The London Beer Flood of 1814
17th October 1814 – The London Beer Flood
The Horseshoe Brewery, located at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street, was at the time one of the largest brewing concerns in London.
The beer was stored in giant wooden vats with metal hoops but on the 17th October 1814 one of the barrels failed and the resulting escape of beer destroyed other barrels and between 128,000 and 323,000 gallons escaped.
Unfortunately the brewery back wall abutted against a densely populated slum called ‘St. Giles Rookery’. The torrent of booze swept the area and killed eight people, of whom five were in the same Irish family who were at the wake of two year old at the time.
HM Coroner conducted an inquest into the deaths and found that they were caused “casually, accidentally and by misfortune” and the brewery was only saved from bankruptcy due to a tax rebate on the lost booze.
The beer formed a wave 15 feet high as it swept into New Street where it destroyed two houses and damaged others. One of the casualties was caused when the beer collapsed a wall and others only just escaped death as the ale flooded cellars where people were dwelling in the overcrowded conditions.
The brewery was at the time owned by Meux & Co (which ceased trading in 1961) and as the Coroner found ‘act of God’ was the cause, they paid no compensation to the victims. A wake was however held for the dead Irish family, in The Ship in Bainbridge Street and the bodies displayed – attendees made a donation of sixpence or a shilling and the proceeds (£33 5s 7d) was given ot he families of the survivors.
The site of the Horseshoe Brewery is now occupied by the Dominion Theatre and The Ship is also sadly now long demolished.