When a deadly flood of alcohol hit the streets of London

When a deadly flood of alcohol hit the streets of London

It was common practice for the iron band installed on the liquor tank to slip and be repaired. Therefore, on the afternoon of October 17, 1814, the supervisor of the ‘Horseshoe Brewery’ in London saw a tank ring come loose and went to write a message for it to be repaired.

Founded in 1764, this brewery only produced black porter beer. Due to the drink’s popularity, the brewery, owned by one of Britain’s two largest companies, Henry Mayo & Co., produced more than one hundred thousand barrels of porter a year.

Journalist Christopher Klein writes that porter yeast was grown in 22-foot-high wooden tanks in the brewery’s warehouse.

‘There would be many heavy iron bars around him. Some of the projectiles weighed up to a ton. A full tank contained around 3,555 barrels (over five lakh liters) of beer.

The repair message was still in the hands of the janitor when at 5:30 p.m. he heard something fall very hard from the side of the store. He turned toward the sound.

Journalist Martin Cornell wrote that there he was horrified to discover that the repairable tank itself had burst and that the 25-foot-high wall and most of the roof of the brewery had collapsed in the accident.

Furthermore, the warehouse superintendent and his own brother, along with several other injured workers, lay motionless under the rubble.

A hail of bricks and debris collapsed two houses on nearby New Street and a 15-foot tidal wave swept through the brewery, carrying away between six and 1.4 million liters of beer.

He was heading towards St Giles Rookery, a poor neighborhood behind the factory.

The St. Giles, a wealthy 17th century family, settled on land in Brainbridge, west London.

For the sake of profit, rapid but poor construction was carried out. The result was dark alleys and congested streets. In the 18th century, this densely populated neighborhood became one of London’s most infamous and crime-ridden slums. The poor, the unemployed, criminals and many Irish immigrants lived here.

‘These houses were so full of people that they lived in the hallways and kitchens. Sometimes several families lived in the same room.’

John Duncome in ‘The Danes of London’ writes that in the early 19th century, Giles was plagued by crime, prostitution and squalor.

The “cage houses” were houses similar to chicken coops where stray animals took refuge. Not even the police would return to streets like Bhol Bhali and the holes that opened in them.’

It was not yet night in Giles and people were busy with their daily lives.

Poor drainage here generally led to unsanitary conditions and the spread of disease. When there was a flood of alcohol, the houses were also submerged and so were these people.

In such a situation, rescue efforts began quickly. People searched for survivors immersed in beer up to their waists. The terrible impact of the disaster was evident: injured and distraught people lined the streets, crying and listening to the screams of their trapped loved ones as they quickly picked up the rubble.

The devastation of this accident is explained by the statements of witnesses at the forensic investigation held on October 19, 1814.

It was initially feared that the death toll was much higher, as almost all of the cellars at St Giles were inhabited; However, when the flood subsided it was revealed that a total of eight people had died. Most of them were women and children.

Numerous people were injured, including 31 brewery workers. Despite the near disaster, none of these workers died.

When a deadly flood of alcohol hit the streets of London

During the investigation, a large crowd of curious onlookers arrived to witness the flood scene. Bar workers even began charging people to look at the crash site, according to Klein.

Cornell says it is still claimed that relatives even charged visitors to view the bodies of the dead and that people entered the building in such large numbers that the floor where the bodies were kept collapsed. And these ‘tourists’ fell into the cellar full of beer.’

“Corpses were certainly a tourist attraction in the 19th century, but there is no contemporary evidence that this was the case after this avalanche of beer.”

A coroner’s investigation found that the flooding was so severe that the explosion of one tank put too much pressure on the other tanks to support them. The investigation determined that the deaths were not the fault of the brewery, but were “accidental and unfortunate.”

Therefore, no compensation was paid to the families who lost their loved ones, their homes and their possessions.

According to Klein, losses to the company were estimated at £23,000 (over a million pounds in today’s money). To save it from bankruptcy, the government paid the company £7,250 in advance withheld excise duty refunds, which today would be equivalent to around £400,000.

The government did not help the victims, but people from other parts of London, most of whom were poor, donated what they could so that the dead could be properly buried.

According to Ben Johnson’s research, a rumor persisted that in the days after the flood, locals were getting drunk from the rivers of beer that ran through the streets. It was even said that ‘some people drank so much that they died’.

However, Martin Cornell does not recognize this widespread public intoxication after the flood. He says there are no news stories in contemporary newspapers about this type of behavior.

‘Irish immigrants lived in large numbers in the affected area. Londoners didn’t like them. If alcohol had been consumed in this way, would the newspapers have missed the opportunity to vilify them?

However, in the 19th century, St. Giles and other slums were demolished to create New Oxford Street. Today it is an expensive business district in London. The brewery is also gone and is now home to the Dominion Theatre.

There was one more change.

According to American author Tom Cleon, after the so-called “London beer flood” accident, large wooden tanks were removed from brewing and replaced with concrete tanks. Perhaps that is why no similar accident has occurred in the last 210 years.

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