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Sunday, July 30, 2017

J R Burgess

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

J.R. Burgess was a familiar artist to readers of the Boy’s Own Paper between around  1912 and 1935, and he was also responsible for the dustjackets and illustrations for many hardback boys’ school and adventure stories.  However, like many of his contemporaries he has always been a very shadowy figure.

He was born in 1880 in Shepherds Bush, London, and christened John Riddle Burgess.  His mother was Matilda Alice Riddle (1846–1906), the daughter of Frederic Riddle, a portrait artist. His father was Ebenezer Edwin Burgess, the son of a bootmaker, born in Islington, London, in 1837, and who made a career as a medical artist (variously described in the census records as a “Pathological Artist” and “Medical Draughtsman”). John was actually the sixth of an eventual family of nine children – his brothers were Edwin James Percy (born in 1873 and who became an artist and then a mechanic – he died in 1930), Henry Esmond (1878-1880), Frederick Tasker (1878–1929 – he was an automobile engineer), and Ernest Edmond Riddle (born in 1889 and who became an electrician).

At the time of the 1881 census, the family was living at 63 Davisville Road, Hammersmith, employing Annie Smith, a 16 year-old servant. Ten years later, the family was living at 6 Maida Hill West, Paddington, again employing a servant, 22 year-old Harriett Whitehorn. (With 8 children they were presumably fairly comfortably-off). Edwin James Percy, known simply as Percy, was already working as a lithographic artist.

It is not known what, if any, artistic training John Riddle Burgess had. But he was already working as an artist in 1900, when he provided 6 black and white plates for The Boy from Cuba, a school story written by Walter C. Rhoades, and the same number of plates for The Burtons of Burdale, written by J.W. Kneeshaw, and both published by S.W. Partridge & Co. This was followed by illustrations for William Murray Graydon’s On Winding Waters: A Tale of Adventure and Peril, also published by Partridge, in 1902.

By the time of the 1901 census the Burgess family was living at 46 Acacia Road, St. John’s Wood, London. Both Percy and Frederick Burgess were recorded as being draughtsmen, with John an Illustrative Artist. Ten years later, the family was still at that address – Ebenezer had retired, Percy had become a motor mechanic, and John was still present, working as a black and white artist. Two of his sisters, Gertrude (born 1882) and Madeline (born 1886) were working as part-time fashion artists. Ebenezer Burgess died at 46 Acacia Road on 7 May 1920.

J.R. Burgess’s long association with the Boy’s Own Paper (BOP) appears to have begun in 1912, with the illustrations for a short story (The Marble Mammon by A.R. Maurelly). In his Who’s Who of Boys’ Writers and Illustrators (1984) Brian Doyle wrote that Burgess was himself an old BOP reader, and was former prize-winner in one of its art competitions. He also described Burgess as “probably the best school story illustrator of the BOP’s latter period,” and that he was particularly happy in capturing the humours of public school life in his drawings. He “could depict a boy as graphically as anyone in his period.” (Unfortunately, Doyle went on to refer to his work on the school stories by John Roberts, and claimed that when The Glory of Greystone  was reprinted in hardback Burgess’s illustrations were included – this was incorrect, as the illustrations and plates in the hardback edition were by J.P. Paterson).

Amongst the serials Burgess illustrated for the BOP were Beyond the School Gates by Paul Blake (1914–1915); The Shaping of Jephson’s (1916–17), Caught Out (1918–1919), and Dixie of the Cock House, all by Kent Carr (1921); and Under Ringwood’s Rule by Michael Poole (1928-29), with his other work being illustrating short stories. His work also occasionally appeared in Chums, the Detective Magazine and Cassell’s Magazine of Fiction.

At the same time as his work for the BOP, Burgess was providing the illustrations for a wide range of hardback stories, being particularly associated with Escott Lynn and David Ker, showing that he was equally at home illustrating historical and adventure stories as he was school stories. Many of the books he illustrated were published by W. & R. Chambers. He also illustrated a few books for girls, such as Bessie Marchants The Two New Girls (Frederick Warne & Co., 1927), The Girls of the Big House by Ethel Talbot (T. Nelson & Sons, 1935), and Gillian the Dauntless by Frederica J.E. Bennett (T. Nelson & Sons, 1937). While he usually signed his work “J R Burgess,” some plates are signed simply “J R B.”

He seems to have published little after the Second World War, with the last book containing his illustrations appearing in 1958. (His work may, of course, have appeared anonymously).

He had married Margaret Underwood (born in Hampstead in 1892, the daughter of an Elementary School teacher) at St. Michael’s Church, Golders Green, on 3 September 1914 – they went on to have one son, Geoffrey Reginald, born on 13 February 1918 (and who died in Barnet in 1971).

J.R Burgess died at St. Stephens Hospital, Barnet, on 20 July 1966, leaving an estate valued at £4,248 (around £67,000 in today’s terms). His home address was 38 Woodhouse Road, Finchley – indeed, he seems to have lived in Finchley from around 1915 onwards, firstly at 16 Falkland Avenue (1918), then at 19 Woodhouse Road (1920), then at 19 Woodgrange Gardens (1923), and finally at 38 Woodhouse Road.


The Boy from Cuba by Walter C. Rhoades, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1900
The Burtons of Burdale by J.W. Kneeshaw, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1900
On Winding Waters: A Tale of Adventure and Peril by William Murray Graydon, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1902
Uncle Zeph and his Yarns by William J. Forster, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1903
Jefferson Junior by Meredith Fletcher, Blackie & Son, 1905
The Boys of Monk’s Harold by M.B. Manwell, Frederick Warne & Co., 1907
What Shall it Profit? Or Roden’s Choice by Annie S. Swann, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1910
Masterman Ready by Frederick Marryat, Collins, 1910
Children’s Chum-Chats by Uncle Reg, National Council of Evangelical Free Churches, 1911
Dick’s Chum by M.A. Paull, 1913(?) (re-issue)
The Adventures of Three Englishmen by Jules Verne, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1914 (re-issue)
The Secret Seven by R.S. Warren Bell, A. & C. Black, 1915 (with other artists)
The Spoilers by Edwin Pugh, George Newnes, 1920
Dixie of the Cock House by Kent Carr, W. & R. Chambers, 1921
Stirring Days in Old Virginia by Escott Lynn, W. & R. Chambers, 1922
Rebels of the Green Cockade: A Tale of Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia by Escott Lynn, W. & R. Chambers, 1923
The Sport of the School by Ethel Talbot, W. & R. Chambers, 1923
Yo-ho-ho! A Story of Modern Piracy and Smuggling by Erle Rose Spencer, W. & R. Chambers 1924
Over an Unknown Ocean by David Ker, W. & R. Chambers, 1926
The Black Triangle: A Tale of Today by Escott Lynn, W. & R. Chambers, 1926
The Necklace of Shells: A Story of West Africa by David Ker, “Boy’s Own Paper” Office, 1927
The Second Adventure: A Story of Peril and Prowess in Rumania by Escott Lynn, W. & R. Chambers, 1927
The Two New Girls by Bessie Marchant, Frederick Warne & Co., 1927 
The Guides of Pexton School by Maud Rowe, Children’s Companion Office, 1927
The Luck of the Bertrams: A Tale of Smuggling Days by Escott Lynn, W. & R. Chambers, 1928
The Hidden Face: A Story of Bohemia by David Ker, W. & R. Chambers, 1928
Up the Rock! A Story of the English in the Spanish War of Succession by David Ker, W. & R. Chambers, 1929
A Young Virginian: A Story of the Fight with France for North America by Escott Lynn, W. & R. Chambers, 1929
The Exploits of Peter by Sydney Horler, Collins, 1930
Cross and Sword: A Tale of Joan of Arc by David Ker, W. & R. Chambers, 1930
The Wasps of Whitegate by Michael Poole, C. Arthur Pearson, 1930
Westward Ho! With Drake: A Story of the Spanish Main by Ecott Lynn, W. & R. Chambers, 1930
Three Jolly Cadets: A Tale of the Royal Military Academy by Escott  Lynn, W. & R. Chambers, 1931
Fighting for Freedom: A Story of the Tirol by David Ker, W. & R. Chambers, 1931
Blakeney of the ‘Slashers’: A Gloucestershire Grenadier by Escott Lynn, W. & R. Chambers, 1932
Founders of Wat End School by Theodora Wilson Wilson, “Girl’s Own Paper” Office, 1932
Three Dashing Subalterns by Escott Lynn, W. & R. Chambers, 1933
Under the Golden Dragon: A Story of King Alfred’s Days by Excott Lynn, W. & R. Chambers, 1934
The Girls of the Big House by Ethel Talbot, T. Nelson & Sons, 1935
The Red Spears of Honan: A Story of Adventure in China by Escott Lynn, W. & R. Chambers, 1935
Chums at Charlhurst by Harold Avery, T. Nelson & Sons, 1936
Gillian the Dauntless by Frederica J.E. Bennett, T. Nelson & Sons, 1937
Nesta on Her Own by Ethel Talbot, T. Nelson & Sons, 1938
The St. Berga Swimming Pool by Theodora Wilson Wilson, T. Nelson & Sons, 1939
The March of Time by E.C.T. Horniblow & J.J. Sullivan (4 vols), Grant Educational, 1940
The Impossible Term by David Morris, Edmund Ward, 1949 
Old Testament Stories by P. Pringle, Evans Bros., 1954
Runaway! By Mary Hope Jeanne Mance, Highway Press, 1958

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