A Moment in London’s History – The London Beer Flood of 1814…

October 20, 2014

For some it sounds like a dream come true but what is known as the London Beer Flood of 17th October, 1814, was a very real tragedy, leaving eight dead in its wake.

PorterThe flood of more than a million litres of fermenting porter – a dark beer (pictured) – occurred when corrosion caused one of the metal hoops around a three storey high vat to give way inside the Horse Shoe Brewery.

The force of the vat’s collapse – which took place late in the afternoon – caused further vats to rupture and the resulting wave of beer reportedly stood as tall as 15 foot high as it smashed into neighbouring buildings.

Standing at the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street in central London, the brewery was located in the midst of the St Giles Rookery – a overcrowded slum filled with flimsy structures. This meant the damage was considerable and while many buildings were at least partially damaged, the worst hit were a pair of homes which were apparently completely destroyed.

Among the dead were four women and a three-year-old boy who were attending a wake for a child in a nearby basement and a four-year-old girl and her mother who were having tea in their house.

While an enterprising watchman apparently charged voyeurs to see the ruins of the vat, it is believed that reports mobs ran amok getting drunk on the spilt beer have no basis in fact.

The brewers, Henry Meux & Co, were subsequently taken to court but, with the incident ruled an “Act of God”, no-one could be held accountable (in fact, the brewers were refunded duties they had paid on the lost beer). The brewery itself was finally demolished in 1922 and the Dominion Theatre now stands on the part of the site.

The nearby Holborn Whippet pub now commemorates the event with a special brew.

PICTURE: Michal Zacharzewski/www.freeimages.com

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