Little slices of London's history

A tornado, some executions, and a beer flood

This day in London’s history saw at least three major events: a tornado, a mass execution, and a beer flood. On 17 October 1091, a massive tornado hit the city; as with the Great Fire of 1666, damage to property was greater than to human life, with only two deaths recorded. Around 600 houses are reported to have been flattened, the church of St Mary-le-Bow suffered severe damage, and the then-wooden London Bridge was demolished.

That was not the first time that London Bridge fell down; in 1014 it was a casualty of the conflict between Denmark, which had captured London, and Norway. This may have been the source of the nursery rhyme.

Executions a few centuries later accounted for more deaths than the tornado, when Charles II exacted revenge on some of the men who had been responsible for the death of his father, Charles I. The Indemnity and Oblivion Act 1660 had ensured that Charles II would pardon everyone involved in the regicide, except those who had been directly involved in Charles I’s execution.

Those people totalled about 30 at the time of the Act, but by the time of a trial in which the regicides were found guilty there were only 10 people left, the others having either died or, wisely, fled the country.

These 10 were sentenced to be executed; nine of them by the gruesome method of being hanged, drawn and quartered and one merely to be hanged. Some of the executions were carried out in Tyburn, where common criminals were normally despatched, and the others were carried out at Charing Cross, close to the Banqueting House of the Palace of Whitehall, where Charles I himself had been beheaded.

Charing Cross took its name from both the early hamlet of Charing, and the Eleanor cross that once stood there. The Eleanor crosses were a series of twelve crosses, erected by Edward I in memory of his wife Eleanor of Castile, who died near Lincoln. The crosses marked the spots where her body rested on its journey to London.

Finally, in 1814, the London Beer Flood took place (though some sources say it took place on 16 October); this was not as much fun as it sounds. The giant barrel of a brewery at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street split; the force of the tens of thousands of gallons of beer it spilt caused more vats to split and, in total, more than 300,000 gallons of liquid flooded the area, killing about eight people. A – possibly apocryphal – story is that a man later died of alcohol poisoning, having been unable to resist the excess of free beer.

Oh, yes, Tottenham Court Road takes its name from the manor house belonging to William de Tottenhall. The area was known variously as Totten, Totham, or Totting Hall and eventually, when the house was leased to Elizabeth I, it was generally known as Tottenham Court. Oxford Street is called that because it is part of the road leading from London to Oxford.

4 responses to “A tornado, some executions, and a beer flood”

  1. Bloated with gluttony, dropping with beer, and reeling in an obscene dance. Then, of course, dead.
    Big chuckle here.

  2. Saw about the beer flood on FNH. How crazy was that? I knew about the executions too. (I am in the Cromwell Association) But I had never heard of the 11th Century tornado, so thanks for posting about that.
    Great stuff as always.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Thanks, Pete – good to hear from you, as ever. Glad you enjoyed.

About Me (and my Obsession)

My obsession with London street names began in the early 90s when I worked in the Smithfield area and happened upon Bleeding Heart Yard. In my wanderings around London, kept adding to my store of weird and wonderful street names. Eventually it was time to share – hence my blog. I hope you enjoy these names as much as I do.
– Elizabeth


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