Tomorrow, I shall be drinking a pint or two of porter and remembering the victims of the Great London Beer Flood on 17th October 1814.
On this day nearly two hundred years ago a vast vat of porter at the Meaux and Co Horseshoe Brewery exploded, the resulting tidal wave of beer killed eight people.
By the early 1800’s porter, a well hopped beer made with brown malts had become a firm favourite of London drinkers and unlike other beers of the time it was sent out from the brewery in a state fit to drink – not requiring additional aging by the publican or beer dealer. This led to fierce competition between the various brewers, which involved a lot of PR stunts. One of these was to have bigger and bigger vats in which to age the porter. In 1790 the Meaux brewery in Liquor Pond Street unveiled a vat that stood 20 feet high and 60 feet across in which more than 200 people sat down inside to have dinner. In 1795 the brewery unveiled a vat called ‘XYZ’ 25 feet high that held 20,000 barrels (720000 pints).
So what happened on the 17th Oct 1814? At about 4.30pm the storehouse clerk, George Crick noticed that the lowest of twenty two securing hoops on a vat containing 3555 barrels of beer had fallen off. He told the subsequent inquest into the deaths that he was not alarmed by the hoop falling off as ‘it happened frequently, two or three times a year, and was not attended by any serious consequence’. He wrote a note to the vat makers stating they would need to come and repair it. Unfortunately this time the loss of the securing hoop put too much of a strain on the remaining hoops, themselves badly in need of repair.
At 5.30pm Crick heard an explosion in the storehouse where the vat was and upon opening the storehouse door found the rear wall, 25 feet high, 60 feet long and 22 inches thick at its widest, together with a large part of the roof in ruins. The force of the vat exploding sent flying debris into other vats, causing them to collapse and release their contents.
Behind the brewery a tidal wave of beer at least 15feet high surged along New Street, flooding cellars, knocking down the walls of houses and sweeping people from first floor rooms. In one cellar a group of five mourners attending a wake were drowned. Houses were also affected in nearby Great Russell street and Tottenham Court Road, in the Tavistock Arms pub, the beer rushed straight through the tap room collapsing the rear wall on top of one of the barmaids, Eleanor Cooper, who was dug from the debris three hours later standing upright but dead.
The eight people known to have died as a direct result of the flood are:
Ann Saville 53, Eleanor Cooper 14, Hannah Bamfield 4,Catherine Butler 63, Elizabeth Smith 27, Mary Mulvey 30, Thomas Mulvey 3 and many others were seriously injured.