The Unusual Tragedy of the London Beer Flood

The London Beer Flood resulted in the death of nine individuals, injuring several others, and causing damage to various homes.

The St. Giles district of London was hit with one of the most unusual industrial catastrophes on Monday, October 17, 1814. The incident, later known as the London Beer Flood, caused the loss of nine lives, several injuries, and damaged multiple houses and buildings in the vicinity.

The Horse Shoe Brewery, located at the intersection of Great Russel Street and Tottenham Court Road, was a large brewery with several 22-foot high wooden fermentation tanks. Each of these vats held the equivalent of 3,500 barrels of beer.

A Defective Iron Ring

Each vat was secured with a strong iron ring. After years of stress and fatigue, one of these iron rings around the tank snapped on the fateful afternoon of October. About an hour later, the whole tank exploded, releasing hot fermenting ale into the factory. The force of the resulting alcoholic tsunami caused several other tanks to rupture, adding their contents to the flood. The combined 320,000 gallons of beer hit the brewery’s wall with such force that it collapsed under the tide, pouring out onto the unsuspecting slum streets of St. Giles Rookery.

A 15-foot High Wave

The beer torrent reached George Street and New Street within minutes, washing over everything in its path. The 15-foot wave of beer and debris flooded the basements of two houses, causing them to collapse. Mary Barnfield and her 4-year-old daughter Hannah were having their afternoon meal in one of the houses when the flood hit. Both died as a result of their house collapsing. In the other basement, an Irish wake was being held for a 2-year-old boy who had died the day before. All four mourners in the basement were killed when the beer flooded in, causing the house to collapse. The beer flood also broke down the wall of the Tavistock Arms pub, trapping and killing teenage barmaid Eleanor Cooper. Another pub-goer was also trapped and killed in the wall’s collapse. Three brewery workers were rescued, while another was saved from the rubble of the wall that the beer had broken out from.

Free Beer and the Aftermath

Most British of all, the locals living in the affected area saw the incident as an opportunity for free beer! Hundreds of people came out to the streets, gathering the liquid in cups, bowls, and even buckets. In fact, there were reports of a ninth victim dying of alcohol poisoning after drinking too much of the runaway beer days later.

Some locals in London attempted to earn money by displaying the bodies of flood victims, but this turned out to be a bad idea. One visitor group examining a basement fell into the flooded cellar when the floor collapsed under their weight due to the beer flood. The stench of beer lingered in the St. Giles Rookery area for months afterward.

Meux and Company, the owners of Horse Shoe Brewery, were taken to court over the incident. Despite this, the judge and jury considered the flood to be an “Act of God,” so the charges against them were dropped. The flood cost the brewery around £23,000 at the time, equivalent to £1.25 million today. However, since the brewery had already paid beer duty, they were able to recover the duty’s cost through a court appeal. The court awarded them £7,250 (about £400,000 today), which saved them from bankruptcy. As a result of this disaster, wooden fermentation tanks were eventually phased out and replaced by more durable, lined concrete vats.

So there you have it: the strange and bizarre tale of the London Beer Flood. Eight people lost their lives, and numerous homes and properties in London were damaged. The next time you’re enjoying a pint at the pub with your friends, hope you don’t get more than you bargained for!


What was the London Beer Flood?

The London Beer Flood was a bizarre incident that occurred on October 17, 1814, in the St. Giles district of London. It involved a huge vat of beer bursting at the Meux and Company Brewery, causing more than 323,000 gallons of beer to flood the streets. The wave of beer was so strong that it destroyed two homes and a pub, killing eight people.

What caused the London Beer Flood?

The exact cause of the London Beer Flood is still unknown. However, it is believed that a combination of factors led to the disaster. The vat, which was made of weak iron hoops and held 135,000 gallons of beer, was reportedly overfilled, causing the hoops to give way. The pressure from the escaping beer caused another vat to break, resulting in a chain reaction of vats bursting and a huge flood of beer engulfing the surrounding area.

What was the aftermath of the London Beer Flood?

The aftermath of the London Beer Flood was devastating. In addition to the eight fatalities, many people were injured, and several buildings were destroyed. The brewery was sued for damages, but due to the public sympathy for the owners, they were not held liable. The incident also led to the passing of the first law regulating the brewing industry in the UK.

Is the London Beer Flood remembered today?

The London Beer Flood is a little-known event, but it is still remembered today by historians and beer enthusiasts. The tragedy has been the subject of several books and articles, and there is even a beer named after the incident. The London Beer Flood serves as a reminder of the dangers of unregulated industry and the importance of safety measures.

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