University of Nottingham welcome page

The Susan Burney Letters Project


Project Home

The Letters

The Burney Family

About the Project

Site Map


Your Feedback

| Pacchierotti | Gordon Riots | Sea Passage | Belcotton | Letter-image |

Letter Extract 2: The Gordon Riots, St. Martin's Lane, London, 8 June 1780

Susan Burney's horror at witnessing the marauding mob during the Gordon Riots is described in vivid detail in this excerpt (the original entry continues for several more pages). An image of the first page from Susan Burney's hand-written account is also available.

Susan Burney’s eye-witness account of the Gordon Riots, June 1780 [SOURCE]

Thursday Eveg. June 8th. Ah my dear Fanny! - How frighten'd & how miserable would you have been had you known what has been passing in St. Martin's Street, & indeed in almost every street in London since my last paquet - I have not had courage to take up a pen to write to you till now - nor indeed, had I written could I have had the inhumanity to send you accounts wch. would so greatly have alarmed you - You certainly ere you receive this will have heard much of the commotions we have lately had in this distracted place, but as I wrote to you but Tuesday that we were well ourselves, & as I then thought very safe, tho' much very much disturbed was I even at that time, but not for myself or Family, I am in hopes that you will not grieve at the uneasiness we have indured till you rejoice that we suffer it no more.

Monday Eveg. last, before my father mother & Charlotte return'd from Mrs. Reynolds’, William came into the parlour wth. a face of Alarm & told me there was terrible rioting about the streets, & 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- The Eveg. before they had burnt down a Chapel in Moor Fields, & several poor Catholic's Houses - However we were to have some of this horrid work before our own Eyes - for very shortly after my Father &c return'd home, & I was regretting having missed a delightful party at Mr. Reynolds, where Dr. Johnson, Dr.Percy, Mr Horneck, Mrs. Bunbury&c were, we heard violent shouts & huzza's from Leicester Fields - & William who went to see what was the matter return’d to tell us the populace had broke in to Sir Geo: Saville’s House were then emptying it of its furniture which having piled up in the midst of the square, they forced Sir George’s servant to bring them a candle to set fire to it - They would doubtless have set the House itself on fire had not the Horse & Foot Guards prevented them - since this time it has been full of soldiers to prevent it from being pulled to the Ground, wch. the Rioters have since attempted to do - the windows & even window Frames are however almost all demolished, & it cuts a terrible figure. I was terrified & shocked extremely at the rage, & licence efrenée [sic] of the Mob - & all the horrors wch. followed this Evenings work were anticipated by my fears, wch. proved to be but too well grounded - In our Observatory the flames before Saville House illuminated the whole square - & my knees went knicky knocky like the Frenchman's in Harlequin's Invasion at the sight - at about two in the Momg. all seemed quiet again & we went to bed.

Tuesday I called on Ly. Clarges, whom I found at home, & who has been so kind as to lend me several things from Rinaldo to copy, wch. is so much the more valuable because Napier does not intend printing a note of that sweet opera. She told me Rauzzini & La Motte had the hardiness to go into the City during the burning the Chapel in Moor Fields, & that the former cried out "No Popery, by Gad" - but I believe he only puffs - tho' 'tis a comical speach enough to him to puff of - Sacchini had been wth. her the Eveg. before - but no alarm seemed yet to have arisen among the Foreigners. I forgot to mention - No, I believe I did tell you that Ly. Clarges had called on me the day before when I cd. not let her in. -

I went to Ly. Hales's to dinner, & between six & 7 in the Evening, as we expected Miss Wallens, my sister, & Miss Kirwansto Tea, I took leave. I was somewhat surprised to find the Coachman was so surrounded by Mob in Leicester Fields that he cd. wth. difficulty get on, as I thot. Saville House had had its share of their favours - however as I approached St. Martin's Street I found that the Crowd encreased - among others I saw Manzoletto & Sepultini walking arm in ann, & was half surprised that they dared - The Coachman was unable to turn down our street, wch. was crowded as the City is on a Ld. Mayor's day- but as he pass' d by, I saw a great Bonefire towards the bottom of it - He set me down, astonished & terrifed to death at the Comer of Long's Court & accompd. me to our Door - a Gentleman who was passing by, was so good natured as to make way for me, & stop till I had enter'd our House - where I found my Mother & Charlotte half out of their wits - they told me that about half an hour before, many hundred People came running down our street, huzzaing & shouting, wth. a Blue Flag- that their particular spite here was against Justice Hyde, who has a House towards the bottom of our street, & who had been active in endeavouring to quell the Rioters - He was fortunately not in his House, for had he fallen into their hands, I believe he wd. have been torn to [fol. 133v] pieces - however they broke into his House, & acted there the same part that they had at Sir G: S:'s the preceding night, but did their work much more compleatly - From our windows we saw them throw Chairs, tables, Cloaths, in short everything the House contained, & as there was too much furniture for one fire they made several, at distances sufficiently great to admit of one or 2 People passing between them - at one time I counted six of these fires, wch. reached from the bottom of the street up to the crossing wch. separates Orange and Blue Cross street. - such a scene I never before beheld! - as it grew dusk, the wretches who were involved in smoak & cover'd wth. dust at the bottom of the street, wth. the flames glaring upon them & the fires between them & us, seemed like so many Infernals, & their actions contributed to assist the resemblance they bore, for more fury & rage than[?] they shewed in demolishing everything they met with cannot be conceived - one thing was remarkable, & convinced me that this mob was secretly directly by some body above themselves - they brot. an Enginewith them, & while they pull'd Hyde's House to pieces & threw every thing they found in it into the flames, they order'd the Engineto play on the neighbouring Houses, to prevent their catching fire - a precaution wch. it seems has been taken in every place that these lawless Rioters have thot. fit to attack. In the midst of this frightful scene Miss Kirwan arrived terrified to death - then my sister B - each got to our door thro' the Crowd with difficulty - Miss Wallens sent me a note at 9 o'clock to tell me that after several fruitless attempts to gain our House, they were just retum'd home more dead than alive - Miss Kirwan went away wth. her servant before it was dark - My sister waited for Mr. B.till near nine -

When Hyde's House was emptied of all its furniture, the Mob tore away the windows & window Frames, & began to pull up the Floors, & the pannels of the Rooms, till some of the Neighbours, (Who had however hung blue Ribbons from their Windows the whole time to prove their Religion, & many of whom perhaps had particular reasons to rejoice in the Justice's Disaster,) entreated them not to keep up so strong a fire before their Houses, as they had the greatest reason to fear they would soon catch, & that the whole street wd. be in a blaze notwithstanding the Engine- Upon this the Ringleaders gave the word, & away they all ran past our windows to the bottom of Leicester Fields, with lighted firebrands in their hands, like so many furies - Each carried something from the fires in our street, that nothing might escape - they made in Leicester Fields one Great Bonefire of them - the Women like the Furies were more active & busy in the business than the Men - & they continued pulling down Pannels, Doors, &c till between two & 3 in the Morning to keep up the Bonefire & totally destroy the Poor House.

Early in the Eveg. about 30 foot Guards wth. an Ensign at their Head marched into the street - but the daring Populace appeared not the least alarmed, on the contrary they welcomed them with loud shouts & huzza's - The Ensign made some speach to them - but as I suppose he dared not oppose so many hundred People as were here assembled after a very short discourse wth. them, he turn'd round, & march'd out of the street as he came into it, the Mob shouting & clapping the soldiers as they pass'd on their back as they passed & one of these even joined in the huzza. This was more alarming than any thing - for if the Military power would not act, & was not fear'd by the Populace, what chance did there seem to be of an End to the outrages they might be disposed to commit. While Mr. B: My sister & I stood at the Window, the Crowd being then greatly diminished, as Nos. had flown to attack other places - I saw about 10 men & women in a Groupe looking up at our Windows - "No Popery," cried they - & repeated this 2 or 3 times - but as Men, Women, & Children had been crying No Popery a thousand times during the Evening, & indeed all the day long, we had [fo1. 135] no idea that we were ourselves addressed at this time, till one of the Men sd. to the rest pointing to us, "They are all 3 papists." - "for God sake, cried poor Etty, Mr. Burneycall out no Popery or anything" - Mr. B - accordingly got his Hat & Huzza'd from the window - It went against me to hear him, tho' it seem'd no joke in the present situation of things to be mark' d out by such wretches, as Papists - God bless your Honour," they then cried, & went away very well satisfied.

Among the People collected in our street we saw Mr. Tremmells, Mr Const, & some others we knew - Mr. Devaynes, call'd, & shewed us a blue Cockade, wch. he said had been his passport thro' the Mob! - Sir Joshua Reynolds called, & said he shd. afterwards go to Mr. Burke, whose house was threaten'd to be served in the same manner as Sir G: Saville's that Night - however we hear it has escaped - before I went to Ly. Hales's in the Morning Mr. Burke had pass'd thro' our street [fo1. 135v] where he was beset by a number of wretches, who wanted to extort from him a promise to vote forrepealing the Act in favour of the Catholics. - My Mother saw him, & heard him say - "I beseech you Gentlemen - Gentlemen I beg..." However he was obliged to draw his sword ere he could get rid of these terrific attendants.

[1] Lord George Gordon (1751-93), who was at the head of opposition to the Catholic Relief Act. He was elected President of the  Protestant Association in November 1779. On 2 June 1780 he presented to Parliament the petition of the Protestand Association for the repeal of the Act.

[2] Further reading: J. P. de Castro, The Gordon Riots (London, 1926); C. Hibbert, King Mob: The Story of Lord George Gordon and the Riots of 1780 (London, 1958); P. Colson, The Strange History of Lord George Gordon (London, 1937)

[3] [link to FB chronology]

[4]The Burney family’s house. [Link to London map] [Link to CB’s houses]

[5] 5 June

[6] [link to CB chronology]

[7][Repeat annotation on Charlotte Ann Burney [link to family pages]

[8]Frances Reynolds (1729-1807), painter, sister of Sir Joshua Reynolds (ELJ iii/i 78).

[9] William Hardcastle, the Burneys’ manservant. He subsequently left the family’s employment to work for the violinist Wilhelm Cramer (1746-99).

[10]i.e. Great Queen Street. One of the houses was that of Robert Quay Cox, a brewer, JP, and Roman Catholic (Morning Chronicle, 8 June 1780; LCB i. 304) [Link to London map]

[11] [Link to London map]

[12] [link to CB chronology]

[13] Presumably Sir Joshua Reynolds

[14] Samuel Johnson (1709-84), writer. More follows on his relationship to the Burney family.

[15] Not identified.

[16] Presumably a son of Kane William Horneck (c.1726-52) and his wife Hannah, neé Triggs (c.1726-1803), and the brother of Catherine Bunbury (EJL iii/i. 195, 201).

[17] Catherine Bunbury (c.1753-98), wife of Henry William Bunbury (1750-1811), cartoonist, and daughter of Hannah Horneck (EJL iii/i. 195, 201)

[18] [Link to London map]

[19] Sir George Savile (1726-84), 8th Baronet, MP for Yorkshire. He had introduced the Catholic Relief Bill in the Commons in May 1778 and was therefore a prime target for the rioters (DNB, LCB i. 302)

[20] The Burneys’ house in St Martin’s Street had formerly belonged to Sir Isaac Newton, and the observatory on the roof dated from his time there.

[21] The house of Sir George Savile (1726-84), 8th Bt, in Leicester Fields. [Link to London map]

[22] Gasconade, in Garrick’s pantomime Harlequin’s Invasion, or, A Christmas Gambol (1759): see Act I scene 4.

[23] Louisa Clarges, née Skrine (1760-1809), wife of Sir Thomas Clarges (1751-82), 3rd Baronet. She was a particular friend of SEB, and an admirer of Pacchierotti. (LCB i. 352)

[24] Rinaldo, by Antonio Sacchini, libretto by Durandi (adapt. by Badini), opening night at King’s Theatre: 22 April 1780; for a discussion of this production see Milhous, Price and Hume, Italian Opera, i:237-43.

[25] {Note to follow}

[26] Franz Lamotte (?1753-1780), violinist (NG, BD).More follows, including comments by FB and CB.

[27] The Roman Catholic chapel in Moorfields was burned on 7 June [Link to London map]

[28] Antonio Maria Gasparo Giocchino Sacchini (1730-86), opera composer (NG,BD).  More follows on London Career, including comments of CB.

[29] Louisa Clarges, née Skrine (1760-1809), wife of Sir Thomas Clarges (1751-82), 3rd Baronet. She was a particular friend of SEB, and an admirer of Pacchierotti. (LCB i. 352)

[30] Lady Mary Hales, nee Heyward (Coussmaker) (c. 1741-1803)(LCB)

[31] Not identified

[32] Charlotte Ann Burney [link to family pages]

[33] The daughters of Richard Kirwan (1733-1812), a friend of CB.

[34] Stage name of Angiolo Monanni (fl.1779-82), singer (BD). More follows

[35] Not identified:  probably a singer.

[36] Held in the City of London every year on 9 November with a procession and other attractions and entertainments.

[37] [Link to London map]

[38] Elizabeth Burney, née Allen, formerly Mrs Stephen Allen (1728-96), CB’s second wife, SEB’s stepmother. [Link to family pages]

[39] Charlotte Ann Burney (1761-1838), SEB’s younger sister [link to family pages]

[40] The emblem of the Protestant Association.

[41] William Hyde, magistrate, and a neighbour of the Burney family in St Martin’s Street. He had been one of the few magistrates to hold out against the rioters. On 6 June he had read the Riot Act and had ordered the Horse Guards to disperse the mob. His country residence at Islington was destroyed the following evening.

[42] In St Martin’s Street.

[43] The house of Sir George Savile in Leicester Fields.

[44] Orange Street [Link to London map]

[45] [Link to London map]

[46] In St Martin’s Street

[47] The elder daughter of Robert Kirwan.

[48] Esther Burney (1749-1832), SEB’s older sister [Link to family pages]

[49] Not identified

[50] The elder daughter of Robert Kirwan

[51] Esther Burney (1749-1832), SEB’s older sister [Link to family pages]

[52] Charles Rousseau Burney (1747-1819), SEB’s cousin, married to her sister Esther. [Link to family pages]

[53] [Link to London map]

[54] Symbols of the Protestant Association

[55] William Hyde, magistrate, and a neighbour of the Burney family in St Martin’s Street. He had been one of the few magistrates to hold out against the rioters. On 6 June he had read the Riot Act and had ordered the Horse Guards to disperse the mob. His country residence at Islington was destroyed the following evening.

[56] [Link to London map]

[57] [Link to London map]

[58] A junior officer

[59] Charles Rousseau Burney (1747-1819), SEB’s cousin, married to her sister Esther. [Link to family pages]

[60] Esther Burney (1749-1832), SEB’s older sister [Link to family pages]

[61] Esther Burney (1749-1832), SEB’s older sister [Link to family pages]

[62] Not identified

[63] Not identified

[64] Either John Devaynes (c.1726-1801), apothecary to George III and the Queen, or his brother William Devaynes (c.1730-1809), MP, banker, and government contractor. (EJL iii/i.18)

[65] Emblem of the Protestant Association

[66] Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92), painter. More to come on his career and relationship to the Burney family.

[67] Edmund Burke (1729-97), politician, and writer. More to come on his relationship to the Burney family.

[68] Sir George Savile (1726-84), 8th Baronet, MP for Yorkshire.   He had introduced the Catholic Relief Bill in the Commons in May 1778 and was therefore a prime target for the rioters (DNB,LCB i. 302)

[69] Lady Mary Hales, née Heywood (Coussmaker) (c.1741-1803) (LCB)

[70] The Roman Catholic Relief Act (16 Geo.III, c.60), which received the Royal Assent in June 1778.   It repealed some of the laws discriminating against Roman Catholics.

(page top)
Page Created: 9th May 2002
Last Updated: 1st January 1970

Web site: John Walsh
Humanities Research Centre