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Remembering The Time Nearly Two Million Liters Of Beer Completely Flooded London

Updated August 9, 2017 2.5k views5 items

On a late afternoon in October 1814, in one of the craziest events in the history of beer, a small slum neighborhood located in the heart of London was tragically struck by a 570-ton wave of beer when a three-story vat in a brewery exploded nearby. It left a literal river of wreckage in its wake. The Meux and Co. Brewery, which had been operating at the same location in the St. Giles Rookery for nearly 50 years, had become the city's fifth largest producer of beer - and they had the stock to show it.

Due to improper containment of pressure, a vat of the fermenting beverage exploded. It set off a quintessential domino effect, causing vat after vat to explode until 1,470,000 liters of beer were sent rushing into the poverty-stricken streets of downtown London. At least eight women and children were drowned, crushed, or otherwise killed in the tsunami-like wave of beer as walls crumbled, homes collapsed, and basements were flooded. With no proper drainage systems in place in the city, people had no other option but to wade through the depths of the muddied brew in search of their loved ones. 

  • An Inspector At The Brewery Noticed Something Was Wrong With The Vat, But Everyone Ignored Him

    Only an hour or so before the explosion, a worker at the brewery noticed something was amiss with one of the three-story-tall barrels of beer that he was inspecting. The barrels had the capacity to hold close to 150,000 gallons of beer, or one million pints. They were secured with numerous thick iron hoops, similar to those used to secure wine barrels. On that fateful October day, one of these 700-pound rings had slipped off. 

    However, the floor manager was unconcerned. He even went so far as to confidently declare that "no harm whatever would ensue” from the fallen ring, and that this happened numerous times a year. Within an hour, the manager was proven to be very wrong as a beer flood nearly wiped out the entire infrastructure of the surrounding slum. 

  • When The Three-Story-Tall Barrel Exploded, It Took The Brewery's Entire Stock Of Beer With It

    Without the added structural reinforcement provided by the iron ring, the pressure within the barrel caused by the ten-month-long fermentation process became unbalanced and suddenly exploded, sending its contents spraying across the storage room. What happened next was essentially a worst case scenario: every barrel in the brewery, small and large, began to explode as the shockwave of beer splashed through the room. Tragically, the flood rushed past the doors of the brewery and filled the drainless streets with foamy, hot liquid. 

  • Eight People Were Killed, Including A Family That Had Been Holding A Funeral In A Nearby Basement

    Despite the morbidly comedic concept of the streets literally flooding with free booze, the Londoners were certainly not entertained. In fact, the devastation that resulted from the event was compared to that experienced in large natural disasters and was recorded as being "one of the most melancholy accidents we ever remember."

    In one case, the flood took the lives of a family of mourners who had been holding a funeral for their son in a small basement. The beer filled the room too quickly for them to attempt an escape. There was also a young girl who was crushed by a wall that had given way under the sudden wave of beer. Numerous others were carried away in the flood's wake to drown. Despite the fact that panicked family members scoured the depths of the brown liquid in search of buried family members, a total of eight people were killed, all of whom were women and children.

  • The Tragedy Was Ruled As Being An Act Of God And No One Was Ever Held Accountable

    Photo: Wilkinson / Wikimedia Commons

    When all was said and done, the brewery had lost the vast majority of its stock and the London neighborhood was left with the remnants of a disaster to clean up. However, when the owners of the brewery were brought to court regarding the incident, they got off without even a slap on the wrist. The judge determined that the event was simply a terrible accident and the deaths that resulted had been an "act of God." No one was ever held responsible for the oversight and the British Parliament even paid the brewery hefty restitution for its losses.