Often, when anything disastrous happens and we can’t find anyone to blame for it, we call it an ‘Act of God’. Today I have the anniversary of a couple of things that God decided to do in London. Obviously neither of them are good things, but they are pretty spectacular and could have been a lot worse.
Firstly in 1091, he decided we needed a tornado. Britain does have quite a lot of tornadoes, but they’re generally no very big. This one was massive. Maybe a four on the Fujita scale. That means winds of well over 200 miles an hour and devastating damage to even the best built houses. Most people in London did not live in the best build houses, they lived in wooden houses. The tornado destroyed around six hundred homes. It also destroyed several churches including the church of Mary le Bow. Part of the roof was torn off and carried a considerable distance. It fell with such force that the rafters were driven twenty feet into the ground. A flood swept away London Bridge, and it had only just been rebuilt by William the Conqueror. Surprisingly, there were only two reported deaths.
On October 17th 1814 God sent London another flood. This time it was beer. We know that it was a Act of God because the courts said so afterwards. In the neighbourhood of St Giles, on Tottenham Court Road there was a brewery belonging to Henry Meux & Co. Inside was an enormous vat of beer that had been brewing for ten months. The vat had been there a lot longer, since around 1785, and wasn’t in great shape. One of the twenty-nine hoops that held it together gave way, then another, then the whole thing exploded. The sound was heard five miles away. The force of the explosion took the other vats with it, The wall burst and a 323,000 gallons (that’s nearly one and a half million litres) of beer flooded the streets. Two houses were destroyed along with a pub called the Tavistock Arms. The tidal wave flooded cellars and in some places was waist deep.
People rushed to the scene with pots and pans, they didn’t want to see the beer go to waste. Some just scooped it up in their hands and drank it there and then. But the tide was strong and quite a lot of people ended up in Middlesex Hospital. There, the other patients smelt the beer-soaked clothed of the new arrivals and there was almost a riot. They thought they were missing out on a party. Again, casualties were remarkably low. Only nine people died, but it’s hard to tell what God might have had against them. There was a girl who was working in the Tavistock Arms, a woman and her young son, who were having their tea and five people who were attending a wake. The bodies of the victims were laid out in their houses and loads of people came to pay their respects and leave a few coins for their bereaved families. In one house, the crowd was so great that the floor collapsed, plunging everyone into the beer flooded cellar below.
The Meux Brewery were taken to court, but the incident was declared to be an Act of God and that no one was to blame. Meux was not only let off, he was granted a £7,000 refund for the excise duty he had paid on the lost beer. In 1831, he was granted a baronetcy. God, it seems, helps those who help themselves. I told you that there were nine victims of the London Beer Flood and you might have noticed that I’ve only mentioned eight. The ninth died in hospital several days later – of alcohol poisoning.
So, there you are, October 17th, some days God should just butt out.