In June 1780, as a protest against the First Catholic Relief Act of 1778, a petition was brought to Parliament in London which sparked the Gordon Riots. In Bath, a mob gathered and burnt down the newly built Catholic chapel and chased the priest, Dom Bede Brewer through the streets. This event was a key part of the history of ‘Benedictine Bath.’

In the Downside Abbey Archives is a remarkable reminder of these events, an invitation to the execution of a perpetrator of the riots, John Butler. This invitation is dated 27th August 1780, with the execution taking place on the 28th. The site of the event is stated as being at the Guildhall, yet it actually took place on what is now James Street West, opposite Bath College and just outside Abbey Church House. 

The riots in Bath saw the destruction of the newly built chapel on what is now the site of the Old Methodist Chapel behind the Gainsborough Hotel on Bilbury Lane. All the furniture was thrown onto the street and burnt as was the chapel including the unique library of Bishop Charles Walmesley. The mob also chased the parish priest, Dom Bede Brewer through the streets of Bath, until he was given a horse by the owner of the White Lion hotel next to the Guildhall and he fled the city. 

Today, the execution of John Butler is seen as nothing but a show. An example needed to be made of someone for breaking the peace and as many eyewitnesses had seen Butler around the riots, he was the man executed. At 10am on the 28th August hundreds of people gathered to watch the hanging and afterwards his body was given to his family for burial. 

To read a full account of the history of Benedictine Bath from Saxon times to 1900, click here