Great London Beer Flood

200 Years Ago: The Great London Beer Flood Killed 8 People, 15-Foot Wave Of Booze Swept Town

On October 17, 1814, a three-story-high vat of beer exploded inside a London brewery which unleashed a tidal wave of booze over the town that killed eight people. The London Beer Flood may be one of the strangest disasters in history and, thanks to a local newspaper, all the details are still available two centuries later. Let’s take a look back at the bizarre disaster that left London in shambles.

History, the publication, provides in full detail what transpired that dreadful day in London.

“Around 4:30 p.m., storehouse clerk George Crick inspected one of the three-story-tall wooden vats girdled with heavy iron hoops in which the black beer fermented. As he looked down from his perch, the clerk suddenly noticed that a 700-pound hoop had slipped off an enormous cask that stored a 10-month-old batch of porter. Crick, who had been with the company for 17 years and watched it grow to become the city’s fifth-largest producer of porter, knew that this happened two or three times a year and didn’t think much of it. Even though porter filled all but the final 4 inches of the 22-foot-high vat and the pressure from the fermentation process was building inside, Crick’s boss told him “that no harm whatever would ensue” from the broken hoop and that he should write a letter to another brewery employee who could fix it at a later date.

Soon after he penned the note around 5:30 p.m., Crick heard a massive explosion from inside the storeroom. The compromised vat, which held the equivalent of 1 million pints of beer, had burst into splinters. The blast broke off the valve of an adjoining cask that also contained thousands of barrels of beer and set off a chain reaction as the weight of the 570 tons of liquid smashed other hogsheads of porter.”

The force of the beer exploding sent bricks spiraling through homes nearby. The weight of the bricks caused a brick wall to collapse on Eleanor Cooper, killing her instantly. As if the explosion of bricks wasn’t bad enough, the dark brown porter that was once housed in the vat was now flowing into the streets and into homes nearby. Streets during that time did not have drainage systems; therefore, the beer had nowhere to go but down the street, causing further destruction.

So much beer poured from the vat that it created a 15-foot tidal wave of booze. The wave, and resulting current, was so strong that it caused Mary Banfield and her 4-year-old daughter Hannah to be swept away during an evening tea. Both sadly perished, drowning in the massive wave of beer.

After the initial wave passed, people could be seen wading in the streets in beer that was waist-deep. The Morning Post reported at the time that is was “one of the most melancholy accidents we ever remember.”

Though Crick notes that the brewery was negligent in dealing with the issue once reported, a jury convened and found the incident had been an “Act of God” and that the victims had met their deaths “casually, accidentally and by misfortune.” Not only did the brewery escape paying damages to the destitute victims, it received a waiver from the British Parliament for excise taxes it had already paid on the thousands of barrels of beer it lost.

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