Lords of the Drinks

The Beer Tsunami of 1814, a Deadly Disaster Hits London


The London beer tsunami of 1814 pictured in a 19th century engraving.

Have you ever been told that too much beer can kill you? Well, it surely can when it comes as a 5 meter high destructive wave that breaks down any wall or building nearby. Such a beer tsunami struck the St Giles district in London in 1814, directly killing 8 people. It sounds like a scene from a bad action movie, but this incident actually happened. An incredible amount of 1.455 million liters of brown porter ale flowed through the streets of London, which led to a 9th death when one of the enthousiastic collectors drank a bit too much of this free beer.

The bizarre accident took place at the Horse Shoe Brewery that was located on the corner of Tottenham Court and Great Russel Street. Just 4 years before that this brewery had built a 6,7 meter high fermentation tank on its property. This colossus was made of wood and held together by huge iron rings, like a supersized beer barrel. It must have looked amazing, until the afternoon of October 17th, 1814 when one of the rings around the tank snapped. And an hour after that the enormous barrel bursted and a flood of fermenting ale was released. On its destructive path it broke some other smaller beer barrels and formed a real tsunami of beer. This wave, 5 meters high and 1.455 million liters in volume strong, smashed everything in its way.

After the beer tsunami had knocked down the back wall of the brewery it was released into the neighbourhood St Giles Rookery. And unfortunately this was an area where poor people lived in matching houses. When the flood reached George Street and New Street it turned them into beer swamps and 2 houses fully collapsed. In one of them a mother was drinking tea with her daughter, in the basement of the other house 4 mourning people were having a wake for a young boy that died the day before. Not one of those 6 people survived. At Travistock Arms pub a barmaid was killed when she was burried under a wall the tsunami broke down. In total 8 people lost their lives because of the beer flood that day, and a 9th would follow a few days later.

Once the habbitants of St Giles overcame the first shock they noticed their streets were flooded with a high tide of beer. You can just imagine the scenes that followed as people were running around with pots, glasses, kettles and any other kind of objects that could function as beer containers. Despite the destruction for many of these poor people the flood was a true blessing as well. As the beer was free many people consumed just a bit more than they should have those days. One of them actually died of alcohol poisoning, which can be counted as the 9th deadly victim of the tsunami.

In the aftermath of the incident the Horse Shoe Brewery was taken to court, as people claimed they were responsible for the horrible accident. However the judge let the brewery off the hook by stating that the beer flood was an act of God. Amen!

Micky Bumbar

More stories on history and mythology on Lords of the Drinks