This late 18th-century view of London shows Newgate Prison ablaze, while rioters are gathered beneath, many armed with batons or swords. Several escaped prisoners are seen wearing leg irons. To the left, a man stoops to retrieve his fallen wig. Flags, documents and speech bubbles, seen throughout the crowd, make anti Papist statements.
By the time of this print, the former Newgate Prison building had been replaced by a new prison, designed by architect George Dance the younger and completed just three years before the riots in 1777. The building was attacked during the Gordon Riots in 1780 and set on fire. Several prisoners died in the blaze, while some 300 escaped. The prison building was again rebuilt two years after the riots.
On 2 June 1780 Lord George Gordon led a demonstration to the House of Commons and presented a petition of some 44,000 names of Londoners to parliament, demanding the repeal of the Catholic Relief Act. In the following days the protestors grew violent and made attacks on Roman Catholic properties (including churches), prisons and Catholics themselves. King George III called out the troops and in total some 290 people died in the riots.
Henry Roberts was an etcher and line engraver of sporting subjects, portraits, landscapes and topographical views after works by contemporary artists. He was also a printseller and publisher. Roberts lived and worked in London. From 1758, Thomas Bonnor (c.1743-1807/12), who later worked as a draughtsman and engraver, was apprenticed to Roberts.
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