Drowning in Beer: The Ghost of a Young Barmaid

Horse Shoe Brewery - site of the London Beer Flood in 1814

Last month I wrote two posts on England's haunted theaters - one post on the Grey Lady that haunts Bath's Theatre Royal and the other post on a few of  London's notorious theater ghosts

Recently I learned about another haunted theater in London. This haunting resulted from a tragedy that occurred during the Regency era, a fatal disaster known as the London Beer Flood. 

Dominion Theater
On October 17, 1814, an industrial accident occurred at Meux & Co. Horse Shoe Brewery in London's West End. An iron ring on a 22-ft tall wooden vat of porter snapped, which caused the vat to rupture about an hour later. 

The pressure caused by the fermenting ale as it burst damaged the valve of another vat, which also ruptured and in turn destroyed several large barrels.

This led to a catastrophic failure: 154,000 to 388,000 U.S. gallons of rushing hot liquid (or about 580,000 to 1,470,000 liters) created a wave that swept through the brewery. 

This wave broke through the building's back wall and crashed into the surrounding slum housing, in an area called the St. Giles rookery. 

At least eight people in the surrounding area died, women and children ranging in age from 3 to 65. No brewery workers were killed, though a few had to be plucked from the rubble. 

One victim was 14-year-old Eleanor Cooper, a barmaid at the Tavistock Arms public house next to the brewery. She got caught by the brewery's collapsing wall while working in the pub yard washing pots.

Two days after the incident a coroner's inquest was held. Jurors inspected the scene of the disaster. Evidence was collected, witnesses and survivors interviewed. A verdict was recorded: the official cause of the accident was "an act of God." 

For more details on the deadly disaster, read British beer historian Martyn Cornell's account of the London  "beer tsunami", and hear an audio clip of an interview he gave to CBC Radio on the subject.

Fast forward a hundred years. The old brewery is torn down, and in 1928 the Dominion Theater was constructed on its site. And ever since it opened, the theater has reportedly been haunted by the ghost of the teenage barmaid who was killed by the flood.

This You Tube clip talks about the Dominion Theatre ghost. It also delves into the stories of the ghosts at other London theaters. The video is a little cheesy, but it still gave me chills.

You may never feel the same way about beer again!


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