Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Great London Beer Flood

 Last year was the 200th anniversary of a tragic London event when 8 died in a huge flood of beer.

 Henry Meux and Company had been established in 1764 as the Horseshoe brewery at the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road in London. It had been purchased by Sir Henry in 1807 and was one of London's major suppliers of porter. On the death of Sir Henry, his son took over the business until being declared insane in 1858. The company continued to operate until through mergers they became Friary Meux in 1956. They were acquired by Allied Breweries in 1961.

 The brewery had a number of enormous fermenting vats, the largest being 22 feet high and holding over half a million litres of porter. On 17th October 1814 a storehouseman reported that on of the iron hoops had fallen off of the vat. There were 29 hoops in all and it was not uncommon for one to fail. On this occassion however there were serious consequenses. About an hour later he was standing close to the vat when it burst. He found himself standing in beer which reached above his knees and first had to rescue his brother and a labourer who had become trapped. The force of the escaping beer caused a number of hogsheads to burst open (large barrels) and to knock out the cock of an adjacent vat which was almost as large. In all, almost one and a half million litres of beer escaped. A brewery wall 25 feet high collapsed as did the side of a nearby pub, the Tavistock Arms where a barmaid was buried in the rubble. Two houses were completely demolished. Many people in this poor locality lived in cellar rooms which were quickly inundated by the 15 ft tidal wave. A mother and her daughter were taking tea and were drowned. A funeral wake was submerged. Eight people died in this tragedy and many more had to be rescued.

 Stories abounded of people lapping up the beer in the streets, collecting it in pots and pans and fighting over it. These tales proved to be no more than rumour.

 The brewery had already paid duty on this vast amount of beer but Parliament allowed a refund in order that the business might survive.

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