Death by Beer: The London Beer Flood of 1814

Depiction of Flood. GhostsnGhouls

Exploding Some Myths

One myth suggests that when survivors were taken to Middlesex Hospital, the existing patient were furious at the doctors and nurses for not serving them the beer they were clearly giving to newcomers. Another myth suggests that several people died when a group gathered to witness the bodies of flood victims. They apparently caused the floor to collapse, and several people were crushed.

The biggest myth surrounding the London Beer Flood is the idea that people in the neighborhood, which consisted mainly of ‘lower class’ Irish, began scooping up beer on the streets. The Bury and Norfolk Post is the culprit for this myth. It is the only publication that ran with the story, and it only appeared nine days after the disaster. When you consider the contempt in which Irish people were held by London newspapers, there is simply no way those publications would pass up a chance to lash out at the perceived enemy.

Disaster Area Highlighted. Londonist


Initially, the death toll was said to be as high as 30 people, but the coroner’s report showed the actual number of deaths in the flood was eight. There are unconfirmed reports that one person who allegedly helped himself to the beer died from alcohol poisoning days later. A pub called the Ship exhibited the bodies of some of the victims in a bid to collect money for the relatives of the deceased. They managed to collect a little over £33, small change compared to the losses the victims sustained.

As for the brewery, Meux and Co. gave a supposedly ‘low’ estimate of £23,000 worth of losses, an absolute fortune at the time (over £1.25 million today). The company asked Parliament for a refund of the duty it paid on the lost beer and received a waiver in return. The brewery did not have to pay the Crown taxes already paid on the lost beer, an act that saved the company more than £7,250.

Although legal action was taken against the brewery, the judge and jury ruled the incident as an ‘unavoidable Act of God.’ In other words, no one was held responsible. While the brewery was able to carry on in business as usual fashion, the already poor families, who lost everything in the flood, received no official compensation and a relative pittance in collection money.

The Horse Shoe Brewery continued trading even as the stench of beer surrounded the area for months. It remained in operation until 1921 when it finally closed; it was demolished the following year, and the Dominion Theatre was erected on the site a few years later. Although the tragedy is all but forgotten now, there is a local pub, called The Holborn Whippet, which brews a special ale each year on the anniversary of the London Beer Flood.