On the 17th October 1814 eight people were killed when nearly one and a half million litres of beer swept out of London’s Horse Shoe Brewery and formed an alcoholic tidal wave that swept down Tottenham Court Road. As well as causing loss of life, the flood rushed with such force that two houses were completely destroyed.
The brewery, which was owned by Meux and Company, had first been established in 1764 on the site of a tavern at the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. The area soon developed into one of dense slum housing known as St Giles Rookery, and was immortalised in the work of the artist William Hogarth who used it as the inspiration for his Gin Lane.
Although some citizens held concerns over the presence of large quantities of beer so close to a residential area, there was no response from the company or the authorities. Even when one of the metal hoops that helped to hold the vats together broke earlier the day, nothing was done to improve its safety.
Once the beer began to pour into the street, it quickly began filling the cellars of nearby houses in which families lived. Some of these drowned when they became trapped underground in the sea of beer.
Despite the destruction, the flood was declared to be an act of God by both judge and jury, and so the brewery was able to resume production shortly afterwards. Beer continued to be brewed on the site until 1921 when it was cleared to make way for the Dominion Theatre.