The Great London Beer Flood

                                                   Submitted by Mike Retzlaff

The Horse Shoe Brewery was located in central London.  It was established in 1764 and became a major producer of porter.  The brewery tap, the Horseshoe, was established in 1623, and was named after the shape of its first dining room.  The brewery was named after the tavern.  By 1787, it had the eleventh largest output of porter of any London brewery, producing 40,279 barrels a year.

On October 17, 1814, corroded hoops on a large vat at the brewery prompted the sudden release of about 3,750 Imperial barrels (135,000 Imp gal) of porter.   This caused a domino effect and other vats in the room also failed with an estimated release of 8972 Imperial barrels (323,000 Imperial gallons).  This beer tsunami caused severe damage to the brewery’s walls and was powerful enough to cause several heavy wooden beams to collapse.  The landscape of the area, which was generally flat, exacerbated the flood’s severity. The brewery was located in a densely populated and tightly packed area of squalid housing (known as the St. Giles rookery). Many of these houses had cellars. To save themselves from the rising tide of alcohol, some of the occupants were forced to climb on furniture.  Several adjoining houses were severely damaged, and eight people killed.  Scores of opportunistic people were in the streets scooping up the beer in whatever vessels they could find.

The brewery was eventually taken to court over the accident, but the disaster was ruled to be an Act of God by the judge and jury, leaving no one responsible.  The accident cost the brewery about £23,000, although it petitioned Parliament for about £7,250 in Excise drawback, saving it from bankruptcy.

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