The Gordon Riots

The Gordon Riots

While a troop of guards cleared the approaches of the besieged Parliament, detachments of the mob looted and burned the Catholic chapels in Golden Square, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and Moorfields (Reynolds 361).


What were the Gordon Riots? The Gordon Riots were days of violence by Protestants targeting Roman Catholics. They created violent protests in London back in 1780 and were organized by its leader, Lord George Gordon. This took place over six days. Many Roman Catholics were persecuted because of their faith. Persecution still exists today, for Roman Catholics and people of other religions as well. It is important for people to learn about these events so that they may not happen again in the future. 


The Gordon Riots.


The Gordon Riots were the result of the Catholic Relief Act being passed in 1778, which resulted in Catholics being seen as equals once more. Many Protestants in Britain were angered by this decision. This act also affected nearby countries such as Ireland and Scotland causing rioting to take place. The efficiency of Scotland's riots motivated Lord Gordon to do the same in London. It was written that, "A Protestant association was formed in London in February 1779 led by Lord George Gordon, 27-year-old Member of Parliament," this dictates how the outcome of the riots aforementioned influenced political head figures such as Lord Gordon to take action against the Catholic Relief Act (Reynolds 361).

The original process involved a petition that was signed by a sum of townspeople that were against the Catholic Relief Act, in an attempt to resolve the matter nonviolently. On June 2, 1780 it is written that, "The petition, said to contain 120,000 signatures, was taken in procession to Westminster. The participants in the march, variously estimated from 20,000 to 50,000," which implies that the reversal of the Catholic Relief Act was backed by many (Reynolds 361). The protest was nonviolent until select characters began turning the march into a mob. The violence that ensued caused various political leaders to deny the petition. This decision is what triggered riots to break out in the streets of London. 

The violence of the Gordon rioters increased tremendously. According to Haywood, "The Gordon Riots caused property damage worse than that in Paris during the French Revolution (177)," (Haywood 179). Many buildings such as chapels, houses and prisons like the Newgate prison were burnt to the ground by anti-Catholic rioters. 

Rioters Burning Newgate Prison- Wikimedia Commons

King George III, who himself was Protestant requested that the riots be put to an end. Troops were deployed in an attempt to protect the citizens and keep the peace. Eventually, the troops efforts proved successful and the city was under control once more. Reynolds writes, "The official number of those killed or dead of injuries was 285, certainly an underestimate. Fifty-nine prisoners were sentenced to death, of whom 21 were hanged," (Reynolds 362). This dictates just how catastrophic of an event it was to accumulate such a death toll in a short period of time. Lord Gordon's plan failed leading to his arrest. After spending eight months in custody, he was acquitted of his treason charges. 

About This Exhibit


Valerie Dorsett


This exhibit will show how the Gordon Riots came to be, along with the destruction it had brought. It will also analyze the events that happened in Susan Burney’s Journals and Letters. It is important to learn about the Gordon Riots because persecution still exists today.



Catholic Relief Act

The Catholic Relief Act of 1778, otherwise known as the Papist Act began giving Catholics their rights back in Britain and other countries under the rule of England like Ireland and Scotland. This act, "enabled Catholics to hold long leases and to own landed property," which Catholics previously did not have the right to do under the King. (Edwards 182). Catholics were also able to legally worship without the fear of consequences from the government. Priests were made legal again and the act, "enabled Catholics to take an oath of loyalty to the Crown," (Reynolds 361). This new law is what lead to the Gordon riots taking place in London, 1780. 

The Journals and Letters of Susan Burney

Susan Burney's Journals and Letters reflect what happened in London during the Gordon riots for many days. Her first hand encounters were truly horrifying and her writing skills make it very powerful. A reader can visualize the events themselves. She writes, "that the Mob were breaking several windows in Queen Street, & threatning to set fire to some of the Houses, because they were inhabited by Roman Catholics," (Burney 168).  Protestants made it clear that Roman Catholics were not wanted in their society. This created a lot of fear for Catholics and even Protestants like Burney, who were terrified of what was happening to their neighborhood. She even asks, "Did you ever hear of such Persecution?" which shows that even a Protestant thinks that the mobs are taking the situation too far (Burney 174).

Susan Burney also discusses her feelings when she sees the rioters being put to a stop by the troops. She states, "I never could have believed that I should ever rejoiced at the destruction of so many human creatures," (Burney 180). These people are her neighbors and fellow Protestants like herself that she is calling "creatures." She is watching the people she knows be killed by some of the troops and is confused that she is enjoying this but realizes it is the acts that they have committed that make her feel this way. A small amount of time in history will affect her and her perception of Protestants. 

Susan Burney's experience living through the Gordon Riots shows the horrors of hate. 

...I saw such a Scene as I shall never forget, or think of but with horror...

-Susan Burney (172).

Queens Street, London as of 2010

"Scarce anyone had the courage to walk about without a blue ribbon in their hats," 

-Susan Burney (180).





This is a video on the Gordon Riots which I found on google.


Horrible acts took place during the Gordon Riots. Catholics were persecuted because of their beliefs. Events such as the Holocaust which took place in 1941 through 1945 are common examples of up to date religious bigotry. Religious intolerance is a crisis that persists to this day. Many Christians who reside in the middle east are being made active targets of persecution. It is important to educate oneself about tragic historic conjunctures that refer to religious oppression such as the Gordon Riots as to prevent them in the future. 

Annotated Bibliography


REYNOLDS, E. E. "Gordon Riots." New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 6, Gale, 2003, pp. 361-362. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 28 Nov. 2018.

  • This text describes in detail the description of the Gordon Riots. I used this because it is important for people to see the horrific details that occurred during the 1780's so that they can have an understanding of what the event happened the way it did.

Scrivener, Michael. “Ian Haywood and John Seed, Eds., The Gordon Riots: Politics, Culture and Insurrection in Late Eighteenth-Century Britain.” Wordsworth Circle, no. 4, 2016, p. 178. EBSCOhost,,sso&db=edsglr&AN=edsgcl.485166870&site=eds-live&authtype=sso&custid=s8475574.

  • This text shows the how this event happened and by who. I used Haywood because he offers strong quotes to show how much the Gordon Riots affected politics and society in Britain. 

EDWARDS, R. D. "Emancipation, Catholic." New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 5, Gale, 2003, pp. 182-185. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 28 Nov. 2018.

  • Edwards explains the Catholic Relief Act very well. I used this article to reflect on and quote what the Catholic Relief Act actually was meant to do so that way readers can understand why this act caused so much trouble in Britain and in other countries.

Burney, Susan. The Journals and Letters of Susan Burney. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 1988. Web. 20 Nov. 2018.

  • I used Susan Burney's original work to show readers her personal experiences in London when these riots took place. She shows how far persecution went in detail and is unbiased in her Protestant faith.   

Green, Charles. “The Gordon Riots.” Wikimedia Commons, 19 May 2011,

  • I used this photo to depict what the Gordon Riots actually looked like to show readers the true horror and violence that took place.

Morris, William Maury. “The No Popery Rioters Burning the Prison of Newgate.” Wikimedia Commons, 15 Dec. 2016,

  • I used this photo to show the destruction that took place in London. Here rioters are burning down the Newgate Prisons that researchers and Susan Burney describe in their text.

Richards, Stephen. “39-53 Queen Victoria Street.” Geograph, London, 2010,

  • I used this photo to show the current view of Queen Street that Susan Burney is describing in her Journals and Letters.

Haywood, Ian, director. The Gordon Riots of 1780: London in Flames, a Nation in Ruins. Vimeo, 29 Nov. 2018,

  •  This video is made by Professor Ian Haywood who goes into detail about the events of the Gordon Riots. I used this video in my exhibit because of the knowledge he brings.