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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

The rioters seemed to think that


one desperate gang was busy with the destruction of Newgate, other gangs, no less desperate, were busy with destructive work elsewhere. The new prison in Clerkenwell was broken open by one crowd, and its prisoners set free. Another assailed Sir John Fielding's house, and burned its furniture in the streets. A third attacked the house of Lord Mansfield in Bloomsbury Square. This last enterprise was one of the most remarkable and infamous of the bad business. Lord Mansfield and his wife had barely time to escape from the house by a back way before the mob were upon it. The now familiar scenes of savage violence followed. The doors were broken open, the {204} throng poured in, and in a comparatively short time the stately mansion was a ruin. Lord Mansfield's law library, one of the finest in the kingdom, and all the judicial manuscripts made by him during his long career, were destroyed. A small detachment of soldiers came upon the scene too late to prevent the destruction of the house or to intimidate the mob; although, according to one account, the Riot Act was read and a couple of volleys fired, with the result that several of the rioters were shot and wounded. It is curious to find that the reports of the intended purposes of the wreckers drew persons of quality and curiosity to Bloomsbury Square in their coaches as to a popular performance, and that the destruction of Lord Mansfield's house proved more attractive than the production of a new play.

justify;">[Sidenote: 1780--Public alarm in London]

The Wednesday was no less terrible than the Tuesday. The rioters seemed to think that, like so many Mortimers, they were now Lords of London. They sent messages to the keepers of the public prisons of the King's Bench, the Fleet, and to prominent Catholic houses, informing them of the precise time when they would be attacked and destroyed. By this time peaceable London was in a state of panic. All shops were shut. From most windows blue banners were thrust out to show the sympathy of the occupants with the agitation, and the words "No Popery" were scrawled in chalk across the doors and windows of every householder who wished to protect himself against the fanaticism of the mob. At least one enterprising individual got from Lord George Gordon his signature to a paper bidding all true friends to Protestants to do no injury to the property of any true Protestant, "as I am well assured the proprietor of this house is a stanch and worthy friend to the cause." But there were plenty of houses where neither fear nor fanaticism displayed blue banner or chalked scrawl, houses whose owners boasted no safeguard signed by Lord George Gordon, and with these the mob busied themselves. The description in the "Annual Register" is so striking that it deserves to be cited; it is probably from the pen of Edmund Burke: "As soon {205} as the day was drawing towards a close one of the most dreadful spectacles this country ever beheld was exhibited. Let those who were not spectators of it judge what the inhabitants felt when they beheld at the same time the flames ascending and rolling in clouds from the King's Bench and Fleet Prisons, from New Bridewell, from the toll-gates on Blackfriars Bridge, from houses in every quarter of the town, and particularly from the bottom and middle of Holborn, where the conflagration was horrible beyond description. . . . Six-and-thirty fires, all blazing at one time, and in different quarters of the city, were to be seen from one spot. During the whole night, men, women, and children were running up and down with such goods and effects as they wished to preserve. The tremendous roar of the authors of these terrible scenes was heard at one instant, and at the next the dreadful report of soldiers' musquets, firing in platoons and from different quarters; in short, everything served to impress the mind with ideas of universal anarchy and approaching desolation."

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