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The Gordon Riots

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why a Westminster protest against 'Popery' in June 1780 led to widespread rioting across London, lethally suppressed.

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

Available now

50 minutes

Last on

Thu 2 May 2019 21:30


Mark Knights at the University of Warwick

Catriona Kennedy at the University of York

Ian Haywood at the University of Roehampton

‘The Gordon Riots of 1780: London in Flames, a Nation in Ruins’ by Professor Ian Haywood - Gresham College lecture, 2013

‘The Gordon Riots, 1780’ by Professor Jerry White – London Historians

Black Presence: Asian and Black History in Britain, 1500-1850 ‘The Gordon Riots’ – National Archives

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey (which includes transcripts of the trials of several of the rioters)

Map of the Gordon Riots – British Library

Newspaper report of the Gordon riots – British Library

‘No Popery or Newgate reformer’ print – British Museum

‘The members of the Protestant Association of London, Westminster, Southwark, &c’ print – British Museum

‘Lord George Gordon’ print – British Museum

Gordon Riots - Wikipedia



Colin Haydon, Anti-Catholicism in Eighteenth-Century England, c. 1714-80: A Political and Social Study (Manchester University Press, 1993)

Ian Haywood and John Seed, The Gordon Riots. Politics, Culture and Insurrection in Late Eighteenth Century Britain (Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Christopher Hibbert, King Mob: The Story of Lord George Gordon and the London Riots of 1780 (Longman, 1958)

Tim Hitchcock and Robert Shoemaker, London Lives: Poverty, Crime, and the Making of a Modern City, 1690-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Richard Huzzey (ed.), Pressure and Parliament: From Civil War to Civil Society (John Wiley, 2018), especially ‘”The Lowest Degree of Freedom”: The Right to Petition, 1640-1800’ by Mark Knights

Ronald Paulson, Representations of Revolution 1789-1820 (Yale University Press, 1983)

Adrian Randall, Riotous Assemblies: Popular Protest in Hanoverian England (Oxford University Press, 2006)

Nicholas Rogers, Crowds, Culture, and Politics in Georgian Britain (Clarendon Press, 1998)

George Rudé, Paris and London in the Eighteenth Century: Studies in Popular Protest (first published 1952; Penguin Books, 1973)

George Rudé, The Crowd in History (first published 1965; Serif, 2005)

John Stevenson, Popular Disturbances in England 1700-1870 (Routledge, 1992)

E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (first published 1968; Penguin, 2013)



  • Thu 2 May 2019 09:00
  • Thu 2 May 2019 21:30

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