Greetings fellow historians, and welcome back to This Week in History! This week is full of amazing events, all of which have had a lasting impact on the world we live in today — let’s jump in!
This week begins in the grimy suburbs of 19th century London, when on Oct. 17, 1814 approximately 300,000 gallons of beer would surge through city streets.
As a result of poor brewing equipment, a pressurized barrel of beer burst, impacting other barrels around it and causing waves several meters high to tear through the brick walled brewery and into the surrounding area.
Interestingly, beer barrel bursts were a typical occurrence since the wooden constructions often had structural faults and fell over. In most cases, such an event was not a concern, as the impact was minimal, usually contained within the brewery itself.
Yet, in this case the waves and debris made its way through the city, causing eight people to lose their lives. The deaths were ruled an “act of God” and the cause of death “misfortune,” showing how unsure the nation was to react. The brewery itself was not deemed to be at fault and only minimal payments went out to fix some of the damages.
As a consequence, the population became extremely intoxicated after locals began drinking the remaining beer from the streets, and wooden brewing equipment would be phased out in exchange for lined concrete.
Moving on from the hectic London Beer Flood, the next event for this week is the U.S. purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire, on Oct. 18, 1867.
Known as Alaska Day, the day is celebrated across the state of Alaska by early school dismissal, business closures and even in some cases parades and a reenactment of the first raising of the U.S. flag.
However, when looking at Alaska in a geopolitical context, why wouldn’t the Russians just sell the land to Canada? If that was the case, there would be seamless borders and a direct link between Alaska and their home country.
But the decision to sell Alaska to the U.S. revolved around Russian competition with the British Empire, who had just humiliated the Russians in the Crimean War. Fearing the expansion of British power in the Pacific, the Russians hoped that America would even the playing field.
Leaving Alaska and heading to the beautiful countryside of northern France, on Oct. 19, 1453, the Battle of Castillon and subsequent treaties would see the end of English dominions in France.
It’s easy to forget just how much animosity was shared between the English and French throughout history, with the Hundred Years’ War pitting the two against each other for the better part of 116 years.
Throughout the conflict, the English had conquered several regions of mainland France, with much of the south and north of the nation coming under English rule for a substantial amount of time.
However, by the end of the conflict the French gained the upper hand. In the Battle of Castillon, the English suffered a military defeat that forced their withdrawal from most of their holdings in France – with some minor exceptions such as the Channel Islands.
In the following years, the English would face political instability, and the balance of power tipped in the favor of France.
The final event for this week will feature the recently passed Queen Elisabeth II, who on Oct. 20, 1973, instituted the opening of the Sydney Opera house in Australia.
According to UNESCO, the Sydney Opera house is listed as a World Heritage site, ranking it amongst other human constructs such as the Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Wall of China.
Such high praise for the building comes from its innovative design and architecture, along with its use as a force to bring countries together to celebrate arts and culture.
Becoming an international icon in the years following completion, the Sydney Opera House is still in use today, serving as an inspiration for the result of human collaboration and creativity.
And that concludes this week in history! I’ll see you next week with some more interesting events!