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History’s Mysteries: Beer floods London

The Horseshoe Brewery of London brewed a tremendous amount of beer. It had a huge 22-foot-tall wooden fermentation tank that was held together with giant iron rings. This tank was capable of holding more than 3,500 barrels of porter ale, a beer similar to stout.

In the afternoon of Oct. 17, 1814, one of the iron rings snapped. Within an hour the whole tank ruptured, the force of which collapsed the back wall of the brewery.

Several other vats were also destroyed, spewing their contents of more than 320,000 gallons onto the street. A 15-foot-high wave of beer hit houses and collapsed them, killing a woman and her daughter.

In another building, where a wake was being held, four mourners were drowned. A pub was leveled, killing a female employee. A total of eight people were killed. Workers in the brewery were rescued as they treaded beer in the rubble.

In the midst of this crisis, hundreds of people gathered to scoop up the free brew.

Some relatives of the deceased actually held exhibitions of the corpses to make money. In one such exhibition, the floor collapsed and sent visitors falling into a beer-filled cellar. The smell of beer permeated the area for months.

The company was saved from bankruptcy and continued to operate until the early 1900s. In court, no one was held responsible and the disaster was ruled an “Act of God.” Perhaps it was a divine thirst for judgment.

• Professor James Pinkerton is a retired educator who loves to share the mystery in our history. He can be reached at pinkertonjames1914@gmail.com.

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