We love London. With its ancient streets and beautiful buildings, it hides an endlessly fascinating history and culture rivalled only by a few cities the world over. However, no city is perfect.
There have been a few moments when being a Londoner inspires an emphatic, Simpsons-style forehead slap. Whether they were down to individual stupidity, collective ignorance or simply a terrible case of bad luck, these top five biggest ‘oops’ moments spiralled rapidly out of control and, in some cases, cost the city dearly.
Let’s take a look at some of the most ludicrous moments of London’s history.
5. London Beer Flood
Whilst it sounds like something out of a Hollywood comedy, the London Beer Flood of 1814 is a remarkably tragic event.
The story goes that a storage facility on Tottenham Court Road belonging to the Meux and Company Brewery contained several enormous vats of beer. For unknown reasons, one of these vats ruptured, causing a domino effect on the other vats. Over 1,470,000 litres of beer spilt out, causing a wave of beer to roll down the street.
This rather comical tableau is tainted by the fact that eight people tragically lost their lives in the flood.
4. The Great Stink
Perhaps slightly less appealing than the prospect of a river of beer flowing through the streets is the Great Stink of 1858. At the time, London had yet to iron out the finer points of its sewage system. The majority of the city’s wastewater flowed directly into the Thames, where it was usually washed away into the sea. However, a growing population combined with the year’s extra hot summer caused the river to turn particularly noxious.
The smell was so offensive, in fact, that Charles Dickens wrote of it to a friend, “I can certify that the offensive smells, even in [one] short whiff, have been of a most head-and-stomach-distending nature”.
3. The Melting Jaguar
Unfortunately, accidents and blunders are not solely relegated to the past. Even the city’s most forward-thinking engineers make mistakes. The Walkie Talkie (20 Fenchurch Street), with its curved glass facade and distinctive shape, is one of the capital’s most recognisable buildings.
It became one of its biggest blunders, however, when the curved structure began to act like a giant magnifying glass on hot days. Focusing the summer sun down on to the street, spot temperature readings measured up to 91 degrees Celsius. This was hot enough to fry an egg on the ground and melt the steel panelling on a parked Jaguar car.
2. The Wobbly Bridge
The Millennium Bridge in front of St Paul’s Cathedral is famous as a memorable location in Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince. For us Londoners, though, it’s famous for another reason.
Initially opened for millennium celebrations in the year 2000, the bridge had to be closed for severe alterations after pedestrians experienced sudden swaying motions on the bridge. It turns out, the design of the bridge was such that it allowed for a remarkable physical feedback effect called synchronous excitation. The movement of pedestrians’ footfall on the bridge began to cause minute oscillations that grew as walkers began to sway in rhythm. Eventually, the swaying got so bad that it became a threat to the safety of everyone crossing. A bizarre and fascinating phenomenon!
1. Great Fire of London
Perhaps the greatest ‘oops’ moment in the history of the city, the Great Fire was a tragic catastrophe arising from the smallest of mistakes. The fire started in 1666 at Thomas Farriner’s Bakery on Pudding Lane, where it is said that one oven fire was left smouldering when the owners went to bed. Moving rapidly from house to house, the fire devastated over 4/5’s of the city of London. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless and a handful were even killed in the blaze.
If you’re visiting London, we recommend stopping by the Monument to the great fire of London – one of the city’s star attractions. You can also visit a pub that was half burnt by the fire on our Historic London Pubs walking tour. Take a look!