Two-hundred years ago today, a vat burst in Horse Shoe Brewery on Tottenham Court Road, flooding London with 9,000 barrels of dark porter, destroying two houses and killing eight people. The London Beer Flood, as it came to be known, was rumored to have been a scene of post-tramautic debauchery including riots and porter-drunk ransackers, but historian Martyn Cornell, author of Amber, Gold and Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beers presents a different story.
According to The Independent, watchmen capitalized on the townspeople’s morbid curiosity and charged spectators a penny or two-pence to “see the ruins of the beer vats.” News reports however didn’t portray a rambunctious crowd that later narratives would assert. People were somber and watchful for anyone trapped beneath collapsed structures. Cornell has combed through the newspapers of the time and hasn’t found anything reporting riots or mayhem. She has, however, discovered eyewitness accounts including that of a man working at the brewery when the vat burst, as well as jury proceedings relieving Horse Shoe Brewery from any responsibility. The incident was cited as an “act of God.”
Cornell erases grotesque exaggerations and proves that Londoners were actually well-behaved. But those 15-foot waves of porter are, by no means, any less legendary. [The Independent] [Image: Flickr/nationalrailwaymuseum]