General Enquiries

London Beer Flood – Public Liability Blog

Share This Post

Further to my last blog about the Apollo Theatre, the Dominion Theatre on the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Rd. London was built in 1928-1929 on the former site of the Horse Shoe Brewery, which on Monday 17th October 1814 would have been in this day and age, the scene of a massive public liability claim.

Meux’s Brewery Co Ltd, established in 1764, was a London brewery owned by Sir Henry Meux. Meux, like many modern brewers, bought out smaller breweries, one such being the Horse Shoe Brewery (founded by a Mr Blackburn, and famous for its ‘black beer’). Within the brewery itself stood several large vats of beer, the largest of which was the porter vat, a 22ft high monstrosity that held 511,920 litres of beer, in turn held together by a total of 29 large iron hoops. For some idea of its vastness, The Times report of 1 April, 1785 read:

“There is a cask now building at Messrs. Meux & Co.’s brewery…the size of which exceeds all credibility, being designed to hold 20,000 barrels of porter; the whole expense attending the same will be upwards of £10,000. “

The most relevant pic I could find, clearly not 1814!
The most relevant pic I could find, clearly not from 1814!

Thirty years on, the wooden vat and the iron hoops were clearly straining under the pressure of the huge pressure of the fermenting beer until at 6.00pm on the 17th October 1814 one of the hoops gave way setting off a chain reaction in which the vat exploded, in turn causing the other vats to explode with a noise that could apparently be heard up to five miles away.

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.”


Officially there were 7 people dead, mainly from the injuries they sustained as a result of being swept away by the tsunami of beer, although there was a story, probably subsequently told in various pubs, of a man who died several days later of alcohol poisoning after a valiant attempt to stem the torrent by drinking as much of it as he possibly could!

Although the brewery were taken to court over the incident, the judge concluded that the disaster was an ‘Act of God’, meaning the brewery were absolved of all blame. Because of the poverty of the area, and the inability to claim on any public liability insurance, 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. This morbid exhibition moved locations, attracting more custom – and eventually the police, who closed the doors on the horrible circus.

Again this disaster shows the need for adequate public liability insurance for your business, something we can cater for here at The business insurance comparison site! 

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates and learn from the best

More To Explore

Unoccupied Property Insurance

Inflatable Minion Causes Mayhem!

Earlier in August a giant inflatable minion, which was displayed at a Dublin fairground, caused chaos at strong winds ripped it from its place. The

Do You Want To Boost Your Business?

drop us a line and keep in touch