Friday, September 28, 2012

It'll All End in Beers

London's history is so rich that barely a week goes by when I don't learn something new. For example, and it still staggers me given my interest in a) death, b) London's past and c) beer, it was only Wednesday this week I came across the London Beer Flood of 1814. Now I want to write books about it.

The story, so far, is this: in 1814 the boozers of London, of which there were many, were served by a host of breweries in and around the capital. One was the Meux and Company Brewery on Tottenham Court Road (the present Dominion Theatre occupies part of the site.) On October 17 that year a vast vat of ale, twenty feet high, containing 610,000 litres of nut brown porter (a million pints of beer!) ruptured and caused a pressure explosion. This caused other vats and barrels of beer nearby to erupt too, and the result was a tidal wave of beer which smashed through the brewery wall and destroyed and flooded several houses nearby. Back then, the parish of St Giles was a poor one, and many families lived hugger-mugger in slum tenements and basements. Eight (nine in some reports) people were drowned by the tsunami of booze, including a three-year-old child. It was daytime and many of the houses were empty. Had it happened at night, many more would have died.

A rescue operation began to save others who had been washed away or trapped. Yet this was London. Just as concerted was the attempt to get as rat-arsed as possible on free grog. People turned up with the pans, tankards, cups and all manner of receptacles to scoop up as much beer as they could. Others simply knelt down and started supping, all of which did little to help the cops find and save those affected. The rescued were taken to hospital, where a riot almost broke out when the inpatients smelled the beer fumes rising off those coming in and thought there was a hospital party going on to which they had not been invited. What the local residents didn't harvest or glug had to be pumped out of cellars and streets. The whole area stank of beer for months.

The brewery were hauled before the court to answer for the deaths that had been caused, but a judge and a jury ruled, unbelievably, that the accident was an Act of God. Bizarrely, the brewery managed to reclaim the duty they had paid on the spilt beer, which allowed therm to go on trading until they eventually closed in 1922.

cheers (sort of appropriate this week)

Dan - Friday


  1. Dan, wonderful story, vividly told!. You made me see it! Write the book and the movie script!! The history we never learned in school is so often the most fascinating way to get a glimpse of what the lives of everyday people were like. Thanks.

  2. Fascinating, Dan!
    My lounge has just been flooded by a burst geyser (on the eve of my Bouchercon trip, of course). All that hot water wasted...imagine if it was beer!

  3. I'm with Annamaria on this one, Dan. What a tale! And, Michael, don't worry, soon you'll be in Cleveland and all will be at peace with the world.

  4. A century later at Purity Distilling Company in Boston, an immense elevated tank exploded, flooding the area with more 2 million gallons of molasses. 21 people were killed and numerous horses destroyed. The flood brought down part of the Boston Elevated Rail system and more than 150 people were injured. It left a waist-deep lake in which if man or beast foundered, they couldn't rise again.

  5. Leigh - looks like we're due another one like it any day now!

    Michael - I sympathise. Last year one of our radiators fell off the wall and flooded the room with black water. My only solution was to stick my finger in the open pipe. I was there for an hour until a plumber came. Had it been ale, it would have been happy days.

    Jeff, Annamaria - thanks. I'm working on that script...need a few beers first though, for research seak.

  6. Well, Dan, look on the bright side. If the writing doesn't work out, you can always get a job at the dykes in the Netherlands!

  7. A whale of an ale tale, Dan! Thanks for sharing.


    Dan, look at what one of my friends posted on Facebook yesterday. Historic floods of alcohol seem to be having a world-wide spike of interest. Do you think this has anything to do with the imminence of Bouchercon?

  9. Just catching up on some articles, and the date and comments are very relevant.

    This was the weekend I was putting a toolbox in the loft and fell off the steps, and fell onto... you guessed it... a radiator (well actually a towel warmer).

    First landed on the top part (bruise 1).
    Then landed on the tap, that had a spike on it (Bruise 2).
    I thought I'd got away with it, then the tool box decided to join me and landed on my head (bruise 3), and the water started gushing.

    The beer link ? I really shouldn't have four beers before putting a tool box in the loft !

  10. I seem to remember listening to a talk given by the late, gret Gerard Hoffnung to a group of sstudents at Oxford that had all the ingredients you mention. I think it was about a bricklayer who was having trouble getting bricks to the top of a ladder.