On this day in history : 17th October 1814 – A bizarre accident in a brewery on the Tottenham Court Road causes what was to become known as the London Beer Flood….

The Horse Shoe Brewery of Meux and Company was situated in a densely populated area in the Parish of St. Giles…. It was a run-down slum district, vastly over-crowded and full of poverty….

Horseshoe Brewery C1800 – Public domain

The brewery housed several large vats in which the beer was brewed…. One of the vats, which stood 22 feet high, ruptured, when one of the iron rings encircling it and holding it together snapped – allowing its contents of over 135,000 gallons of hot fermenting Brown Porter Ale (rather like Stout) to gush out…. In a knock on effect other vats around it also ruptured with the force….resulting in over 323,000 gallons of beer being released and causing the rear wall of the brewery to collapse….

The beer now poured on to the streets, destroying two homes and knocking down the wall of the Tavistock Arms Public House, killing Eleanor Cooper, a 15 or 16-year-old employee….

The river of beer soon reached neighbouring George Street and New Street, killing two people and injuring another…. It also surged through the venue of a wake, claiming five more lives…. Out of the eight known confirmed deaths, three of them were children under the age of five years….

Map of the location of the brewery and surrounding area – Image courtesy : Richard Horwood – Public domain

People scooped up the liquid in whatever was to hand – some just resorted to drinking it as it flowed around them…. There were reports a further victim died some days later from alcohol poisoning….

The brewery was sued but the judge ruled it was an ‘Act of God’ and it was put down to being a terrible accident…. The total cost to the brewery was a hefty £23,000 (over £1.25 million in today’s money) – but the company was able to claim back excise duty which saved it from bankruptcy….

The brewery was eventually demolished in 1922…. Part of the site is now occupied by the West End theatre – ‘The Dominion’….

London Beer Flood of 1814
Image courtesy : ap. via Flickr

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