Well, not so much a battle as a widespread civil insurrection, the Gordon Riots, often described as the worst riots London has ever seen, resulted in considerable property destruction and numerous deaths.

Houses-of-Parliament10The riots, which took place against a backdrop of high taxation, widespread poverty, and unjust laws, had its origin in the passing of the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 which intended to reduce entrenched discrimination against Roman Catholics in Britain and redress some of anti-Catholic laws which had been introduced 80 years earlier, partly in an attempt to get more Catholics to join the British Army to fight against the United States of America in what’s now known as the War of Independence.

While it initially passed without any real hostility, an attempt to extend the Act’s provisions to Scotland in 1779 provoked such a serious response there that the action was withdrawn. Following the Scottish success in having the provisions withdrawn, the Protestant Association of London was founded with the aim of spear-heading opposition to the act’s provisions. Lord George Gordon was elected president of the newly formed Protestant Association of London in November of that year.

Following failed attempts to have King George III repeal the Act (Lord Gordon had several audiences with the King but failed to convince him of his case and was eventually banned from His Majesty’s presence), on 2nd June, 1780, Gordon and the members of the association marched on the Houses of Parliament (pictured above although the current buildings date from much later than these events) to deliver a petition demanding the Act be repealed.

They crowd, estimated to have been as big as 60,000 strong although a figure in the mid-40,000s is generally accepted, attempted unsuccessfully to force their way into the House of Commons before Lord Gordon, wearing a blue cockade (the symbol of the Protestant Association in his hat) was granted access to deliver the document.

Outside, meanwhile, things went from bad to worse and the crowd erupted into rioting, attacking members of the House of Lords, including bishops, as they attempted to enter and damaging carriages (including that of Lord Chief Justice William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield). Soldiers were eventually summoned to quell the riot which they did without violence. Inside, the members of the House of Commons voted down the petition by an overwhelming majority.

That night violence flared up again with the Roman Catholic Sardinian Embassy Chapel in Lincoln’s Inn Fields set alight while the chapel of the Bavarian Embassy in Golden Square, Soho, was destroyed and random violence carried out in streets known to be the residence of wealthy Catholics.

The next day, a crowd gathered in Moorfields – known to be home to many poor Irish Catholic immigrants – and that night attacked many homes.

The violence spread over the following days and among the buildings attacked was Newgate Prison (which was set on fire), the Fleet Prison, and the Clink in Southwark – hundreds of prisoners escaped – as well as Catholic churches, more embassy chapels, homes of known Catholics and politicians who had been associated with the passing of the act (including that of Lord Mansfield and Sir George Savile, who had proposed the Catholic Relief Act) and the Bank of England (the attack on the bank led to the long-standing tradition of soldiers guarding the bank).

Without a standing police force to tackle the mobs, on 7th June the army was called out with orders to fire on groups of four or larger who refused to disperse. In the next few days, well over 200 people (possibly more than 300) were shot dead and hundreds more wounded. Hundreds of the rioters were arrested and, of those, about 25 eventually executed. Gordon himself was arrested and charged with high treason but found not guilty.

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While the first official records of this Bankside pub only date from 1822, the pub’s history goes back much further. Like many pubs in London, nailing down its exact origins is tough but the story goes that it was named The Anchor by seventeenth century merchant Josiah Child.

The-AnchorChild owned the brewhouse which had been established in 1616 by James Monger at a site known as Dead Man’s Place (close to where the original Globe Theatre had stood before burning down in 1613) and was also a merchant who supplied the navy with everything from masts and spars to stores and beer. Hence the name The Anchor.

It’s speculated that William Shakespeare himself might have had a drink here and it’s believed to be from this pub – “a little alehouse on Bankside” – that diarist Samuel Pepys witnessed the destructive power of the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Dr Samuel Johnson – apparently a close friend of later brewery owners, Henry and Hester Thrale – was among regular drinkers. Other patrons, according to the pub’s website, included the artist Joshua Reynolds, Irish poet Oliver Goldsmith, actor David Garrick and Irish statesmen Edmund Burke.

The pub was apparently rebuilt a couple of times after being destroyed by fire. The brewery, meanwhile, rose to become one of the largest in the world before it was finally demolished in 1981 leaving the pub, the brewery tap, still standing.

Refurbished in recent years, the pub today contains a room dedicated to The Clink prison, the Bishop of Winchester’s lock-up which was located in nearby Clink Street.

The waterside pub at 34 Park Street is now part of the Taylor Walker chain. You can find out more about it here.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro/Flickr

One of those somewhat confusing placenames where the ‘w’ is effectively silent, Southwark (pronounced something like Suh-thuck) is a sizeable district south of the River Thames and one of the city’s oldest areas.

The area, which was settled as far back as Saxon times, takes its name from the Old English words suth or sud weorc which translates as “southern defensive work” and relates to the fact that the site is south of the City of London and at the southern end of London Bridge (the first bridge here was built by the Romans). While it was this name which was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, in the 900s the area was recorded as Suthriganaweorc which meant ‘fort of the men of Surrey’.

The name Southwark was also applied to borough which sat south of the river and still exists today – the Borough of Southwark. This in turn became shortened to just Borough, hence the name borough still exists as an alternative for part of Southwark even today (think of Borough Market and Borough High Street).

Part of Roman Londinium, Southwark was effectively abandoned after the end of Roman rule and then reoccupied by Saxons in the late 800s when the ‘burh’ (borough) of Southwark was created. It developed considerably in the medieval period and became known for its inns (think of the pilgrim inn, The Tabard, in The Canterbury Tales).

The area, particularly Bankside – part of the Borough of Southwark, also become known as an entertainment district with theatres and bear-baiting pits as well as a red-light district. It was also known for its prisons, in particular The Clink (controlled by the Bishop of Winchester), Marshalsea and the King’s Bench.

The area was also a centre of industry – everything from brewing to tanning – and came to boast numerous docks and warehouses (when it also became a centre of the food processing industry). With the closure of the docks, it’s retail, tourism, creative industries and the financial services which are dominant in the area today.

Landmarks are many thanks to the area’s long and colorful history (far too many to list in this short piece) but among major sites are Southwark Cathedral, Borough Market, and the George Inn as well as the Old Operating Theatre, Guy’s Hospital, and a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, the Golden Hinde. Personalities associated with the area (again far too many to list here) include Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.

PICTURE: Southwark Cathedral © Copyright Kevin Danks and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

For more, check out Southwark: A History of Bankside, Bermondsey and the Borough