The Great London Beer Flood of 1814: A Sudsy Disaster

Imagine strolling through the streets of London on a crisp autumn day, only to be swept off your feet by a tidal wave of beer! It sounds like a scene from a comedy movie, but on October 17, 1814, this bizarre and tragic event actually occurred.

The Meux and Company Brewery on Tottenham Court Road was home to several enormous vats of beer. How enormous? Each vat held approximately 1 million pints.

old London

On that fateful day, one of these vats, holding over 135,000 gallons of porter, burst open. The immense pressure from the escaping beer caused other vats to rupture, unleashing a torrent of beer that surged through the streets with unstoppable force.

The beer flood swept through the St. Giles Rookery, a densely populated and impoverished area. Houses were destroyed, and the unexpected deluge caught people off guard. Tragically, eight people lost their lives, including several children, and many others were injured. The brewery was taken to court, but the disaster was deemed an act of God, and no one was held accountable.

In fact, not only was the brewery not held accountable, despite an earlier warning from an employee that there was a problem with the doomed vat, the British Parliament waived excise taxes already paid by the brewery on the lost beer!

row of beer barrels or vats

While the Great London Beer Flood may sound like a whimsical tale, it serves as a sobering reminder of the power and unpredictability of industrial accidents. So, next time you enjoy a pint, take a moment to remember the strange and sudsy disaster of 1814, when beer literally flowed through the streets of London.