11 July 1780 – Charlotte Gardiner and Mary Roberts

The Gordon Riots

The Gordon Riots

Before you get all excited about our next pair of miscreants, let’s get one thing straight. Riot was pretty huge in the 18th century – it was just down from treason in terms of seriousness. After all, it was a breach of the peace, so it carried the heftiest of penalties. Yet, a riot only needed to involve three people or more.

That said, Charlotte Gardiner and Mary Roberts were a pretty riotous pair and they really went for it when they gathered a mob of people. They took advantage of civil unrest to bring the house down literally – not theirs but someone else’s.

Leader of the pack

Under the guise of the Gordon Riots, possible head honcho, Roberts, alongside Gardiner, plus ‘forty other persons and more, did unlawfully, riotously and tumultuously, assemble, on the 8th of June, to the disturbance of the publick (sic) peace, and did begin to demolish and pull down the dwelling-house of John Lebarty’, according to charges lodged by the Old Bailey.

So, how did they become embroiled in the Gordon Riots? Well, Lord George Gordon had intended the march on Parliament to be about a Protestant uprising against the relaxation of laws against Catholics. But the heightened feelings soon sparked more aggressive reprisals – Catholic churches as well as embassies and the Bank of England came under attack, prompting the police to take heavy-handed measures to disperse the crowds.

Many were shot dead or injured in the chaos, but not so Roberts who may well have used the general riotousness as a means to her own vengeful ends.

ASBO

She had taken a keen disliking to her one-time neighbour John Lebarty, an Italian pub landlord and shopkeeper. Roberts bore a grudge, because he’d been instrumental in ensuring she had the 18th-century equivalent of an ASBO slapped on her. Lebarty had had her thrown out of her lodging for anti-social behaviour.

Roberts apparently threatened Lebarty several times before leading an angry mob to his house condemning him as a Papist.

Torched

Amazingly, however the bad press centred on Gardiner, who stood out by being black. She was described as working ‘as if she had been a horse’, according to witness Laetitia Harris during the Old Bailey trial.

Indeed, Lebarty singled her out as being the one who’d frightened him most. Gardiner was apparently the one seen rallying the rabble with a cry of ‘huzza, my boys, well done, down down, with it’ and even lugging a bed out of the house before they razed the house to the ground.

With a bank of witnesses against her, Gardiner put up no defence, however, Roberts, spying a possible get-out clause, set about trying to clear her name. She got a bloke to testify that she was helping Lebarty by rescuing some of his stuff, and that she’d been coerced into helping the mob.

Harpie

However Lebarty testified that Roberts had branded him an ‘outlandish bouger (sic)’ and had vowed, ‘I will have your house down; you outlandish Papist, I will have your house down’.

Faced with such damning testimonies, the two ladies were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. As was the order of the day, they would set up portable gallows in the vicinity of the crime, so they were carted off to Tower Hill were they were strung up alongside another bloke.

Also on this day

11 July 1958 – Peter Manuel
11 July 2006 – Sean Derrick O’Brien

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