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The London Beer Flood of 1814

It was 200 years ago today that a neighborhood in London, England, was flooded by beer. The Meux and Company Brewery had several large brewing vats on the roof. The largest was a 22-foot-high vat to brew porter. It held 511,920 liters of beer, or enough to fill 20,000 barrels. On October 17, 1814, after fermenting for months, one of the metal hoops holding the porter vat together gave way, and the beer exploded out, causing the surrounding vats to fail as well.

A total of 1,224,000 litres of beer under pressure smashed through the twenty-five foot high brick wall of the building, and gushed out into the surrounding area - the slum of St Giles. Many people lived in crowded conditions here, and some were caught by the waves of beer completely unaware. The torrent flooded through houses, demolishing two in its wake, and the nearby Tavistock Arms pub in Great Russell Street suffered too, its 14-year-old barmaid Eleanor Cooper buried under the rubble. The Times reported on 19 October of the flood:

    The bursting of the brew-house walls, and the fall of heavy timber, materially contributed to aggravate the mischief, by forcing the roofs and walls of the adjoining houses.

Fearful that all the beer should go to waste, though, hundreds of people ran outside carrying pots, pans, and kettles to scoop it up - while some simply stooped low and lapped at the liquid washing through the streets. However, the tide was too strong for many, and as injured people began arriving at the nearby Middlesex Hospital there was almost a riot as other patients demanded to know why they weren't being supplied with beer too - they could smell it on the flood survivors, and were insistent that they were missing out on a party! Calm was quickly restored at the hospital, but out in the streets was a different matter.

At least eight people died from the flood: some drowned, other died of injuries, and one supposedly died several days later of alcohol poisoning, although that story may be apocryphal. Read the rest of the story at h2g2. -via Fark


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I have always had a problem with this story. The numbers do not make sense. For starters, 500K liters would be under 5,000 standard barrels. The largest fermentation tanks these days only hold 10K liters. I cannot imagine one fifty times larger. The writers are forgiven for mixing up brewing and fermenting.

As well, porter takes no more than month to ferment. Brewing would take a day or so.
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