Alderman Kirkman’s Funeral Procession, 1780

A recent purchase is a broadside depicting the funeral procession of Alderman John Kirkman in London on Sunday, September 24, 1780. John Kirkman (1743-1780), Alderman for Cheap Ward, was a London fishmonger and Sheriff elect. During recent popish riots in London, Kirkman had commanded the City Volunteers on several rainy nights during which he caught a cold that quickly turned to a fever. He withdrew to his family home in Margate, Kent, where he died on September 19.

Alderman Kirkman funeral

That he was a popular local politician is evidenced by the massive turnout for his funeral which drew crowds along the route. Many of the local papers described the procession such as this one from the Gentleman’s Magazine for September:

‘The corpse of Mr. Ald. Kirkman was brought in a private manner about 3 o’clock as far as the obelisk in St. George’s Fields; it was there met by the gentlemen of the military associations, and   conducted to Blackfriars bridge, where the lord mayor, aldermen, city marshals, &c. joined the procession. They proceeded from thence up Ludgate-hill, through Cheapside, to the church of   Bassishaw, for internment, in the following order:
The two city marshals.
Four staff-men on horseback
Drums and fifes, muffled
London foot association
Trumpets sounding the horse dead march
A quarter-master
Twelve light horse volunteers
An officer
Board of Feathers
Hearfe [with names of six Pall Bearers]
Band of musick on horseback playing the dead march in Saul.
An officer
Light horse volunteers, two and two.
An officer
The chief mourner’s coach
Three other mourning coaches.
Lord mayor and aldermen.
The two sheriffs
The election committee
Sundry carriages with friends
The concourse of people on this occasion was the greatest ever known’.

So immense was the crowd that one little 4 year old girl was thrown down at Blackfriars and trampled to death, while a young 10 year old boy fell from the balustrade of the bridge into the River Thames and downed. People crowded all available windows, roof tops, and any elevation in order to watch the proceedings. Meanwhile a toll collector on the bridge was assaulted by the servant of a farmer during the procession, while thieves broke into the house of one family in Clerkenwell who had gone to watch the event. Some people criticized the funeral for being held on a Sunday fearing that it might ‘occasion disturbances by drawing a disorderly mob together, and thus converting the Sabbath…into a day of tumult, riot and confusion’; while others were disgusted at the ‘pomp and glare’ of it believing that the Alderman himself would have preferred to spend the money on ‘alms to the distressed and poor’. One writer believed that it sent a positive message to ‘the idle and lower class of spectators’ that the city could now turn out a respective force of its own ‘sufficiently powerful to prevent a repetition of such tumults as disgraced London on the 6th and 7th last’.

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