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Friday, 12 August 2011

Call this a riot? A mere squabble compared to what our glorious ancestors got up to

Since history is no longer taught in our schools few will be aware of the Gordon Riots back in the 18th century which lasted for a week.

In the summer of 1780 a mob of up to 60,000 people destroyed prisons, churches, chapels, the house of the Lord Chief Justice - and had a good go at the Bank of England. They seized all the bridges across the Thames, and at one point 36 huge fires were seen to be blazing. If there had been a decent breeze half the city would been set alight.

This was when the entire population of London was under a million, and it puts this week's antics into perspective. Today's young people have, in this as so many other respects, fallen far short of their predecessors.

The Riots damaged Britain's reputation in Europe, where many people thought our form of government was unstable. It was thought they were caused by the poor economic situation, with falling wages, rising prices and higher unemployment. Falling wages? Nowadays people expect them to rise inexorably by some miraculous process - but I wrote about that last week.

One thing did come to mind though. Our national character has changed little. As I looked at the picture of the deprived youth in the brand new trainers carrying his can of beer I recalled one of the great moments in the Gordon Riots. This was when the mob broke into a gin distillery onHolborn, drank as much as they could and set fire to it, killing a few of their number in the process.

If you were to read Dickens' Barnaby Rudge - but then our educational system does not encourage the reading of books - it gives a wonderful description of the Riots. From that I conclude that what most causes this sort of thing - then as now - is the desire of a lot of young, bored, unemployed, ignorant, mindless people to go out, get drunk and have fun smashing things up.

When eventually they called in the army back in 1780, over 200 people were killed. There was no police force in those days - and even after the Riots it took 49 years to create one. But the authorities were utterly clueless at the time.

What else is new?

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