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The London Beer Flood of 1814



By Adrian James Kirwan

The recent boom in micro-brewing was emphasised recently when I was introduced to a close friend’s new home-brewing equipment. Without even producing a single batch plans are afoot for the rapid expansion of this private enterprise and I have no doubts that the directors at St. James’ Gate are already getting worried. However as the old adage goes if we don’t learn the mistakes of history we are destined to repeat them. With this in mind, as a word of warning, those expanding private and commercial breweries should make themselves aware of an event that happened 200 years ago which came to be known as the ‘London Beer Flood of 1814’.

The Henry Meux and Co. Brewery had been in operation at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street since 1764. Continually expanding the owners had built a vat in 1804 that held 610,000 litres of porter. On the 17 October 1814 a hoop on the vat gave way; this had happened numerous times before with no ill effect. However at half-past five that evening before the hoop could be replaced this vat ruptured sending 7,664 barrels of porter rushing into the surrounding buildings. Most of these were tenements and within minutes the flood had killed a mother and daughter and destroyed the wall of a nearby public house trapping and killing a young girl. Finally reaching a nearby wake the flood killed five of the mourners, bringing a whole new meaning to the term drowning your sorrows.

Indeed this was not the only time the Meux brewery came to the attention of the public for the wrong reasons. An 1818 Report from the Committee on Public Breweries highlighted the poor brewing practises at the brewery which lead to a £100 fine. However despite these setbacks the brewery was to continue in business for many years.

So for all those budding brewers please remember: safety first.



Further Reading

Liverpool Mercury, 28 Oct. 1814.



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