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Merry Olde England

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.

From here.

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.


  1. Chuckles says:

    The great great great grandfather drowned in that lot. Rescued 11 times he was, but the twelfth he managed to fight them off, and died a happy man.

  2. Reminds me of a joke news story: Man drowns in a vat of beer. Two others tried to save him, but he fought them off bravely.

  3. El Draque says:

    So much for the comparison between the happiness of “Beer Street” and the misery of “Gin Lane”. 1740′s wasn’t it?

  4. Sunfish says:

    Those stories are based on truth. He was a cousin of mine. Was working at a brewery that was planning on releasing a real pilsener, something the US beer market hasn’t known since WWI. He fell into the bottling bucket and drowned.

    At least he didn’t suffer. According to plant security, he was able to get out to use the washroom at least twice before he finally died.

  5. NickM says:

    You ever been to the Czech Republic Sunfish?

    $1.55 of your Americano notes for a pint* of fine pilsener in central Prague.

    I used to drink American beer but now I am older Budweiser.

    Yeah, I know, I know. There are some damn fine beers brewed in the USA but I’m thinking of the mass market stuff that we tend to get here and not micro-breweries or even Sam Adams.

    *1/2 litre – not an Imperial pint of 568ml (to the nearest ml) but ain’t 500ml a bit more than a US pint anyhow?

  6. Bod says:

    The thing I find funny is the – no better word for it – Reverence – in which Heineken is held over here. You go in a bar and you see some young buck ordering it the way you’d expect him to order a quart of mead, served in the hollowed-out skull of his archnemesis.

    Fuck man, it’s piss! You’d be better off ordering Steamboat! Or Miller Draft for that matter!

    That and Harp. Harp forchrissake!

    Makes me wanna slap these provincials.

    On the other hand, getting hold of good US niche brewery beer is ludicrously simple here on the East Coast.

    Oh, an OT comment. I’m in Charleston, SC at the moment. Nice place, I’d hate to live here though. Visited Fort Sumter, the venue for the opening shots of the American Civil War.

    The tourist guide at the Fort began to hold forth about why the Charlestonians believed they had a right to seceed. The Federal government had regularly exceeded its Constitutional limits, etc, and on finishing the paragraph he paused, and raised his eyebrows. About a dozen out of 60 visitors shouled “Amen bro”, “jus’ like today!” etc, and a fair number of the others broke out laughing and agreeing.

    Warming to the reception, he reminded everyone that the Fort had originally been commissioned by the Federal Government, and that the 4 year project had taken 27 years to date, and still hadn’t been finished by the time the Confederates occupied it. “See, that’s what happens with all federal government projects”. Again, lots of unforced laughter and ‘hell yeahs’.

    I had worried that as a Brit, I might not get that warm a reception in the South, but frankly, my Noo Yawker Yankee wife and Nutmegger kids were in more danger than me.

  7. NickM says:

    Spent a lotta time in the US SE and they seem to rather like us Brits. You’re 100% about transatlantic booze snobbery. Imported beer in the US. Over here Gallo wine is seen as almost mid-market whilst over yonder it’s something they fill the car windscreen washer tank with. Indeed just on booze you can see how utterly ridiculous the EU/US trade barrier is. Tear down this wall Mr Obama! I’d say the same to the new prez of Europe if I could recall his name (it does sound like a Carry On character though). Is he Belgian?

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