On the 17th October 1814 at around 6pm, one million litres of beer flooded the streets of London after a huge vat of beer ruptured at the Meux and Company brewery on Tottenham Court Road. The 15-foot wave of glorious grog destroyed two homes and ironically, also destroyed the local Tavistock Arms, killing 14 year old barmaid Eleanor Cooper.
In all, eight people were killed; five of whom were attending a wake for a child that had died the previous day. Drowning to death in freshly made brew. What a way to go.
George Crick, the clerk on duty, told a newspaper what happened: “I was on a platform about 30 feet from the vat when it burst. I heard the crash as it went off, and ran immediately to the storehouse, where the vat was situated. It caused dreadful devastation on the premises – it knocked four butts over, and staved several, as the pressure was so excessive. Between 8 and 9,000 barrels of porter [were] lost.”
According to The Independent, despite the free booze, later rumours that people collected the beer in pots and pans were untrue, as Martyn Cornell, author of Amber, Gold and Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beers, explains: “None of the London newspapers report anyone trying to drink the beer after the flood, indeed, they say the crowds that gathered were pretty well behaved. Only much later did stories start being told about riots, people getting drunk and so on: these seem to have been be prompted by what people thought ought to have happened, rather than what did happen.”
The Meux and Company brewery building. Circa 1814.
It’s said the sound of the eruption could reportedly be heard a staggering 5 miles away. Quite a sound when close to 3 million pints hit cobblestones and buildings at great speed. After the disaster the brewery was taken to court but the event was ruled as an “Act of God” – so nobody was responsible despite the death and destruction left. The company did survive for a while after the accident, but was eventually closed. The brewery building was demolished in 1922.
So, today, let’s raise a glass to the memories of the fallen below: