London Beer Flood


London Beer Flood

Holborn, London The 17th of October 1814 AD

October 17 is not a propitious day for London: in 1091 a great tornado ravaged The City ; and in 1814 one of the strangest industrial accidents in our history struck the capital.
Tragically British history is full of mining accidents like that at Blantyre in 1877 ; or Caerphilly in 1913 ; likewise fires and explosions – the Gateshead disaster of 1854 ; Silvertown TNT catastrophe in 1917 ; and the Huddersfield factory blaze of 1941 . But on October 17 1814 at least nine people were killed by a tsunami of beer.
The Meux Brewery which stood at the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street (where the Dominion Theatre is now found) was an impressive place with enormous rooftop beer-vats. One of these held some 135,000 gallons of porter fermenting nicely to develop the deep taste of that excellent ale.
Either because of structural inadequacies, or perhaps the effects of gas build-up, at about 6 o’clock on the evening of Monday October 17 an iron hoop binding the giant barrel snapped. The weakened vat split, spilling its contents. Worse, the force of its emptying ruptured neighbouring vats. In all more than 300,000 gallons of beer smashed down a wall and surged through the streets. The area, known as St Giles Rookery because of the numbers of paupers crowded into cheap housing there, was inundated. Several people drowned in basements; one was crushed in a pub demolished by the wave; two children were swept away, smashed by the force of the thing. An additional death is ascribed to the event by one source, a man who died of alcoholic poisoning days later, succumbing to the free beer left behind.
Incredibly (perhaps not, money sadly has too often talked in British justice) a court later ruled the disaster was an act of god, ruling out compensation.

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