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How John Perkins Saved Thrale’s Anchor Brewery From the Gordon Riots

Long story short? Free (as in “free beer”) beer. And food. And a horse-drawn cart.

But you want the long version, right?

In a very recent post, I speculated on parallels between Georgian England and other societies that are in a comparable stage of internalizing modernity, industrialization, urbanization, and so on. I specifically suggested that what had sounded so odd to me about the handling of the Bin Duong rioters here in Vietnam–trying to appease them, and even give them a refreshing drink–might have a parallel in Georgian England.

Barclay Perkins, probably much later. The image is from a short piece on Southwark’ brewing and hop industry; click the image for more.

Well, whaddaya know. While reading a paper on the hop trade in Southwark (from this source, and which I’ll mention again in an upcoming post) I ran across a reference to John Perkins (then head clerk of the establishment) saving the Thrale-run Anchor Brewery (of Southwark) by doing the same thing. As Peter Mathias briefly describes:

At one point during the Gordon riots a mob attacked the brewery, but John Perkins placated them with porter until the troops arrived.

What? This calls for more investigation… which I’ve happily done for you.

More detail is available on page 221 of Lee Morgan’s Dr. Johnson’s Own Dear Master: The Life of Henry Thrale. Pardon the image, but I haven’t time to retype it all:

And what, pray tell, were the Gordon Riots about? Basically, a law was proposed to reduce official discrimination against Catholics. Essentially, Parliament had agreed that the government and England in general should discriminate less against Catholics.

Enraged because, hey, they were for maintaining discrimination, anti-Catholics started with peaceful protests but soon  graduated to mob violence, ransacking business, busting criminals out of prison, attacking anyone they thought was Catholic or pro-Catholic. Thrale, apparently, was seen (correctly) as a Catholic sympathizer, which explains the attack on his brewery.

I’d rather include a picture of John Perkins, but there don’t seem to be any online. Barclay, yes. Thrale, yes. Mrs. Thrale, yes. Samuel Johnson, of course. But no John Perkins. Ah, woe! So here’s Henry Thrale, who once tried to make beer without malt or hops… and almost lost the brewery as a result. He obviously inherited the brewery, and I have the impression he mostly retained it because his wife Hester was well-connected and smart.

What’s not mentioned in the above, and is even more odd, is that the Lord whose name was given to the riots, George Gordon (not to be confused with Lord Byron), would convert to Judaism within a decade, and live as an Orthodox Jew for the rest of his life.

Lord George Gordon, post-conversion.

Gordon died in Newgate Prison–the same prison from which the mob during the Gordon Riots had freed the inmates, and left a smoking ruin.

Well, not completely a smoking ruin. There was enough wall left for some graffiti, as Wikipedia tells us the following:

Painted on the wall of Newgate prison was the proclamation that the inmates had been freed by the authority of “His Majesty, King Mob”. The term “King Mob” ever after denoted an unruly and fearsome proletariat.

I suppose the fact this is news to me simply means I haven’t read my Dickens; the author presented a fictionalized account of the Gordon Riots–with Lord George Gordon as a major character, apparently!–in his (relatively unpopular) historical novel Barnaby Rudge.

As the caption on the Thrale image above notes, I couldn’t find any images of John Perkins, which seems a shame. I even looked at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, and if anyone would have Perkins’ image up, I imagine it would be Ron Pattison.

Oh, as an added bonus: from a genealogy website, some info on how Perkins died, and how many kids he had:

John Perkins. Born 1730. Died 1812 having been struck down by a man on horseback at the Brighton races. He married first ? Polhill who died childless in 1769. Second to Amelia Moseley Bevan widow of Timothy Paul Bevan and from a wealthy family (which helped in buying the brewery). They had 5 sons and one daughter…

For those who’re intrigued, there’s information on Perkins’ descendants, too: their names, their spouses and offspring, occasionally professions or military service, all very lightly sketched. Though one descendant born in the 1850 ended up having a racing career, it is Perkins’ first son, of the same name, who is easily the most interesting, as he:

The whole family is discussed at the same page.

UPDATE (18 Sept, 2014): More information has become available about Dr. John Perkins, Jr. and his dramatic life. See here.

1. Why is it whenever you have just read a book on a subject, that subject suddenly starts cropping up everywhere?

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