John Burn was born in 1853, at South Moar, County Durham. Educated at Richmond School, Yorkshire, and Corpus Christie College, Cambridge, he was ordained to the Church of England ministry in 1876. After a curacy at St. Mary’s, Scarborough, he became Vicar of All Saints’ Middlesbrough in 1884.
Burn had an evangelical upbringing, but at All Saints’ encountered the Oxford Movement tradition and by the turn of the century, had introduced the full range of Anglo-Catholic sacramental worship and ritual. Use of incense and reservation of the Blessed Sacrament aroused the wrath of Archbishop Maclagan of York who placed All Saints under an episcopal ban lasting for many years.
Deeply affected by the poverty of his predominantly working class parish, Burn developed strong Christian socialist views and, unsuccessfully intervened on behalf of George Sansbury in the Middlesbrough parliamentary election of 1906, he bitterly attacked the local Board of Guardians for their parsimonious attitude to relief of poverty during periods of industrial depression and established on All Saints’ League of Mercy which fed great numbers of the poor at such times.
Father Burn became, in his own lifetime, a legendary figure, the conflict with the diocese was ended, largely on the vicars’ terms, by agreement with Archbishop Lang, in 1924, though resumed after Burn’s death. As a mark of respect in which he was held, the national Anglo-Catholic Congress was planned for Middlesbrough in the following year. It was held as intended but Father Burn died shortly before the Congress opened. His funeral witnessed oceans of extraordinary public grief.
Written by Barry Jewitt.