[In Our Time] The Gordon Riots

The Gordon Riots

02/05/2019 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: http://podplayer.net/?id=69676919
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p0782rcf.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the most destructive riots in London’s history, which reached their peak on 7th June 1780 as troops fired on the crowd outside the Bank of England. The leader was Lord George Gordon, head of the Protestant Association, who objected to the relaxing of laws against Catholics. At first the protest outside Parliament was peaceful but, when Gordon’s petition failed to persuade the Commons, rioting continued for days until the military started to shoot suspects in the street. It came as Britain was losing the war to hold on to colonies in North America.

The image above shows a crowd setting fire to Newgate Prison and freeing prisoners by the authority of ‘His Majesty, King Mob.’


Ian Haywood
Professor of English at the University of Roehampton

Catriona Kennedy
Senior Lecturer in Modern British and Irish History and Director of the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies at the University of York


Mark Knights
Professor of History at the University of Warwick

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 2019-05-24


  • I had never heard about these riots until earlier. I’ve been grumbling that In Our Time in 2019 is very British focused; and I now feel that just as the 2018 schedule was a massive slytweet at Trump; the 2019 schedule is passive aggressive Brexit commentary; what with this episode’s discussion of street protests and mobs and a country divided.
  • So the rioters carefully emptied the houses of Catholics and burnt the loot; instead of indiscriminately burning things. I see.
  • The interesting learning that there were English people who sympathised with the American rebels because they were fellow Protestants, and were aghast at the thought of the Army recruiting Catholic Scots to fight Protestants.
  • Also, the whole prologue about how conquering Canada forced the United Kingdom into Catholic toleration.
  • My father in law would probably enjoy this, considering his interest in demagoguery.
  • I wonder if this is what inspired Night Watch.


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