Ian brings out the Devil in me. I was holding this for a suitable time… But hey-ho, let’s go!
The Meux and Company Brewery, located on Tottenham Court Road in central London, had one of the largest beer vats in the city. The 20 foot high container could hold 3,555 barrels (511,920 liters) of beer and was held together by 29 strong metal hoops. Several other large vats were also housed in the same building. The ale had been fermenting there for almost ten months, but the containers were very old and starting to show signs of fatigue.
On October 16 [also cited as October 17th - Ed], 1814 the metal hoops that held the big vat together snapped and beer exploded in every direction, causing all the other vats in the building to rupture. A total of 8,500 barrels (1,224,000 liters) of beer smashed through the brick wall of the building and out into the crowded slum area of St. Giles. The sea of beer ran through the streets, flooded basements, and demolished two homes. The wave collapsed a wall in the nearby Tavistock Arms pub and buried a barmaid for three hours. In one home, the beer busted in and drowned a mother and her three-year-old son. A total of eight people were killed, seven due to drowning and one due to alcohol poisoning.
People quickly waded into the flooded areas and tried to save all the free beer they could. Some scooped it up in pots while others lapped it up in their hands. Chaos ensued at the local hospital when the smell of the beer-soaked survivors quickly filled the building. Other patients, convinced there was a party and that beer was being served, rose from their beds and demanded pints of their own.
Most of the victims were poor people who lost their lives or lost everything they owned. Relatives of some of the people who drowned had their corpses displayed in their homes and exhibited to crowds for a fee. In one house, too many people crowded into a room and the floor gave out. Everyone was plunged into a cellar still half-filled with beer.
For weeks afterwards the neighborhood stank of beer and the primitive pumps of the day could not get rid of all of it. The brewery was brought to court but the judge and jury blamed no one. They found that the flood was an ‘Act of God’ and the brewing company was not liable.
So alcohol fuelled chaos on the streets of Britain is a new thing? The Righteous and their moral panics would appear to be imbibing their history from a cracked teapot (ref to Dickens and Hogarth). Can you even begin to imagine the outcry from the professionally meddlesome that such an incident would create these days?
PS This post is also partly in response to me being piggy-rotten sick of the media (almost all of it) invoking the “Dunkirk Spirit” over the “plight” of Brits being abandoned in France. Being over-charged for a hotel room in Calais in 2010 and being hunkered down in a blitzed farm house on the outskirts of Dunkirk in 1940 with several hundred thousand very heavily armed Germans trying to kill you is not the same thing at all. It’s the profoundly qualitative difference between being inconvenienced and thinking yourself very likely to die horribly in the likely knowledge that everything you have fought for will shortly be destroyed. This volcanic farce is at every level very far away from our finest hour.