PICTURES: Courtesy of Crossrail: top – Monica Wells; below – James O Jenkins.
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.
The 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
The discoveries, uncovered at the Plumstead tunnel entrance site in East London (not far from Belmarsh Prison), also included two wooden stakes that may have been cut by early hunters with an axe and which may have been used in the building of a timber path, part of a network which allowed hunters to access wetland areas about 3,500 years ago.
“Although we haven’t identified an actual track way yet, the timbers are similar to those used to make the track ways and certainly show that people were in the area exploiting the woodland,” says Mr Carver. “This is a promising find as we continue our search for evidence of a Bronze Age transport route along where London’s newest railway will run.”
Previous objects found at Crossrail project sites include human bones from the medieval period, a find of rare amber and a piece from a mammoth’s jaw bone.
The latest finds, which are now being examined by Museum of London Archaeology, were made as a month long exhibition opens at Crossrail’s Tottenham Court Road Visitor Information Centre (16-18 St Giles High Street), displaying previous objects found during the project.
Meanwhile, as part of the exhibition, Mr Carver will also host a Q&A session on Twitter (#BisontoBedlam) today between 2pm and 9pm during which he will answer questions on Crossrail’s archaeology programme and the exhibition.
Crossrail, Europe’s largest construction project, will see the construction of a new rail link running along a 73 mile route across the city.
For more on Crossrail, see www.crossrail.co.uk. PICTURE: Courtesy of Crossrail.