This week in history: The London Beer Flood of 1814

17 October 2014

By Pan Macmillan

17 October 1814: the London Beer Flood of 1814

Two hundred years ago, on 17 October 1814, London experienced what The Times described as ‘one of the most melancholy accidents’ they could remember. Back then, the site of what is now the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road was occupied by the extensive Horseshoe Brewery, run by the firm Henry Meux and Co. It was famed for producing gallons of the dark malted brew, Porter, that was especially popular with Londoners. At around six o’clock that evening, a single vat containing over 950,000 pints of porter burst and the whole neighbouring parish of St Giles’s, a notorious slum district, was deluged with what The Times calculated was ‘3,500 barrels of strong beer.’ The newspaper went on to report that:

Two houses in New-street, adjoining the brewhouse, were totally demolished. The inhabitants, who were of the poorer class, were all at home. In the first floor of one of them, a mother and daughter were at tea: the mother was killed on the spot; the daughter was swept away by the current through a partition, and dashed to pieces. The back parts of the houses of Mr. GOODWIN, poulterer, of Mr. HAWSE, Tavistock Arms, and Nos. 24 and 25, in Great Russell-street, were utterly destroyed. The female servant of the Tavistock Arms was suffocated. Three of Mr. Meux’s men employed in the brewery were rescued with great difficulty, by the people collected to afford relief, who had to wade up to their middle through the beer.’

In all, nine people died in the disaster, most through drowning or suffocation. Others were crushed by rumble and one man later succumbed to alcohol poisoning, having ingested vast quantities of beer as he waded to escape the tide. The cellars of the houses in all the surrounding streets were completely flooded and the area reeked of beer for months afterwards.