A bizarre and terrible disaster happened in October 1814, in St Giles, London in which eight people were killed, and an unknown number of people were injured. Believe it or not, a beer flood happened in London due to an industrial accident.
The accident happened when a 22-foot high wooden fermentation tank which held an equivalent of over 3,500 barrels of brown porter ale ruptured, releasing the hot fermenting ale causing other vats in the same building to succumb in a domino effect and creating a beer tsunami.
It all happened when one of the iron rings with which the tanks were held snapped releasing a whole tank to smash onto the ground. The force blasted split several more vats, releasing in total more than 323,000 imperial gallons of beer. The force was so strong, that the hot beer destroyed the back wall of the brewery and within minutes two neighboring homes were demolished while George Street and New Street were flooded.
The wave of beer also destroyed Tavistock Arms Pub, trapping teenage employee Eleanor Cooper under the rubble and it killed a mother Mary Banfield and her daughter Hannah who were having a tea. In the neighboring house, an Irish wake of a 2-year-old boy who had died the previous day was being held. All four of the mourners were killed when the flood hit the basement where the wake was taking place.
In total, the flood claimed the lives of eight people, while many more were injured. As for the rest, well, those citizens of London who didn’t suffer by the beer wave, scooped the alcohol from the streets in whatever they could find at home. In the following days, many cases of alcohol poisoning were reported in the hospitals.
The brewery was eventually taken to court but the disaster was ruled as an Act of God, and no one was convicted for it.
However, the flood cost the brewery around £23000 (approx. £1.25 million today), but the company was able to reclaim the excise duty paid on the beer, which saved them from bankruptcy.
Beer flood might be the dream of many, but this one, although unique, was a serious one and took eight lives.
After the disaster, the wooden fermentation casks were replaced with lined concrete vats. The Horse Shoe Brewery was demolished in 1922 and the Dominion Theatre now sits partly on its site.