You must have come across people who say they drink to ‘drown their sorrows’. And if you regularly follow news, you must be aware of lot of drowning cases where the victim went on to chill in water after consuming alcohol.
But what if I tell you there has been a historical event where alcohol, instead of causing sorrow to be diminished, increased it. An event where people didn’t drown because of drinking alcohol, but drowned in alcohol itself, without drinking a drop of it?
Ladies and gentlemen, behold, The London Beer Flood:
(Image source: Inebriated Wisdom)
This disaster happened in the parish of St. Giles, London. It was a terrible industrial accident that resulted in the release of a beer tsunami onto the streets around Tottenham Court Road.
The Horse Shoe Brewery stood at the corner of Great Russell Street and Tottenham Court Road. In 1810 the brewery, Meux and Company, had had a 22 foot high wooden fermentation tank installed on the premises. Held together with massive iron rings, this huge vat held the equivalent of over 3,500 barrels of brown porter ale, a beer not unlike stout.
On the afternoon of October 17th 1814 one of the iron rings around the tank snapped. About an hour later the whole tank ruptured, releasing the hot fermenting ale with such force that the back wall of the brewery collapsed. The force also blasted open several more vats, adding their contents to the flood which now burst forth onto the street. More than 320,000 gallons of beer were released into the area.
The flood reached George Street and New Street within minutes, swamping them with a tide of alcohol. The 15 foot high wave of beer and debris inundated the basements of two houses, causing them to collapse. In one of the houses, Mary Banfield and her daughter Hannah were taking tea when the flood hit; both were killed. In the basement of the other house, an Irish wake was being held for a 2 year old boy who had died the previous day. The four mourners were all killed. The wave also took out the wall of the Tavistock Arms pub, trapping the teenage barmaid Eleanor Cooper in the rubble.
In all, eight people were killed. The following table lists their names and age:
(Image source: Wikipedia)
People being people, ensured that all this ‘free beer’ doesn’t waste. Several people tried scooping up the liquid in whatever containers they could. Some even resorted to drinking. The life of a ninth victim was claimed, some days after the event, due to alcohol poisoning (although there is no evidence pointing to the same).
Many people even started exhibiting the corpses of their victims for money (disgusting). In one house, this grotesque exhibition resulted into in the collapse of the floor under the weight of all the visitors, plunging everyone waist-high into a beer-flooded cellar.
The brewery was taken to court over the accident but the court ruled the disaster as an act of god. Thus, no one was held responsible. The company too was saved from bankruptcy as they could claim the excise duty paid on beer.
It is worth noting that it is this disaster that caused wooden fermentation casks to be gradually phased out, replacing them with lined concrete vats.