IT WAS TOWARDS THE END of Sir John Fielding's life that the Gordon riots took place. They were a standing testimony to the lesson which he had been teaching for years-- the necessity of reorganizing the police. The immediate cause of the Gordon riots was the Relief Act of 1778, abolishing the disabilities to which Roman Catholics were subjected. A league called the Protestant Association, under the presidency of Lord George Gordon, was formed to procure the repeal of the act.
On June 2, 1780, sixty thousand "good protestants" assembled on the south side of the river and marched upon Westminster, waving banners and singing hymns. They arrived in Palace Yard just before three o'clock. Bishops and peers entering the House of Lords were assaulted. The Bishop of Lincoln was dragged from his carriage and half strangled, and a number of lay peers were roughly handled; Lord North's hat was snatched off and cut in pieces which were sold for a shilling each. The mob forced its way into the lobby, and members were imprisoned until nine o'clock when a body of Horse Guards and Foot Guards appeared.
There followed attacks upon the chapels of foreign embassies. That of the Sardinian minister was attacked, and attempts were made on those of the Bavarian and the Portuguese ministers, but the Bow Street magistrate obtained a hundred bayonets of the Guards which scattered the mob.