London Beer Flood, 1814

What occurred to cause a tidal-wave of beer to slosh down the slums of London? Read on to find out the devastation caused.

If we’ve all got to meet the reaper some day or other, some folks might say that drowning in beer isn’t the worst way to go.

It was 1814 and the Meux Brewery was one of the largest in London, UK, and its owner, Henry Meux Jr, had built a huge wooden vessel at the Horse Shoe Brewery 6.7m (22 feet) tall in order to store porter, a dark beer that was London’s most popular drink.

This giant vat was held together by no less than eighty tonnes of iron hoops, but on the afternoon of 17 October it was noticed that one of these hoops had slipped. This happened occasionally and when the storehouse clerk reported it, he was told “that no harm whatever would ensue” and that it would be fixed later.

Yet the vat was almost full and, an hour after the hoop slipped down, the vessel burst asunder without warning.

Some of the massive beer vats of London’s breweries (history.com)

The force of the liquid’s release damaged a neighbouring vat and several hogsheads of porter were also destroyed, and their contents all added to a terrific flood. Between 3600 and 9000 imperial barrels (600,000l to 1,500,000l or 150,000 to 390,000 US Gallons) were released.

The resultant tsunami of beer 4.6m (15 feet) high destroyed the rear wall of the brewery and swept into a street in St Giles Rookery.

Slum-dwellers were crushed or smashed by a violent mass of liquid and masonry. Others were drowned as the wave destroyed two houses and badly damaged others.

In the second destroyed house, a wake was being held by an Irish family for a two-year-old boy; Anne Saville, the boy’s mother, and four other mourners were tragically killed.

Furthermore, the land around the brewery, being low-lying and flat and with insufficient drainage, the beer flowed into many inhabited cellars.

A total of eight adults and children sadly perished.

Several hundred spectators came to view the scene, and stories later arose of hundreds of people collecting the beer and getting so drunk that one person died from alcohol poisoning.

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