Beer history

Brewhouse Death Trip

With apologies to Michael Lesy and James Marsh and a respectful nod towards the long-running ‘Strange Deaths’ column in Fortean Times, we present a macabre compilation of ways that breweries can kill you.

We have been collecting these stories as we’ve come across them for a couple of years now, and one has previously featured on the blog. All are sad, many are truly grim, and if you are prone to squeamishness or shaken by suicide or industrial injuries, you’ll want to stop reading now.

Illustration: grasping hand emerging from the depths.

An inquest was held at Reading last week to inquire into the circumstances attending the death of a man named John Allen, who was in the employ of Mr Henry Knight, at the Crown Street Brewery. William Shepherd, a young man also in the employ of Mr Knight, deposed that about a quarter before 3 o’clock on Tuesday, in consequence of hearing screams, he went to the place whence the noise proceeded and found the deceased struggling in a vessel called the ‘hop back’, containing hot liquid to the depth of about 18 inches, and at a temperature of 190 degrees. He assisted him out, and undressed him. Mr Walford, surgeon, promptly attended, and at his recommendation he (witness) helped to cover him with flour and sheets and afterwards conveyed him to the hospital. In reply to some questions of the jury, the witness said that deceased had got nine gallons of liquor to pour into this vessel to cool the wort, and he presumed that in lifting it the stool on which he stood slipped away, and he was thereby precipitated head foremost into the boiling liquid.

The Times, 5 November 1846

Illustration: creepy doll head.

At Burnley, a little boy, aged three years, only son of the proprietor of a brewery, has been killed by the bursting of a liquor boiler full of boiling liquor in the brewery.

Hull Packet, 29 June 1855

Illustration: falling bricks.

On Tuesday afternoon, as some alterations were in course of being made in the cellar of Robinson’s brewery in Nottingham, the building fell, and a man named Harper was dug out of the ruins quite dead. All the machinery and 2,000 gallons of ale were destroyed.

Preston Chronicle, 24 December 1858

Illustration: bloody machinery.

Llanfachraeth.–On Monday, the 4th inst., a boy aged 14, engaged in the Mona Brewery, was killed, by his neck handkerchief having caught some part of the machinery, and dragging his head into the wheel. Death was instantaneous.

North Wales Chronicle, 9 April 1859

Illustration: 'W. Ward' on wood by lamplight.

An inquiry was held on Friday by Mr. Richards, deputy coroner, at the Green Gate Tavern, City Road, relative to the death of William Ward, aged 30 years, who committed suicide. The deceased was employed as a labourer at Whitbread’s brewery in Chiswell Street, St. Luke’s. He was of a gloomy and morose temper. Within the last few days he was suspended for using violent language to a foreman, but on his promising better behaviour he was placed on again. He appeared to converse with his brother, with whom he lived at 20 Hose Street, St. Luke’s, principally upon the best way of getting rid of oneself… The manner of his suicide was deposed to by Daniel Freeman, a ‘leather holder’, or a person whose duty it was to fill casks with beer from the vats by means of leather pipes. On Tuesday morning, at nine o’clock, he was underneath vat No. 19, which was empty of beer, but was filled with carbonic acid gas. He heard a lucifer match struck at the top of the vat, which was 27 feet high, and he called out twice, but received no answer. He ran up to the top of the vat, and there he found a light burning, and the name ‘W. Ward’ chalked on the beam over the vat in large letters. He raised an alarm, and the deceased was seen lying at the bottom of the vat, quite dead. No one dared enter the vat, and drags had to be employed to get deceased out. Dr. Yarrow said that he was called in to the deceased, and found him quite dead. His face was distorted and the body swollen. He had been killed by carbonic acid gas, and death must have been instantaneous. A light was instantly extinguished when lowered into the vat, which was 27 feet deep, and was filled with the deadly gas to within a foot or two of the top. It was stated that the deceased, who had been long employed at the brewery, was perfectly acquainted with the nature of the gas, and that without doubt he knew well what he was doing when he jumped into the vat.

Usk Observer and Monmouthshire Central Advertiser, 3 November 1866

Illustration: submerged in barm, bleeding.

A sad occurrence by which two men lost their lives took place on Saturday night or early on Sunday morning at the brewery of Messrs H. Boddington and Co, Strangeways. Two labourers, named Nathanial Robinson and Frederick Bradley, went on night duty at the brewery their being from six o’clock on Saturday night until seven or eight o’clock on Sunday morning. At about seven o’clock on Sunday morning the manager was informed by George Firby, a carter, that he was unable to obtain entry to the stable where his horse was kept in consequence of not having seen Robinson, the nightman in whose charge the key had been left. Search was at once made, and in a ‘barm back’ or vat about two yards square and four feet deep, which contained ‘barm’ to the depth of about six inches, Bradley was found lying upon his back, his face being exposed, dead. The assistance of other men was obtained with a view to getting the body out of the vat, and whilst this was being done, Robinson was seen in the same vat. He was lying on his face, in a crouching position, and was also dead. It is supposed that Bradley, whilst engaged in skimming the ‘barm’ had stumbled — blood having issued slightly from his left nostril — and that the effects of the fall combined with the carbonic acid gas evolved from the barm, rendered him unconscious ere he could recover his footing, and that he had been suffocated. Robinson, it is supposed, working in the cellar immediately under the vat, heard Bradley fall, hastened to his assistance, and in attempting to rescue him was also overpowered by the gas.

Dundee Courier, 12 March 1878

Illustration: Bass brewery engine with bloody hand print.

An inquest was held at Burton on Wednesday, respecting the sudden death of a workman named Phesant, aged 34, and living in the Waterloo Road, Burton, head shunter at Bass’s Brewery, who was killed on Tuesday afternoon by getting crushed between the buffers of an engine from which he was getting off and another truck. Deceased had been employed as shunter a considerable number years, and was considered very careful in following his avocation.

Derby Daily Telegraph, 18 August 1882

Illustration: skull impact.

About three o’clock on Thursday afternoon a serious explosion occurred at the brewery of Messrs. Greatorex Brothers, Queen’s Brewery, Mosslane West, in this city, by which a man named Thomas Chambers, living in Higher Cambridge Street, Manchester, lost his life. The deceased was employed by Messrs. Greatorex and was attending to his ordinary duties when a large tank, containing hot water used for washing purposes, exploded with a loud report. One end of the tank was blown a considerable distance, and in its progress it struck the deceased on the head, knocking him down and severely injuring him. He was picked up in an unconscious condition, and removed with the utmost promptitude to the Manchester Royal Infirmary, where he lingered until about seven o’clock on Thursday evening, when death put end to his sufferings.

Manchester Courier and Lancs. General Advertiser, 31 December 1887

Illustration: Electrocution.

An enquiry was held at Brighton on Tuesday evening into the death of a man who had lost his life by coming into contact with an electric light wire. The deceased, Thomas Garman, 32 years of age, was night watchman at Messrs Hallett and Abbey’s Brewery, and it was part of his duty to go to the roof to examine the liquor vat. Suspended at a height of between four and five feet over the stand from which this inspection was made was an electric light wire, and on Monday morning Garman was found lying there dead, with a mark half round his neck as if grazed by the wire. A medical examination proved the man to have been perfectly healthy, and it was the opinion of Dr Lowe that Garman had been killed by the electric current, his neck by some means coming into contact with the wire… It was only five weeks ago another man received a bad shock from the wire.

Cardiff Times, 20 July 1889

Illustration: Crazy shire horse.

Henry Russel, a haulier employed under Messrs J.T. Jenkins and Co., the Brewery, Tredegar, died from the result of a kick delivered by a horse on Saturday evening. It appears that during the day Russel had been severely kicked in the abdomen by one of the horses he was driving. On arriving home he complained of being ill, and medical assistance was procured, but he expired shortly after. The deceased was one of the oldest employees of the brewery company, was 36 years of age, and married.

Cardiff Times, 10 September 1898

Illustration: poison symbol (skull and crossbones)

Considerable excitement and some alarm have been created in Manchester and the surrounding district by the circumstance that a large number of persons are suffering from arsenical poisoning, and that several deaths have occurred from the same cause, the arsenic being alleged to have been consumed in beer where its presence is due to the treatment of the sugar employed in brewing… According to the report of Dr H.C. Tattersall, Medical Officer of Health for Salford, which was read at Monday’s special meeting of the Health Committee, there have been as many as 51 deaths from peripheral neuritis, multiple neuritis, or alcoholic neuritis, all of which are directly attributed to the poisonous ingredient found in the local beer. One hundred cases have been treated by the district Poor Law officers and in eight of these fatal results have ensued.

The Star (Guernsey), 29 November 1900

Illustration: Mrs Grime with parasol.

At Ashton-under-Lyme, today, Mrs Grime, the wife of Alderman Grime, manager of the Portland Brewery, was walking across the brewery yard when a barrel was accidentally blown out of a steaming machine and caught her in the back, killing her instantly.

Nottingham Evening Post, 2 April 1906

Illustration: Gas mask.

A distressing fatality of a remarkable nature occurred this morning at the Stamford Brewery, Lincolnshire, of Messrs. Lowe, Son, and Cobbold. A man named Jack Fitch, aged 40, entered a fermenting vat to clean it, but was overcome by carbonic acid gas. Plucky attempts to rescue him were made by two other employees named Holmes and Swann, both of whom were also overcome and got out with great difficulty. They afterwards revived, but Fitch, when extricated, was quite dead.

Coventry Evening Telegraph, 30 January 1914

Illustration: through a trap door.

Tom Lessons, of 52 Springhouse Road, an employee Tennants’ Brewery, was killed as the result of falling through a trap door in the malt room the Bridge Street brewery about 2 o’clock on Saturday morning.

Lessons, with another man, was working on night duty. It is assumed that in passing through the malt room to reach the second floor he saw the trap door open, and on going to close it he fell through. He was discovered in the yard about quarter of an hour later by the other man. He was conscious, but died before arrival at the Royal Infirmary.

Sheffield Independent, 27 November 1922

Illustration: Men silhouetted in steam.

One man was killed and another is critically ill after an accident at a Burnley brewery yesterday. The two men were doing subcontract repair work 20 feet down in Massey’s Brewery when steam was allowed to come through to the ‘copper’ and they were scalded… In spite of hearing screams from the men no one was able to reach them until firemen with compressed air equipment used ropes and stretchers… Mr Robert Burns of Melrose House, Liverpool, was already dead.

Guardian, 19 September 1970

Illustration: Ronny Fincham's boots.

A 130-kilogram brewery worker who climbed naked into a vat of beer the day he celebrated 25 years’ service died of natural causes, a coroner in the English city of Romford has decided. Ronald Fincham, 60, a processor with Romford Brewery, was found floating in the 20,000 litre vat of bitter. His neatly folded clothes were in a pile nearby. The coroner, Dr Harold Price, said it was a mystery why Mr Fincham got into the vat… An examination showed that the level of alcohol in his blood was moderate, not enough to make him anything more than ‘less cautious, as he was known as a man who could take his drink’. Dr Price recorded a verdict of natural causes, saying that to go swimming in a beer vat ‘took a very unusual person’.

The Age (Australia), 22 December 1989

9 replies on “Brewhouse Death Trip”


Dr Price recorded a verdict of natural causes, saying that to go swimming in a beer vat ‘took a very unusual person’.


Came across this one:

THE long history of Uckfield’s oldest and largest brewery – there were two others in a town serving a population of about 3,000 – was marred by a tragic and horrific accident in February 1875.

It was recorded in a diary kept by 16-year-old John Grant, of East Hoathly: “A shocking accident occurred at Mr Sinden’s brewery, Uckfield. A man named George Reed was ascending a ladder over a copper containing about four feet of boiling beer when accidentally the ladder slipped and he was thrown into the copper and scalded so that his skin and clothes came off together.

“He was conveyed to his home at Maresfield, where he expired about 9pm after several hours suffering, aged about 50.”


I don’t even want to go on a brewery tour after reading this. Is Carbonic acid still a part of brewing?
It’s interesting to see how the term “quite dead” was employed so often. I’ve always thought you either are or aren’t dead. Maybe you can have “exceedingly dead” too. Also reminds me of Terry Jones’ crunchy frog sketch – “lightly killed”

Carbonic acid isn’t used in brewing, but carbonic acid gas is simply another way of saying CO2, or carbon dioxide, which is the natural output of yeast during fermentation. Not as exciting as it sounded, perhaps, but actually still quite deadly just as the articles about suffocated victims convey.

It’s also used for purging tanks of oxygen, though whether it was used in th’olden tymes I don’t know

Couple of fatal accidents at Wigan breweries as well , both in the 19th century:
1) At the brewery which became Farrimond’s , behind Bowling Green, Newtown ca 1865 ,Closed 1960
2)John Summer & Co , Haigh Brewery , Closed ca 1931 : Unfortunate , but true the owners son was killed in an accident at the brewery, hence the inheritance by daughters!!
Sources : Wigan Examiner & Wigan Observer 1860’s

But why have you not mentioned the murder in Morrells (aka Radfords) Brewery, in Oxford ? When the managing director and heir apparent to a venerable family-owned brewery in dire financial straits was found drowned in a vat of his own ale :-

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