|The Rookery of St Giles|
Owned by Meux and Company, the Horseshoe Brewery in Tottenham Court Road stood in the poverty-stricken St Giles rookery. The building housed a number of enormous beer vats and when one of these ruptured, tragedy followed. At around 5.30pm on 17th October 1814 one of the vats of 10-month-old Meux’s Porter burst wide open, spilling thousands of gallons of alcohol. The force of the rupture smashed neighbouring vats, resulting in an unstoppable tidal wave of beer racing through one of the most densely-populated areas in London.
The porter flooded out into the streets, crashing through walls and pouring into the basement homes of the rookery; two houses were destroyed and the wall of a local pub collapsed in the force of the wave, killing a 14 year old member of staff. Those in the way of the wall of porter stood little chance of escape and a group of mourners who had gathered to mark the passing of an infant in a New Street cellar were all killed or injured.
Eight people died as a result of the flood yet had the catastrophe occurred just an hour later, the death toll would have been far higher. At 5.30pm most of the men of the tenements were out working, leaving their unfortunate wives and children at home. Although the brewery was taken to court, the jury ruled that the tragedy had been an Act of God and nobody would face punishment. Meux and Company found itself in financial straits as a result of lost sales and the fact that they had already paid duty on the lost beer. They petitioned Parliament and were granted a refund on the duty, a decision that saved the brewery from bankruptcy.
Meux had been in business since 1764 and would remain so until it was sold to a larger group in 1961; the company has passed into history now but the memory of the Beer Flood lives on.