Proving that phallic substitutes among powerful men predate the arrival of bright red sports cars, brewer Henry Thrale built a new porter vat and celebrated its completion by having a hundred people sit down to dinner inside it.
‘Right then, you bastard,’ thought the Meux brewery, who went off and built one sixty feet wide and twenty three feet high. They had two hundred guests to dinner in that one. Just to make sure everyone knew who was boss, they soon added a second one which was almost as large.
The contest reached its conclusion with the Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery tragedy in 1814. The brewery’s vat, which stood on the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street, held over a million pints of porter. It was made of wood and held together by twenty-nine gigantic iron hoops. One day a workman noticed a crack in one of the hoops. As each hoop weighed over 500 pounds he thought a little crack was nothing to worry about, and he forgot about it. A few hours later there was an explosion so loud it was heard five miles away. The vat had burst, and the force of the jet stream of beer crushed the second vat. This meant that more beer than you can possibly imagine jetted out under very high pressure. (Yes, I’m sure you can imagine an awful lot of beer, but trust me – this was more.) The twenty five foot high, one foot thick, solid brick wall of the brewery stood no chance. It was flattened, and a tidal wave of beer raged into the surrounding streets.
The first to die were those drowned by the initial wave. Others were crushed to death in the stampede as they threw themselves into the gutters to drink as much free beer as they were physically able, hampering any hope of rescue for those trapped in the rubble. Some of those who survived the crush subsequently died of alcohol poisoning.
The survivors were taken to hospital, but they weren’t out of it yet. They reeked of beer, and those patients already on the wards rioted because they thought patients in other parts of the hospital were being served beer while their own doctors were holding out on them.
Finally, there were still further casualties when the dead were taken to a nearby house and laid out for identification by grieving relatives. Everyone was curious to see what victims of death by beer looked like, so they crowded into the house for a look, and the owners even began charging admission. Soon there were so many people in the house that the floor collapsed, and several of those who had gone to look at the dead ended up joining them.
From Man Walks into a Pub – A Sociable History of Beer by Pete Brown. Worried that his account is more tale than fact, Pete is currently undertaking further research into the Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery tragedy for his revised edition of Man Walks into a Pub, due out this Winter. Fact or not, we hope this tale remains unchanged. It is the perfect beer-soaked tale begging to be retold in the pub.