[1780] - Gordon Riots in London

The Gordon Riots were a series of anti-Catholic disturbances that took place in London from 2 to 10 June 1780. They began when a crowd of approximately 60,000 people assembled in St George’s Fields on the morning of Friday 2 June and then marched on the Houses of Parliament. Led by Lord George Gordon, the President of the Protestant Association, their intention was to present a petition to repeal the Catholic Relief Act of 1778, which had removed a number of disabilities imposed on Roman Catholics in Britain. Although Gordon succeeded in presenting the petition, the crowd became increasingly violent, insulting peers and Members of Parliament, and attacking their coaches as they arrived. The demonstration resumed in the evening as mobs gathered outside the House of Commons, looting and setting fire to the Roman Catholic chapels of the Bavarian and Sardinian embassies.

The following day crowds gathered in the open fields around Moorfields, one of the poorest areas of the city that was home to large numbers of Irish immigrant workers. Again, violence ensued as several Catholic churches and homes were sacked and burned. In addition, other prominent sites were targeted by the mobs including Newgate Prison, the Bank of England, and the home of the Lord Chief Justice, the Earl of Mansfield. After several days of violence, the army was ordered to move in. By Saturday 10 June peace had been restored to the streets of London, but, in the process, around 285 people had been killed and 200 wounded. In total, 450 people were arrested for disorder, of whom 25 were sentenced to death and hanged.

The Gordon Riots were the most serious disturbances in London in the eighteenth century. They not only highlighted the extent and intensity of anti-Catholic sentiment, but also exposed the inadequacy of policing in the capital. Dickens’s novel Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty (1840–1) is set during the Gordon Riots.

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