Friday 17 October 2014

Beer Flood of London

200 years ago today, on the 17th October 1814, a freakish and bizarre event occurred. Right here in the heart of London, in the parish of St Giles, the Horse Shoe Brewery (Muex and Company) on Tottenham Court Road had a disastrous accident.

Due to structural failure one of the huge vats containing 135,000 gallons of beer ruptured. The vat burst with such force it caused other vats in the brewery to erupt as well and, as a result, more than 323,000 gallons washed onto the streets.
An artist's impression of the incident.

To put this into context, the average swimming pool requires about 18,000 to fill it. That’s a lot of beer.

Though it sounds a slightly amusing story in retrospect, the result of this catastrophic event was several dead and injured. It spilled onto the streets with such fury that it destroyed two homes and knocked down the wall of the Tavistock Arms in nearby Great Russell St. A young employee of the pub, Eleanor Cooper, aged just 15, was trapped under the rubble and killed.

Because of the pub's location among the poor houses and tenements in St Giles Rookery (slum), many families who resided in the tiny basement rooms were trapped and subsequently injured or killed, as their dwellings rapidly filled with beer.

In the surrounding streets, as the beer flowed through, it claimed more victims. In an ironic twist, among the casualties were people who had been attending a wake nearby. All in all, there were known to have been 7 fatalities, two of them small children, and many, many more injured.

Rumours suggest that in the wake of this mishap many of the locals could be seen lapping up the free beer. It is supposed that one chap was so keen he succumbed to alcohol poisoning though nothing in the journals of the day confirm these tales to be true.
A map of the approximate area of the accident.
Although many blamed the brewery, ultimately no one was held accountable. The court deemed it to be an Act of God. The brewery was eventually demolished in 1922. The old site is now partially occupied by the Dominion Theatre.

In recent years, to mark the event, local pub The Holborn Whippet brews up a special batch of porter to commemorate the day. So today let's raise a toast and think back upon one of the strangest unfortunate incidents in London’s history.

Perhaps some of that beer would have been destined to reach this tankard by Robert Garrard, hallmarked just a few years earlier, in 1805.

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