In central London stood the Meux and Company Brewery. The beer building contained a large wooden vat twenty foot high. And the vat contained 3,555 barrels of strong beer. The ale had been there for ten months, but the vat was there a lot longer and it was showing signs of fatigue. On October 16, one of the twenty-nine metal hoops wrapped around it snapped; then another, then... An explosive sound was heard that carried as far as five miles away.
The beer exploded in all directions, breaking open other vats. The pressure of 8,500 of barrels of ale smashed through a twenty-five foot high brick wall and escaped outside into St. Giles; a crowded slum area where whole families lived in single rooms, cellars or attics.
A small sea of beer crashed into nearby houses, flooded basements, and demolished two homes. A wave of ale ploughed through a stone wall in the nearby Tavistock Arms pub and buried a barmaid for three hours. In one home the beer busted in and drowned a mother and her three year old son.
The luckier people dashed to higher areas in their homes; tables or stairs. Or higher areas outside their homes; roofs or trees. Back at the brewery one employee managed to save his brother from going under.
People who waded knee-deep in beer scooped some up in their pots while others lapped it up in their hands. When news of the flood spread other Londoners rushed to get their share, while the brewery owners rushed to get their assess of the damage. Meanwhile, people who were trapped beneath rubble cried out for help. When the drinkers came to their senses they set out to help them.
The rescued were taken to a local hospital where a riot almost broke out. The patients smelled the beer and thought they were being left out of a hospital party. They calmed down after the staff told them what really happened.
Relatives of some of the people who drowned had their corpses displayed in their homes and exhibited to the crowd for a fee. In one house too many people crowded into a room and the floor gave out. They plunged into a cellar half full of beer. The exhibitioners then moved to a new house. They attracted more customers but they also attracted the police, who shut them down.
The funerals were paid for by people who left coins on coffins that were lined up in a yard. For weeks afterwards the neighbourhood stank of beer and the primitive pumps of the day could not get rid of all the ale.
Most of the victims were poor people who lost their lives or lost everything but their lives. The brewery was brought to court but the judge and jury blamed no one. They found that the eight people who died "Died by casualty". In other words, it was an 'Act of God'.
Source: Camden Archives. London, England.