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Tuesday, November 1, 2022

when beer flowed on the road .. ..

December 2015 dawned  differently – disastrously for Chennai – it rained and the incessant rains tormented people – killing a few; damaging property of thousands of its residents – putting them to untold hardships.  None would have imagined that water would flow over Saidapet bridge and would divide the city into two .. making it inaccessible to cross-over.  Chennai floods were a nightmare !

A flood is an overflow of water (or rarely other fluids) that submerges land that is usually dry. In the sense of "flowing water", the word may also be applied to the inflow of the tide. The European Union (EU) Floods Directive defines a flood as a covering by water of land not normally covered by water. Flooding may occur as an overflow of water from water bodies, such as a river or lake, in which the water overtops or breaches its confinement,  resulting in some of that water escaping its usual boundaries.   Floods can also occur in rivers when the flow rate exceeds the capacity of the river channel, particularly at bends or meanders in the waterway. Some floods develop slowly, while others such as flash floods, can develop in just a few minutes and without visible signs of rain.

The word ‘flood’ is defined in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 8th edition (1990) as : “…1  an overflowing or influx of water beyond its normal confines, esp. over land; an inundation. b the water that overflows. 2  an outpouring of water; a torrent (a flood of rain)…” Particularly in the context of insurance contracts, Stroud’s Judicial Dictionary, 5th edition (1986) defines the word ‘flood’, in reference to Young v. Sun Alliance and London Insurance, [1977] 1 W.L.R. 104, an English case decided by the Court of Appeal, and reads as follows:

 “Flood” in an insurance policy meant a large movement or irruption of water, and did not cover mere seepage from a natural source...”   Simply put, a flood may be described as overflow of water over land. Floods can be broadly divided into the following categories: coastal floods, fluvial floods (river floods), and pluvial floods (surface floods).

The Horse Shoe Brewery was an English brewery in the City of Westminster that was established in 1764 and became a major producer of porter, from 1809 as Henry Meux & Co. The brewery  closed down  in 1921.

In the early nineteenth century the Meux Brewery was one of the two largest in London, along with Whitbread. In 1809 Sir Henry Meux purchased the Horse Shoe Brewery, at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. Henry Meux emulated his father's large vat, and constructed a wooden vessel 22 feet (6.7 m) tall and capable of holding 18,000 imperial barrels.Eighty long tons (eighty-one metric tons) of iron hoops were used to strengthen the vat.Meux brewed only porter, a dark beer that was first brewed in London and was the most popular alcoholic drink in the capital. Porter was left in the large vessels to mature for several months, or up to a year for the best quality versions.

The London Beer Flood was an accident at Meux & Co's Horse Shoe Brewery, London, on 17 October 1814. It took place when one of the 22-foot-tall (6.7 m) wooden vats of fermenting porter burst. The pressure of the escaping liquid dislodged the valve of another vessel and destroyed several large barrels: between 128,000 and 323,000 imperial gallons of beer were released in total.

The resulting wave of porter destroyed the back wall of the brewery and swept into an area of slum dwellings known as the St Giles rookery. Eight people died, five of them mourners at the wake being held by an Irish family for a two-year-old boy. The coroner's inquest returned a verdict that the eight had lost their lives "casually, accidentally and by misfortune". The event nearly bankrupted the brewery; it avoided collapse after a rebate from HM Excise on the lost beer. The brewing industry gradually stopped using large wooden vats after the accident. The brewery moved in 1921, and the Dominion Theatre is now where the brewery used to stand. Meux & Co went into liquidation in 1961.

At around 4:30 in the afternoon of that fateful day, George Crick, Meux's storehouse clerk, saw that one of the 700-pound (320 kg) iron bands around a vat had slipped. The 22-foot (6.7 m) tall vessel was filled to within four inches (ten centimetres) of the top with 3,555 imperial barrels of ten-month-old porter, weighing approximately 32 long tons.  As bands slipped off the vats two or three times a year, Crick was unconcerned. He told his supervisor about the problem but was told "that no harm whatever would ensue” !!!

The force of the liquid's release knocked the stopcock from a neighbouring vat, which also began discharging its contents; several hogsheads of porter were destroyed, and their contents added to the flood.  Some of the bricks from the back wall were knocked upwards and fell onto the roofs of the houses in the nearby Great Russell Street. That beer wave   destroyed two houses and killed people by drowning them.  All those in the brewery survived, although three workmen had to be rescued from the rubble !

As the coroner's inquest reached a verdict of an act of God, Meux & Co did not have to pay compensation.Nevertheless, the disaster—the lost porter, the damage to the buildings, and the replacement of the vat—cost the company £23,000. After a private petition to Parliament, they recovered about £7,250 from HM Excise, saving them from bankruptcy. As a result of the accident, large wooden tanks were phased out across the brewing industry and replaced with lined concrete vessels.

When beer flows on road, who cares for human lives ? – so much so for the civilised country that ruled the globe. 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
17th Oct 2022.


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