Little Bits of History

London Beer Flood

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 16, 2014
St.. Giles rookery

St.. Giles Rookery

October 16, 1814: The corroded hoops break. Horse Shoe Brewery was located in central London. It was established in 1623 and by 1787 it was the eleventh largest maker of porter of any London brewery. By 1787 they were producing slightly more than 40,000 barrels per year. Porter is a dark style beer which is first mentioned in the early 1700s. Although various tales are put forth over how the brew came to be, it seems to have descended from brown beer, a well-hopped beer made from brown malt. It’s name may have come from the popularity of the beverage among street and river porters. Porters and stouts came into use about the same time and stouts seem to be stronger porters. Guinness Extra Stout was originally called Extra Superior Porter. It became Extra Stout in 1840.

The tavern was under the ownership of Meux and Company Brewery. The vat with weak hoops contained 160,000 gallons of beer. As the hoops burst, the force of the exiting fluid caused other vats to also explode in a domino effect. Because of the added breakage, a total of 390,000 gallons of beer was set in motion. The beer cause severe damage to the building and several beams collapsed. It burst through the walls of the tavern and entered the streets. The part of London where the tavern was located was a poorer district. The place was known as St. Giles Rookery, meaning it was a slum area filled with tenements. The densely populated area had many families living the basements of the rickety multi-storied buildings.

The landscape of the region caused problems. The region is flat and there was nowhere for the beer to go. As the tide of brew swept down the street, it entered the buildings and filled basements in nearby tenements. The people trapped inside climbed on furniture to escape the rising tide. Two homes were destroyed and the wall of the Tavistock Arms Pub crumbled, trapping a teenaged employee, Eleanor Cooper, under the rubble. She and seven others were killed. Thomas Mulvey was the youngest victim at age 3 who died with his mother, Ann, aged 30. Ann Saville was the oldest; she was 53.

The brewery was taken to court over the accident. The disaster was ruled an Act of God by the judge and jury. No one was responsible. The company had difficulties coping with the economic implications of the disaster. This was a significant loss of sales which was worse because they had already paid duty on the beer. The applied to Parliament to reclaim the duty and were successful which allowed them to stay in business. The cost to the brewery for the accident was about £23,000 or about £21,910,000 today or about $35.5 million. They received about £7,250 back from their returned excise taxes. They continued to be one of the largest producers of porter in London even after the disaster.

Milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer. – Arnold Schwarzenegger

I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer. – Brendan Behan

Beer, it’s the best damn drink in the world. – Jack Nicholson

Let a man walk ten miles steadily on a hot summer’s day along a dusty English road, and he will soon discover why beer was invented. – Gilbert K. Chesterton

Also on this day: Cardiff Giant– In 1869, a petrified giant is found near Cardiff.
Complex Numbers – In 1843, quaternions were first defined.
Planned Parenthood – In 1916, Margaret Sanger opened a clinic.
Disney – In 1923, Walt and Roy Disney signed a contract to produce the Alice Comedies.


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