The Great British Beer Flood

by Chris Dolley

As floods and G20 meetings ravage the south of France I thought it timely to provide a little perspective and write a post about a British flood – The Great Beer Flood of 1814.

As we grow older it’s tempting to look back upon the past as a Golden Age. A time when people were more sensible, less feckless, and had manners. Huge crowds could press into football stadiums without the need for crowd control. They wouldn’t riot or mind if they were standing next to rival supporters. And a virgin could ride naked from Land’s End to John o’Groats without fear of molestation.

Nowadays she’d be arrested – indecency, breach of the peace, endangering a horse, and driving without due care and clothes.

So … let’s take a look at how the staid and sensible citizens of London behaved in the Golden Age of the Regency.

The year is 1814. Beer is in great demand and the industrial revolution is providing brewers with the technology to build larger and larger vats. One of the largest is in Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. It’s twenty-five feet high, 195 feet in circumference and contains 135,000 gallons of beer. It’s made of wood and held together by twenty-nine iron hoops – some weighing over 700 pounds.

On October 17th, 1814, one of the hoops fell off. The storehouse clerk was not alarmed as this had happened before. A few hours later he was very alarmed. The vat burst with such force that it took out all the other vats in the brewery. The explosion was so loud it could be heard five miles away. A 323,000-gallon beer tsunami crashed through the brewery walls, demolished nearby houses and swept passers-by off their feet. Several people were drowned as packed basements filled with beer.

As the tidal wave began to ebb, local residents rushed to the scene. And started drinking … from the gutters.

Here’s an extract from the book, Man Walks into a Pub, by Pete Brown

“The first to die were those drowned by the initial wave. Others were crushed to death in the stampede as they threw themselves into the gutter to drink as much free beer as they were physically able, hampering any hope of rescue for those trapped in the rubble. Some of those who survived the crush subsequently died of alcohol poisoning. The survivors were taken to hospital, but they weren’t out of it yet. They reeked of beer, and those patients already on the wards rioted because they thought patients in other parts of the hospital were being served beer while their own doctors were holding out on them. Finally, there were still further casualties when the dead were taken to a nearby house and laid out for identification by grieving relatives. Everyone was curious to see what victims of death by beer looked like, so they crowded into the house for a look, and the owners even began charging admission. Soon there were so many people in the house that the floor collapsed, and several of those who had gone to look at the dead, ended up joining them!”

Now that’s a flood.

Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .

Out Now! An Unsafe Pair of Handsa quirky murder mystery set in rural England charting the descent and rise of a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Which will break first? The case, or DCI Shand?

Medium Dead – a fun urban fantasy chronicling the crime fighting adventures of Brenda – a reluctant medium – and Brian – a Vigilante Demon with an impish sense of humour. Think Stephanie Plum with magic and a dash of Carl Hiaasen.

What Ho, Automaton! – Wodehouse Steampunk. Follow the adventures of Reggie Worcester, consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves. It’s set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs. Humour, Mystery, Aunts and Zeppelins!
French Fried true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth.




The Great British Beer Flood — 6 Comments

  1. Igor,

    Save it for the next book, or the one after that.

    Great History, Chris, that isn’t usually reported. We need more of this. Death by beer. What a way to go.