On this day in history….17th October 1814

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

On this day in history….16th October 1834

On this day in history : 16th October 1834 – The Medieval buildings of the Palace of Westminster are largely destroyed by fire….

J.M.W. Turner – Public domain

The original construction dated back to the early 11th Century and had been built as a royal palace ~ additions were made over time and it had become the home of the British Parliament….

Up until 1826, as part of the accounting system of the Exchequer, small wooden tally sticks had been used ~ these carved, notched pieces were usually made from willow…. Now obsolete the tally sticks needed disposing of; two Irish labourers, Joshua Cross and Patrick Furlong, were given the task….

Tally sticks, as used by the Treasury – Image courtesy : Winchester City Council Museums CC BY-SA 2.0

Work commenced at dawn ~ the pair began to burn the piles of sticks in two furnaces situated beneath the House of Lords…. Although the two claimed they had taken care, a witness said he had seen them piling the wood in…. Heat from the furnaces melted the copper lining of the flues, which in turn started a chimney fire…. With the furnace doors open oxygen was drawn in, making the fire burn more fiercely….

Just after 4pm Cross and Furlong had finished the job; they threw on the last sticks, closed the furnace doors and retired to the pub…. About an hour later sparks from the chimney fire set surrounding woodwork alight…. The first flames were spotted at around 6pm ~ panicked staff tried to put the fire out but failed to alert others in the buildings or call for help…. At 6.30pm a huge fire ball swept through the buildings and the whole interior became an inferno…. The burning roof lit up the sky and could even be seen by the Royal Family 20 miles away at Windsor Castle….

Unknown artist – Public domain

Two hand-pump fire engines arrived but were of little use; at 6.45pm 100 soldiers from the Grenadier Guards joined them…. Shortly after 12 more engines arrived at the scene accompanied by 64 firemen…. Hoses were run down to the River Thames ~ but the tide was low ~ it was too late to save the Palace…. Miraculously, despite the ferocity of the fire, there were no deaths ~ although 9 people needed hospital treatment….

After the fire – Unknown artist – Public domain

King William IV offered Buckingham Palace as a replacement building for Parliament ~ but MPs declined ~ saying it was too ‘dingy’!!! So the roof was replaced on the Lesser Hall, the Chamber painted and the buildings restored ready for the State Opening in February 1835….

A competition was opened in to which 97 competitors entered to design a new building ~ which was to incorporate the surviving Westminster Hall, the Undercroft Chapel and the cloisters of St. Stephen’s…. The winning design was by architect Charles Barry ~ with his new Gothic-Revival palace…. In 1840 the first stone was laid by Barry’s wife….in 1847 the Lord’s Chamber was completed; Big Ben was installed in the Clock Tower in 1839….and in 1870 the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster was completed….

Image courtesy : Berit from Redhill, Surrey CC BY-SA 2.0

On this day in history….15th October 1666

On this day in history : 15th October 1666 – Samuel Pepys records in his diary that King Charles II intends to make the waistcoat part of the correct formal attire of English noblemen….

Pepys wrote…. “the King hath yesterday in council declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes which he will never alter. It will be a vest”….

English man’s waistcoat, circa 1760 – Los Angeles County Museum of Art – Public domain

King Charles had recently been restored to the English throne and wanted to distance his Court from the 17th Century French style…. Travellers returning from Persia brought back with them the idea of the ‘vest’…. The warmer Eastern climate did not require a full jacket – a similar kind of vest called a ‘Bandi’ was worn in India…. The fashion for men in Britain at the time was for long coats but was to become influenced by Eastern styles with stiff collars, vests and doublets….

Coat and waistcoat circa 1750 – Los Angeles County Museum of Art – Public domain

The term ‘waistcoat’ most probably came about as the new style was quite literally cut to the waist…. The Americans still refer to the garment as a ‘vest’….

Men’s clothing was very elaborate during the Renaissance period – silk, satin, lace and trimmings…. Colour was vibrant; dye being incredibly expensive meant the richer the hues the wealthier the wearer…. Waistcoats were often the centre of the outfit – brightly coloured and highly decorated…. This trend continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries – but towards the end of the 1800s it began to evolve into becoming part of the business suit – rarely would a businessman be seen without one…. From the mid 20th century it essentially became an optional part of the business suit and so to some extent its popularity declined….

Man’s court coat and waistcoat, circa 1800 – David Jackson CC BY-SA 2.0

Nowadays, although still worn when dressing to impress, or at formal occasions such as weddings, the waistcoat is often worn with more casual clothing – such as jeans and a t-shirt….

It is also customary to wear a waistcoat with the bottom button left undone…. Another King can be attributed for this particular trend…. Edward VII was so chubby that he was unable to do the button up – thus setting a fashion that is still with us today….

Image via Pinterest : Source Gentleman’s Gazette

On this day in history….14th October 1878

On this day in history : 14th October 1878 – The World’s first football match to take place under floodlights is played at Bramwall Lane in Sheffield….

Electricity was still in its infancy at the time, Edison hadn’t even patented the electric lightbulb yet…. A football match played in artificial light would have been a huge novelty – so much so 12,000 people paid sixpence each to watch…. In reality the crowd was probably double that size as many sneaked into the grounds under the cover of darkness….img_4235

Positioned behind each goal was a ‘portable engine’ powering four lights, which were mounted on plinths situated around the pitch and giving each a height of 30 foot…. The lights put out a power equating to 8,000 candles – the whole experiment was reported as being a resounding success….

The exhibition match between the ‘Blues’ and the ‘Reds’ may have given the crowd unconventional entertainment in comparison to a normal football match – as the brilliance of the lights dazzled the players causing them to make some extraordinary blunders…. The final score : Blues 2 – Reds 0….

Nine day after the match at Sheffield, Glasgow’s Cathrin Park hosted the first floodlit match in Scotland…. Three days later Aston Lower Grounds (to become Villa Park) saw the Midland’s first game under floodlights – when Birmingham XI played Nottingham Forest…. London’s first lit match was played at the Oval between Clapham Rovers and Wanderers in early November 1878….

A floodlit Oval in November 1878 – From the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 16th Nov 1878

On this day in history….13th October 1884

On this day in history : 13th October 1884 – Greenwich is chosen as the universal time meridian of longitude – upon which standard times throughout the world are calculated….

Greenwich Clock with standard measurements – image credit : Alvesgaspar CC BY-SA 3.0

A geographical meridian is the dividing line of an imaginary circle on the Earth’s surface encompassing the North and South Poles, connected by points of equal longitude…. The meridian is the North to South line and is selected as the zero reference line to make observations of an astronomical nature, enabling the ability to produce an accurate map of the sky by comparing observations from the same meridian…. The Royal Observatory in Greenwich is the place where East meets West at Longitude 0 degrees…. Just as the Equator divides the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, the Greenwich line divides East to West and from it every place on Earth is measured in distance either to the east or west of the line….


In 1884 the Greenwich line became the reference for mean time…. Before this nearly all the towns and cities of the world kept their own local times….there was no ‘international’ common ground – or even for that matter ‘national’ – as to when the day should officially begin and end…. In fact, it was so unregulated even the humble hour had no determined accepted length….greenwich mean time

So, why Greenwich? There were two main reasons why it was chosen…. Firstly the USA was already using Greenwich for its own national time zone system…. Secondly, during the late 1800s over 70% of the world’s commerce used sea charts that were based on the Greenwich Meridian…. To most, it made sense – as it benefitted the majority of organisations and people…. Obviously it is impossible to please everybody….

41 delegates from 25 nations met in Washington DC for the ‘International Meridian Conference’ to decide the matter…. When put to the vote Greenwich won 22-1 against…. There were two abstentions – France and Brazil….

Royal Observatory, Greenwich – Image credit : Timitrius via Flickr