I know I just did a post yesterday about a 19th century disaster in London, but this one is just too strange to pass up. Just shy of two hundred years ago today, on October 17, 1814, a bizarre disaster occurred at the Horse Shoe Brewery in Tottenham Court Road, London, owned by Meux and Company. The Horse Shoe had one of the largest brewing vats in the entire city atop their shop, so large it could hold over 500,000 liters of beer. On this fateful night, a Monday, at about 6:00 PM one of the rusty iron hoops holding the wooden vat together suddenly burst. The explosion caused other vats in the same building to burst too. Almost instantly, nearly a million gallons of beer suddenly gushed through the street in a violent flood.

Spectacular as this must have been to see, it was no laughing matter at the time. The brewery was in a poor section of town surrounded by rough tenements, called rookeries, teeming with poor families. Many lived in basements which quickly flooded with beer. In addition to the flood, the force of the vat explosions blew apart the rickety timbers of the local pubs and tenements, many of which collapsed. At the Tavistock Arms Pub in nearby Russell Street, a barmaid was buried under the rubble and killed. A total of nine people died, including one who was not killed immediately in the disaster but died a few days later of alcohol poisoning from the amount of beer he had ingested.

The effects of the beer flood lasted for some time. Basements continued to be soaked with the stuff for a long time. The stench of stale beer permeated the neighborhood for months. London in 1814 was dirty enough anyway, but could you imagine a poor section of it, lacking modern plumbing, drainage system and street sweeping, moldering in sticky beer mess for months?

The Meux and Company brewers were taken to court for the incident and accused of negligence. The beer vat that had ruptured had been sitting atop the pub since at least 1785, and it’s doubtful much maintenance had been done on it. Nevertheless, the courts found the brewery innocent of wrongdoing and judged the beer flood an “act of God.”

There is a more in-depth article on the beer flood here. All I can say is…bizarre!

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