In June 1780 the most destructive urban riots in English history erupted onto the streets of London. Sparked by resistance to the Catholic Relief Act of 1778, the riots soon escalated into a sustained assault on government properties and institutions. Fuelled by popular resentment against the war with America, the mob set fire to the private houses of members of parliament, central London prisons, and the toll-booths on bridges: at one stage even the Bank of England was attacked. For several nights it seemed as if the whole of London was ablaze and the country was on the verge of revolution: in the words of one newspaper, ‘every thing served to impress the mind with ideas of universal anarchy and approaching desolation’. In this talk, Professor Ian Haywood argues that it was this spectacle of apocalyptic destruction that gave the Gordon riots their cultural power and mystique, evoking memories of the Great Fire of 1666 and anticipating both the French Revolution and the Bristol Reform-Bill riots of 1831.
This is the second in a series of four 'Mondays at One' lectures, From Gin Lane to the Band of Hope. Other lectures in the series are as follows:
An Infernal Spark: Drink, Addiction and Disease
Cannabis Britannica: The rise and demise of a Victorian wonder-drug
"The fangs of the serpent are hid in the bowl": The Temperance Movement
Professor of English at Roehampton University. Recent publications include, The Gordon Riots: Politics, Culture and Insurrection in Late Eighteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge University Press, 2012) (co-edited with John Seed), Bloody Romanticism: Spectacular Violence and the Politics of Representation 1776-1832(Palgrave, 2006) and The Revolution in Popular Literature: Print, Politics and the People 1790-1860 (Cambridge University Press, 2004).