history; his association with the Chartist movement; and because so many of his family still live locally. His life was commemorated in July 2014 with the unveiling of a Civic Trust Blue Plaque at Barnsley’s Premier Inn, very close to his birthplace

Barnsley Archives is nominated for an ARA Excellence Award

We are delighted to announce that we have been nominated for an Archives and Records Association Award in the record keeping service of the year category. It is a public vote and you can vote here:

You can read why we have been nominated:

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