2nd June 1780 the Gordon Riots

The Gordon Riots depicted by John Seymour Lucas

On this day in 1780, London was rocked by the biggest and most dramatic riots in British history. There was more damage to property than Paris suffered during the French Revolution, leaving hundreds dead, hundreds more wounded, and dozens of buildings destroyed. The so-called Gordon Riots seriously dented England’s reputation, challenging the very notion of ‘democracy’, and would lead directly to the founding of Britain’s first police force.

So what sparked it?

Two years before, Parliament decided to repeal some harsh anti-Catholic legislation from the previous century and introduced the Catholic Relief Act of 1778. But the very idea of tolerating Catholicism was deeply resented in Protestant England. Lord George Gordon – a 29-year-old MP for Ludgershall in Wiltshire – was in no doubt that the Act had been cynically formulated “for the diabolical purpose of arming the Papists against the Protestant colonies in America.” In a series of rousing speeches and mass rallies, he incited the masses to uphold the cause of liberty and demand a return to the repression of Catholic absolutism.

On June 2nd 1780, Gordon led a crowd of over 60,000 to the House of Commons to present a petition stating that the legislation encouraged ‘popery’ and was a threat to the Church of England. The petition was rejected, and rioting broke out. The angry mob attacked anyone suspected of being Catholic, burned down churches, houses and destroyed businesses. Using their momentary advantage, the crowd then moved beyond its original anti-Catholic objectives to square accounts with the rich and other symbols of oppression. Visionary poet William Blake was swept up by a rampaging mob that stormed the legendary Newgate prison – walls were toppled, gates smashed and more than one hundred prisoners freed. Other prisons, aristocratic homes, embassies and chapels were attacked, plundered and burned before the crowd marched on the Bank of England.

For six days in London, the mob ruled. King George III eventually called in his army, who couldn’t legally fire until the Riot Act had been read. When the army finally managed a response, it did so with unfettered brutality – firing directly into any group of four or more who did not immediately disperse. Nearly three hundred were killed on the streets of London and another few hundred died subsequently of wounds received. Twenty-five of the ringleaders were sentenced to death, including a 14-year-old youth, though Gordon himself was found not guilty of treason.

The day after rioting broke out, the Earl of Shelburne shocked parliament by proposing that Britain should perhaps consider forming a force modelled on the French police. This was widely opposed on the grounds that it was totalitarian, “too French” and a symbol of “foreign oppression.” But the shockwaves in the wake of the Gordon Riots would not die down. Fifty years later, the Metropolitan Police Force was founded.

Today, any angry display of discontent is inflamed by heavy-handed police tactics, distorted by the media and loudly criticised by fence-sitting liberals. Recently, George Churchill-Coleman – former head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist squad – expressed his opinion that Britain was moving in the direction of a police state, with biometric identity cards, mass surveillance and detention without trial all having been introduced or mooted. The UK has been described as “the most surveilled country” in the world, while protests within a half-mile radius of the Houses of Parliament are illegal unless authorised by the Metropolitan Police. Now might be a good time to remember why the idea of a police force was for so long rejected!

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6 Responses to 2nd June 1780 – the Gordon Riots

  1. Tony says:

    ‘Barnaby Rudge’ by Charles Dickens focuses on this event in great detail.

  2. Kyle Taylor says:

    Hi Dorian. I found your blog through a link from Dangerous Minds to your (excellent) Helen Keller piece. I’ve just spent a couple of fascinating hours reading back through your archives. Quite a thing you’re doing.

    As a student caught up in last year’s protests, I found this entry particularly interesting. The media and society in general support our cause and yet they condemn our actions. There is in this country a noble tradition of protest. Sometimes it is heated. But is that a surprise? How else does anything ever change? Interesting too to read about the wariness of implementing a police force.

    Reading back through all your entries there are so many great precedents of those who refused to take it lying down. As a 21 yr old all too aware of the changes that MUST happen NOW, it is very empowering to read this history and I will most assuredly be recommending your site.

  3. shep says:

    Seems to me ‘LORD’ Gordon was not guilty because he was a ‘LORD’. This is the same as today finding Rush Limbaugh or any other right-wing nut job douchebag guilty of anything. It ain’t gonna happen.

    • I am attempting to create a much larger riot against those that
      put up hurdles, well I should just say it—The Roman Catholic Church.

      Oh they want their 1.2 billion members to fear and in that fear come constantly back to the RC church, until they die with fear, which because of the epistle of James being accepted into the canon ruined all of Calvin’s, John Knox’s and the brilliant one, Marin Luther.

      Once in the “Canon” all Protestants had to make James’ salvation by works, somehow work with the most powerful doctrine that will ever be. This most powerful doctrine was known as SOLA FIDE, and when mated with SOLA SCRIPTURA was on it’s way to destroying the need for the oppressive RCC.
      ‘By faith alone ‘ ended ML’s torturous OCD of trying to placate an angry God by waring out confessor Priests, going over and over his minuteness sins in his head. Just as a lock checker OCDer lies in bed wondering if there was anyway to be certain the door is locked. The reason ML changed the world is he finally received his ultimate peace as a document outside of his doing, namely, Paul’s Romans. Although the Presbys, Anglican, and other Reformed Churches have sola fide in their confessions, I was shocked to find as I start my own website that NOBODY thinks James is touchable.

      Thus try to understand the frustrations of the Gordons as because of James
      FOUR VERSES put them into bondage of “popery” ridiculous “indulgences” “last rites” and “Purgatory. When the Scots were free from the pope they by far had more patents per man, medical breakthroughs- Also the Reformed Scotch Irish battled hard in the formation and sustaining the young USA . It was the Scotch Irish that started free public schools, free trade and how many of us know of Presbyterian Hospital

      To wrap things up, the fruit of James is the VATICAN, and if you saw the latest FRONTLINE piece re the Vatican. Their system, their “magisterium”their “priests” their “really sick sexual perversions….oh and the mystery “BANK”

      This despicable cult is what George Gordon was fighting against. My fight for those who want to join me is to call a spade a spade, as I am about to show that James’ Epistle” is distorted and “made Up” as our opponents cling to it as their only weapon against salvation by faith alone . Google James vs Paul, James and Paul in contradiction (which it is!) , biblehub and read every commentary and they are always PRO JAMES. After standing on the floor of a Stock Exchange for 40,000 hours the single most dependable truth is the CROWD IS ALWAYS WRONG. Our branch of the Gordon clan, moved to Chester County PA in 1780! My grandson is 10th generation reformed Presbyterian. I don’t know if we left before the riot or after, but either way, I am so proud that my ancestors passed down this gift of sola fide. I am fired up and think I can show the problem verses of works in james 2 and make the riotous Gordons proud. Robert Duff Gordon ps as you read about George everyone to a man spoke about his Christian generousity

  4. Anonymous says:

    -The Roman Catholic Church…
    they want their 1.2 billion members to live in fear and in that fear come constantly back to the RC church, until they die with fear, which because of the epistle of James being accepted into the canon ruined all of Calvin’s, John Knox’s and the brilliant one, Marin Luther.

    Once in the “Canon” all Protestants had to make James’ salvation by works, somehow work with the most powerful doctrine that will ever be. This most powerful doctrine was known as SOLA FIDE, and when mated with SOLA SCRIPTURA was on it’s way to destroying the need for the oppressive RCC.
    ‘By faith alone ‘ ended ML’s torturous OCD of trying to placate an angry God by waring out confessor Priests, going over and over his minuteness sins in his head. Just as a lock checker OCDer lies in bed wondering if there was anyway to be certain the door is locked. The reason ML changed the world is he finally received his ultimate peace as a document outside of his doing, namely, Paul’s Romans. Although the Presbys, Anglican, and other Reformed Churches have sola fide in their confessions, I was shocked to find as I start my own website that NOBODY thinks James is touchable.

    Thus try to understand the frustrations of the Gordons as because of James
    FOUR VERSES put them into bondage of “popery” ridiculous “indulgences” “last rites” and “Purgatory. When the Scots were free from the pope they by far had more patents per man, medical breakthroughs- Also the Reformed Scotch Irish battled hard in the formation and sustaining the young USA . It was the Scotch Irish that started free public schools, free trade and how many of us know of Presbyterian Hospital

    To wrap things up, the fruit of James is the VATICAN, and if you saw the latest FRONTLINE piece re the Vatican. Their system, their “magisterium”their “priests” their “really sick sexual perversions….oh and the mystery “BANK”

    This despicable cult is what George Gordon was fighting against. My fight for those who want to join me is to call a spade a spade, as I am about to show that James’ Epistle” is distorted and “made Up” as our opponents cling to it as their only weapon against salvation by faith alone . Google James vs Paul, James and Paul in contradiction (which it is!) , biblehub and read every commentary and they are always PRO JAMES. After standing on the floor of a Stock Exchange for 40,000 hours the single most dependable truth is the CROWD IS ALWAYS WRONG. Our branch of the Gordon clan, moved to Chester County PA in 1780! My grandson is 10th generation reformed Presbyterian. I don’t know if we left before the riot or after, but either way, I am so proud that my ancestors passed down this gift of sola fide. I am fired up and think I can show the problem verses of works in james 2 and make the riotous Gordons proud. Robert Duff Gordon ps as you read about George everyone to a man spoke about his Christian generosity

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