Friday October 17, 2014

"A real beer tsunami". Remembering the big British beer flood of October, 1814 with brewing historian Martyn Cornell

Listen 6:41

The manor house of Toten Hall on Tottenham Court Road. From a View published by Wilkinson, 1813.

It is 200 years since a tidal wave of beer tore through London, England. And while that may sound like a drinker's dream, beer historian Martyn Cornell tells Carol that this was a "real tsunami of black beer running through the streets." It killed eight people and destroyed parts of one of the city's poorest neighbourhoods. 

On October 17, 1814 a giant barrel burst at Horse Shoe Brewery on Tottenham Court Road. Nearly a million litres of porter broke through the warehouse walls and went pouring down the street. 

The crest of the wave, according to Cornell, was nearly 15 feet high.  "It knocked people out of first floor rooms." The dead included either four or five women and at least three children. Contemporary descriptions suggest that residents reacted with admirable calm.

Cornell discounts later claims that the death toll resulted from beer-greedy drunks wading into the flood. He points out that the  neighbourhood was then home to many poor Irish labourers and "the newspapers at the time wouldn't have been friends of the immigrant Irish. I'm sure that, if that kind of behaviour had been taking place, then there would have been harsh words written at the time."