Saturday, January 17, 2009

The London Beer Flood of 1814

After I learned about the Boston Molasses Flood of 1919, I quickly got wind of a rival event that happened more than a century before the Bostonian food disaster: the London Beer Flood.

In short, on October 14, 1814, heavy metal hoops that held a larger vat broke and ignited a chain reaction that smashed the other surrounding vats. In total, 1,224,000 litres of beer under pressure exploded through the twenty-five foot high brick wall of a London brewery and literally flooded the crowded area nearby. Two houses were destroyed in its path and nine people lost their lives because of the unusual flood.

Although the death toll was not as high as the Boston Molasses Flood a hundred years later, there were several fascinating details that if reenacted in the movie today, would have been accused as sensationalism, but life, alas, sometimes does ring stranger than fiction. Read on:

"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!"

One of the victims actually died some days later of alcohol poisoning!

"Because of the poverty of the area, relatives of the drowned took to exhibiting their families' corpses in their homes and charging a fee for viewing. In one house, though, too many people crowded in and the floor gave out, plunging them all into a cellar half full of beer."

(source: BBC)

I guess too much food really CAN kill ya...

Again, the best succinct retelling of the event is by Tony Sakalauskas, a free-lance writer, on

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