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I came across this interesting first-hand account of the catastrophe at Meux's brewery in 1814. When a large vat burst and the ensuing flood caused multiple deaths. Either from drowning or being crushed by collapsing buildings.
Meux's brewery in 1895

"Mr. George Crick, after being sworn, deposed as follows:- I reside at No. 215, Tottenham Court Road, and am store-house clerk to Messrs. Henry Meux and Co. I have been 17 years in the capacity of store-house clerk; eleven years at the premises in liquorpond-street, and six years, on the 10th March next, on those where the accident occurred. I have been connected with the brew-house in this neighbourhood ever since the present firm came into it. - The accident happened on Monday evening, at half past five o'clock. I was on a plat-form about thirty feet from the vat when it burst. I heard the crash, as it went off, and immediately ran to the store-house, where the vat was situated. I found myself up to the knees in beer."
Exeter Flying Post - Thursday 27 October 1814, page 3.
Mr. Crick had 17 years experience in working in vat houses. I think we can accept that he knew what he was talking about when it came to vats.
"The vat which had given way had been full of beer within four inches. It contained 3,555 barrels. We do not like to till the vats too full for fear of accidents. The four inches would have contained from 30 to 40 barrels more. The first object I saw in the store-house was my brother; one of the men had just pulled him out from among the buts. There were many butts in the store-house - it was a racking place, where much beer was racked out for the trade."
Exeter Flying Post - Thursday 27 October 1814, page 3.

These are the sort of details that I like to find. That these massive vats weren't totally fillled. What type of accident did they fear? That the vats would burst? I'm not sure how an extra 30 or 40 barrels on top of 3,555 barrels would have made much difference. Interesting that they were racking beer into butts to be delivered to pubs. That's a large cask - 108 gallons - to be manoeuvered into a pub cellar.\
"We then examined the place as well as we could. The whole vat, we found, had given way, as completely as if a quart pot had been turned up on the table. On the side next Russell-street [the street at the top of the map], it blew down a brick wall, belonging to the brewhouse, which was 22 inches broad in the strongest part. The wall, I believe, was 25 feet high - that is, aout three feet higher than the vat. It caused dreadfull devastation on the premises: it knocked four butts over, and staved several - the pressure was so excessive. The houses next Russell-street and New-street were much damaged, but I do not know the persons who were buried in the ruins."
Exeter Flying Post - Thursday 27 October 1814, page 3.
That's a very substantial wall that was washed away - 2 feet wide and 25 feet high. I wouldn't want to have been behind that when it collapsed.
"None of us could go to see the accident which had happened outwardly, because we had too much to do on our own premises. We were employed in saving what beer we could. There were 7,000 barrels in two vats on the premises. Of these 3,555 barrels were lost at once: and the shock was so dreadful as to break off the cock of the adjoining vat; of the contents of the latter we saved about 800 barrels. This vat was of the same size, within nine barrels, as that which gave way.
Exeter Flying Post - Thursday 27 October 1814, page 3.
The flood wasn't just caused by the barrel that burst. Most of the beer from a second vat - whose tap was broken of by the beer from the first vat - also contributed. Though this would have been lowing much more slowly.
"I can not account for the accident. The vat which gave way had been built about ten years, and it has been full of beer for two-thirds of the time, during which I have been on the premises. It was built on uprights or pillars of oak. The foundation did not give way. When the wreck is cleared, the bottom of the vat will be found perfectly level; neither did the vat touch the wall. It stood full eight inches from it. We can account for the accident in no other manner, but by the hoops giving way - by the rivets bursting. An hour before the accident a hoop was started; hoops frequently burst - two or three times a year - but such a circumstance does not produce any idea of danger."
Exeter Flying Post - Thursday 27 October 1814, page 3.
Slightly worrying to hear how often hoops burst. It would definitely freaked me out, seeing a hoop break on such a large vat.
"If I conceived there was danger on Monday evening, neither I nor my brother would have remained near the vat. I spoke to Mr. Young, one of the partners in the brewhouse, about a hoop flying off. He is himself a vat builder, and he said that no harm whatever would ensue. The vat had formerly been more full - and the beer which was in it, when it gave way, had been brewed between nine and ten months. It was an old beer vat. If it had been a new beer vat, I should not have wondered so much, because the fermentation of the liquor might produce such an effect. The new beer vats are covered - but in such a manner that the cover will give way, and thus prevent the bursting of the vat."
Exeter Flying Post - Thursday 27 October 1814, page 3.
Meux's brewery in 1836

The beer had clearly been in the vat or some time: 9 or 10 months. Which tells us something about how long Porter was being aged. I'm struggling to understand what he means by the vat being "covered". Because I'm pretty sure that they didn't leave vats with no cover on the top at all.
"I was on the top of the vat when the hoop flew off. I stated the circumstance to Mr. Young - who told me to write to his father, that it might be mended. Soon after I had written the note, the accident took place. There was an opening at the top of the vat - a flap - which would have given way bad the action of the liquor been upwards. We sometimes stop down a vat, when the beer has gone through the process of fermentation. The hoop we discovered off; an hour before the vat burst, was about three feet from the bottom. In the lower part of the premises, in a place the workmen call "the regions below," there is a cell capable of holding 2,l00 barrels; the pipe communicating with this place was broken, and the beer was destroyed. Between eight and nine thousand barrels of porter have been lost."
Exeter Flying Post - Thursday 27 October 1814, page 3.
I wonder exactly what is meant by stopping down a vat. Does that mean sealing it up?

8,000 to 9,000 barrels is quite a loss. The wholesale price of a barrel of Porter was around £3, making the value of the lost beer £24,000 to £27,000. A very large sum back in those days.



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