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45 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 27 July 2011

Amanda Vickery explores the culture of 18th century Britain through its dramatic court cases. In this first programme of the new series, she hears evidence from 3 bloody riots. Ordinary Londoners caught up in violence on the streets tell their story, and rioters argue their case in court, desperately attempting to avoid the noose.

The 3 riots span the 18th century and reveal huge political change: we move from a group of sailors destroying a brothel in a drunken rampage to the first modern political riot, the 'Wilkes and Liberty' riot. Finally we hear evidence from the anti-Catholic Gordon riots, the worst episode of civil unrest in British history. The whole of central London was garrisoned with mounted troops, who shot to kill. Professor Vickery reveals that left-wing historians of the 70s and 80s ignored the Gordon Riots because they didn't fit their ideological model of the noble rioter.

Three contributors discuss the court cases: Professor Peter King, Dr Katrina Navickas and Professor Tim Hitchcock, co-founder of the online archive, OldBailey Online. With a ballad about a food riot sung by Gwyneth Herbert and Thomas Guthrie; recorded on location in the oldest pub in London, the Guinea in Mayfair, and with a visit to a Catholic chapel which was attacked in the Gordon Riots. The music used in this programme was arranged by David Owen Norris, from original 18th century ballads.

Producer: Elizabeth Burke
A Loftus Audio production for BBC Radio 4.

  • Getting started on the Old Bailey Site

    You can find details of all these cases on the website Old Bailey Online. The site includes a video tutorial with search tips and further advice to help you navigate this rich source of archive.

    Getting started - video tutorial
  • Case 1: The anti-brothel riots & Penlez Case, 1749

    In the summer of 1749, a group of sailors went to a brothel on the Strand. During their visit they were robbed, and when they complained to the brothel keeper he responded with ‘foul language and blows’. The wronged sailors decided to seek revenge, returning with a mob and destroying the building, turning the women naked into the street. This action quickly grew into a riot involving the burning of several brothels.

    Case 1: The anti-brothel riots & Penlez Case, 1749
  • Case 2: The Wilkes and Liberty riot, 1768

    A much more politically motivated riot, with violence centred on the Mansion House in the City of London.

    Case 2: The Wilkes and Liberty riot, 1768
  • Case 3: The Gordon Riots, 1780

    The 1778 Catholic Relief Act repealed anti-Catholic legislation from the 17th century and excused Roman Catholics from swearing the oath of allegiance or joining the army. On 2nd June 1780, Lord George Gordon led a crowd of 60,000 to the House of Commons to present a petition arguing that the legislation encouraged ‘Popery’. Riots ensued throughout London. 160 out of tens of thousands of protesters were charged, and 25 eventually executed.

    Case 3: The Gordon Riots, 1780
  • 18th Century Ballad about a food riot

    The programme includes an 18th century ballad about a food riot sung by Gwyneth Herbert and Thomas Guthrie. You can see the original text of that ballad on the British Museum website.

    Text of ballad
  • Amanda Vickery - presenter

    Professor Amanda Vickery is the prize-winning author of The Gentleman's Daughter (Yale University Press, 1998) and Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England (Yale University Press, 2009). She is Professor of Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London. She lectures on British social, political and cultural history.

    Amanda reviews for The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement, and BBC Radio 4's Saturday Review, Front Row and Woman’s Hour. Her TV series At Home with the Georgians aired on BBC2 in December 2010. She was a judge of the 2011 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize.

    Amanda Vickery
  • The recording - location

    The programme was recorded on location in the oldest pub in London, the Guinea in Mayfair, with a visit to the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, Warwick Street, which was attacked during the Gordon Riots.

    The Guinea in Mayfair
  • London Lives

    London Lives is the sister site to Old Bailey Online. It makes available, in a fully digitised and searchable form, a wide range of primary sources about eighteenth-century London, many of which concern the same individuals who appeared at the Old Bailey.

    The site includes over 240,000 manuscript and printed pages and over 3.35 million names.

    London Lives
  • Garrow’s Law

    Garrow’s Law is a BBC television series also set in the 18th century legal world. The drama is inspired by the life of pioneering barrister William Garrow. A new series will begin later this year.

    Garrow’s Law


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