Thursday, 17 October 2013

The London Beer Flood

After our sombre stop in Paris yesterday, I had hoped to bring a tale of cheer today yet though the story of the London beer flood is certainly unusual, it is once again a story of tragedy. I'm not a beer drinker but I certainly know a few and the next time they threaten to overindulge, I shall remind them that beer can be very dangerous, especially if tens of thousands of gallons of it are gushing through St Giles!


The Rookery of St Giles
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.


15 comments:

  1. ...and the wonderful taste of their beer still lingers on from my youthful days in London!

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    1. Though hopefully not several thousand gallons of it!

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  2. Hello: I did not know that, thanks for the info.
    I learn something every day!!!!

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  3. How could this be considered an act of God? Seems like it was more likely negligence. Of course, it didn't affect the 'higher class' so that may have an influence on the judgement.

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    1. I can't help but think you might be onto something there...

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  4. Goodness! Being drowned by porter in an act of God seems one of the cruellest ironies imaginable! This is a fascinating slice of history that quite appeals to my sense of outlandish extraordinariness!

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    1. It did stand out as a fairly unusual one!

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  5. It is surprising what you can discover reading Historical Romances! The London Beer Flood featured in a book I read, Mistress By Midmight by Nicola Cornick. The hero and heroine were actually caught up in the flood.

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    1. I shall hazard a guess that they were not swept away on the tide!

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  6. Sorry, the title of the book should read Mistress By Midnight.

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  7. The fermentation process was very poorly understood in those pre-scientific days and the coronor & jury must have concluded that the barrel did not explode as a resuult of the negligence of the brewer of his employees. If then the event was the result of natural forces outside the control of men, it must have been an "Act of God". There was no alternative verdict possible. God as the Creator was responsible for all natural forces, good and bad.

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    1. Thank you, Mary, for your insightful comment!

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  8. In fact the fermentation process was very well understood in those days, as it had been for centuries. However, this beer had finished fermentation and was being matured. The huge cask was obviously not up to the task.

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