Beer, Bawd and Boers

The Great Beer Flood and the Boer War

So what does the Great London Beer Flood of 1814 have to do with the Boer War of 1899 decades later? A lot really, and it involves a banjo-playing prostitute (a ‘bawd’ in case you’re wondering about the old Middle English used in the headline), so – here’s the tale of how an artillery battery was financed during the South African War (1899-1902) a.k.a The Boer War by a very eccentric and colourful Lady.

The Beer

Let’s start at the beginning with the London Beer Flood of 1814, basically the flood was caused when a 6.7m heigh wooden fermentation vessel containing ‘Porter’ beer at Meux&Co’s Horse Shoe Brewery in London burst open. It dislodged and burst open another fermenter and storage barrels releasing around a million litres of beer. The resultant wave of beer swept into a slum, tragically killing 8 people as it flooded basements and knocked over walls. Although one person died of alcohol poisoning a couple of days later after hundreds of people collected the beer and mass drunkenness ensued.

Images: The Meux & Co’s Horse Shoe Brewery and Sir Henry Meux, 1st Baronet

The brewery was nearly bankrupted as a result, but was saved by the government after a rebate was given on the excise of the lost beer. Gradually the Meux&Co Brewery found it way back on its feet and became highly profitable. The Meux family (Meux is pronounced ‘Mews’) had a long association with beer and breweries, the owner of the Horse Shoe Brewery was Sir Henry Meux, 1st Baronet (1770-1841), the son of a brewer named Richard Meux (1734 – 1813). Sir Henry Meux would bequeath the brewing empire to his son, also named Henry, Sir Henry Meux, the 2nd Baronet (1817-1883), he headed up Meux&Co Brewery and also became a Member of Parliament. He in turn bequeathed the brewery and family fortune to his son, also Henry, Sir Henry Bruce Meux, the 3rd Baronet, who started managing the brewery from 1878.

Now, it is in Sir Henry Bruce Meux, the 3nd Baronet that we find a most remarkable figure. His wife. Lady Valerie Susan Meux.

The Bawd

Born in Devon in 1847, Valerie Langdon married Sir Henry Bruce Meux in 1878 and moved to his Hertfordshire estate. Langdon claimed to have been an actress, but was apparently on the stage for only a single season. By all accounts, she worked as a banjo-playing prostitute and barmaid under the name of Val Reece (or Val Langdon – her stage name) at the Casino de Venise in Holborn, central London, and it is here that she is believed to have met Sir Henry Bruce Meux.

Images; Sir Henry Meux with Lady Meux playing the Banjo and their Zebra drawn carriage in London.

She certainly struck the big time. Meux had a considerable estate, including 9,200 acres on the Marlborough Downs. He even commissioned James Whistler to paint three portraits of his wife, Valerie, Lady Meux. At Lady Meux’s request, Henry purchased from the City of London the Temple Bar Gate, which they preserved at their Theobalds Park estate. They re-opened and greatly extended the house, including installing a roller-skating rink (roller-skating is older than you think, invented in 1863 – it was initially dubbed ‘rinkomania’ in the 1870s).

Lady Meux took up the mantle of a London socialite, and a very eccentric one at that, she reportedly travelled around London in a carriage drawn by zebras.

Images: Portraits by James Whistler of Lady Meux

The Boers

During the South African War (1899-1902), early British reverses to the Boer invasions of the British Colonies and sieges of their towns leading to ‘Black Week’ in December 1899 made headline news and the defence of Ladysmith made a particular impression on Lady Meux.

When the Boers declared war against the British on 11th October 1899, Captain Hedworth Lambton was in command of HMS Powerful, which was posted in the China seas, HMS Powerful was a state-of-the-art Cruiser for its time and at the onset of hostilities it was immediately ordered to Durban. Knowing that the British forces at Ladysmith urgently needed more powerful guns, Captain Percy Scott from HMS Powerful’s sister ship, HMS Terrible, devised carriages to transport naval cannon, and Lambton led a Naval brigade to the rescue at Ladysmith with four twelve-pounders and two 4.7″ guns. The enthusiastic response in Britain to these Naval “heroes of Ladysmith” was enormous and made Captain Hedworth Lambton a well-known public figure. Queen Victoria even sent a telegram to him saying, “Pray express to the Naval Brigade my deep appreciation of the valuable services they have rendered with their guns.”

So impressed by their actions around the Ladysmith siege, Lady Meux, in her own patriotic way decided to do her bit for England and sprang into action. She ordered, six naval 12-pounders on special field carriages made by Armstrong of Elswick. The guns were sent directly to Lord Roberts in South Africa, because they had been refused by the War Office. The unit which manned these guns were known as the “Elswick Battery”. The battery was in action several times, including the Second Battle of Silkaatsnek near Rustenberg on the 2nd August 1900.

Images: The Elswick Battery Naval Guns donated by Lady Meux in South Africa during the Boer War.

Sir Henry Bruce Meux died on the 11th September 1900 at his Theobalds estate, the couple were childless and he was still a very wealthy man, thus leaving Lady Valerie Meux, now aged 48, one of the richest women in Britain with no heirs to the family fortune. She owned a string of race horses, entering them under the assumed name of ‘Mr Theobalds’, and won the Derby in 1901. She also collected a vast array ancient Egyptian artefacts.

When Captain Hedworth Lambton, the commander of the Naval Brigade at Ladysmith, returned to England, he called on Lady Meux at Theobalds to recount his adventures in South Africa and to praise the patriotic spirit of her gift. Lady Meux was “touched by this tribute” and wrote out a new will and testament making Lambton the chief heir to the large fortune left by her husband, including her house at Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire and a substantial interest in the Meux&Co Brewery. The only condition was that Lambton should change his name to Meux.

So, when Lady Meux died on 20 December 1910, Captain Hedworth Lambton without hesitation, promptly changed his name by royal licence to Meux, thereby enabling him to inherit her substantial fortune. By the end of the 1st World War, Sir Hedworth Meux GCB, KCVO (née Lambton) was a Full Admiral in the Royal Navy and the Naval aide-de-camp to King Edward VII.

Images: A Tea Cloth in the Ladysmith Siege museum celebrating the ‘Heroes of Ladysmith’ – Captain Hedworth Lambton top right and Admiral Sir Hedworth Meux (née Lambton) during WW1.

Back to the Beer

So what became of Meux&Co Brewery – can we still buy the beer? Well, sort of, you’re possibly drinking it now. When the Admiral of the Fleet, the Honourable Sir Hedworth Meux retired from the Royal Navy in 1921, in the same year Meux&Co Brewery was directed to move their production to the ‘Nine Elms’ brewery in Wandsworth which the Company had already purchased in 1914. The original ‘Horse Shoe’ brewery was demolished and today is the site of the Dominion Theatre, a Grade II listed art deco theatre in the heart of London.

In 1961 Meux&Co Brewery was sold to Friary, Holroyd and Healy’s Brewery of Guildford in Surrey. The company was renamed Friary Meux but only existed as an independent brewery until 1964, when it became part of the new national group, Allied Breweries. Through a series of more brewery mergers, the breweries ultimately merge with Carlsberg in 1992 and become Carlsberg-Tetley, which it is now part of the Carlsberg Group.

One for the road

In addition to my love of military history, I am also the owner of a Craft Beer Brewery in South Africa, and I love a good historic yarn like this, so I can only hoist one of our ice cold ‘Old Tin Hat’ beers to a Carlsberg Pilsner and say thank you once again to my good friend, Dennis Morton, who researched and directed me to this fantastic bit of history. Another toast to The Anglo Boer War and Related History Group (Facebook) and Iain Hayter.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens with thanks to Dennis Morton.

17 thoughts on “Beer, Bawd and Boers

  1. Mr Dickens, this is a item from my latest book which may be of interest :
    “The Old Duffers”. A group of Kimberley volunteers who formed up (armed and mounted) to go to the Transvaal, 1878. Raised by one William Thomas “Old Cock” Jones, the owner of a public house, the “Old Cock”, named after him on Jones Street just off Market Square. Jones, with service in the 1846 and 1851 Wars, in a fit of patriotic zeal set himself up as the Sergeant of a group of volunteers known as “the Old Duffers” because of their former British Army service. The equal patriotic zeal of their supporters in supplying liquid refreshment ensured that they never reached the last ‘pub’ on the road out of Kimberley! The story had a place in the psyche of the SA Army for many years.
    NOTE : “Old Cock”, or “me old cocker”, Cockney slang terms to address a man who was liked, or “wotcher cock” when saying hello to the same; not related to the “cock-up”, English for the American “balls up”, nor the American “Cock” slang for a male sexual organ. “Old Duffers” was then a old British Army term for a soldier with India service (then the norm to spent six and more years stationed in the Indian sub-continent), a corruption of the Indian senior NCO rank/appointment of Daffadar, it came to describe all long service soldiers (by the 1900’s replaced by “Old Sweat”).

    And there is also one on the MOTH if you so wish.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Mr Dickens, as requested my entry for MOTH :
        No 1,067 MOTH. Whilst not a formed military unit, the MEMORABLE ORDER of TIN HATS, does require a mention for the influence it had upon South African society and culture, and the way it helped former service personnel (link with South African Legion). Established in South Africa 7th May, 1927, by Returned Men of the 1914-18 War (Charles Evenden the driving force (1), who his peers awarded the membership number MOTH 0), all subsequent leaders known as MOTH 0), the MOTH sought to sustain that ‘personal intimate comradeship that the front line had generated and venerated’. It was founded upon three ideals; True Comradeship, Sound Memory and Mutual Help. By 1928, ‘Shellholes’ (MOTH Branches) named for regiments, battles, personalities and other memories of wartime service, had sprung up in Natal and the Rand, such as Majube (at Volksrust), Somme (Jeppe, Johannesburg), ‘Wizz Bangs’ (Bellvue, Johannesburg), Nurse Cavell Shell Hole in Pietermaritzburg.
        With a ‘Old Bill’ as chairman of each Shellhole (Old Bill was a cartoon character created by Bruce Bairnfather; the archtypical British private soldier in the trenches, bemoaning his fate, with the sly and dry humour linked with the commonsense of the ‘Old Sweat Tommy’.) All ‘shellholes’ were intended to be self sufficient, and expected to choose an objective or cause ‘in the interests of the wider community’. One that fascinated this writer was Mills Bomb Shell Hole, in the Durban suburb of Kingsburgh, always full of English speaking South Africans, ex-British sevicemen, and Germans, from both World Wars and other conflicts.
        Whilst purely a South African institution, over the years ‘Shellholes’ sprung up in Southern and Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, SWA, Swaziland, England and Australia, the major departure of Caucasian people post 1994, seeing them also formed in the USA, Canada and NZ.
        The then, best equation with their milieu would be the formalised structure of North of England working mans clubs, ‘Good beer, cheap well cooked, plain British food, and standup comics with a singsong’. With the solid intention to raise funds for charitable causes, and maintaining the wartime comradeship.
        During 1939-45 War they played a most important part, not just in providing facilities for the troops, providing family support, or for sending care parcels, but in the vital role in the raising of units for second line defence work within the Union (see Durban Regiment).
        Post war MOTH expanded dramatically with new ‘shellholes’, such as Winston Churchill (Cape), ‘Hellfire Corner’ (Durban), Up North (Pietermaritzburg), Tobruk (Danneshauser), Desert Rats (Johannesburg), Dan Pienaar (Johannesburg), Sidi Rezegh (Johannesburg).
        MOTH always stressed the lack of ‘rank and swank’ within the ‘Shellholes’, to consolidate its membership across classes, ranks, generations and language. And in the last is probably one of its most important contribution, linking both English and Afrikaan’s speakers. The Returned Men from 1939-45, displayed a need for ‘respectability, and to this end the original ideal ‘Mutual Help’ was of great relevence, the post-1946 ‘Home Front’ (MOTH long standing journal) stressed constantly the need to support ex-servicemen before looking at other charities. The financial support, material contributions (food and clothing), funding for schooling and university, and the networking to find unemployed Returned Men employment were of the greatest import, and quite probably took precedence over political activities! The 1950’s-60’s were the great hey-day’s of the MOTH. However, with the dying off of the 1914-18 War and much of the 1939-45 War populance, in the ‘naughties’ of the 21st Century, MOTH was just a mere shadow of its former glory. But what remained always was;
        “Comradeship was the most valuable thing I wanted after the War ”
        Willie Grobler, a 1914-18 War Returned Man, Durban 1997.
        Other veterans organisations (European only) set up during and post 1945 period were the Springbok Association (in reality a defacto trade union and left wing political organisation), and the War Veterans Torch Commando, both having a far more political agenda. See Commando’s post 1939-45 War, Note 3.
        1. Evenden, a London Cockney (1894-1961) who had migrated to Australia pre 1914, served with Australian Imperial Force (6th Field Ambulance), badly shell shocked on Gallipoli. Returned to Australia 1918, unsuccessfully took up farming, then graviated to work as a newspaper cartoonist. To Durban in 1923, joining The Natal Mercury as its very successful cartoonist under the nom-de-plume of “EVO”. His and the MOTH story, in “Old Soldiers Never Die”(Old Soldiers Never Die-They only fade away).
        2. Warriors’ Gate MOTH Shellhole, within the Old Fort in Durban, completed in 1937, a superb building in the Cape Dutch style on a design of a Norman Keep modelled from a photograph given to Evenden by Admiral E.R.G.R.Evans “Evans of the Broke”, built by its Shellhole members, both the spiritual HQ, and executive HQ of the movement. Has a high quality museum, one of the Memorial Guns of the SA Heavy Artillery located there.
        TEXTS :
        EVENDEN, Charles A. Old Soldiers Never Die – The story of MOTH. 5th impression, Memorable Order of Tin Hats, Durban, 1975. Originally published as Old soldiers never die: the story of Moth 0: an autobiography in two parts. Part 1 – The lamp of mutual help; part 2 – Far shines a candle by Privately published, Durban, 1952. Hard cover no dust jacket , vii, 308pp., photographs. Autobiographical account of Evo (the authors nickname) and the work of the MOTH. Reprinted at least five times, and in audio format.
        HOLT Tonie and Valmai. In Search of the Better ‘Ole. A Biography of Captain Bruce Bairnsfather. Including a Listing of his Works and Collectables. Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2001 revised edition.
        ROOS Neil. Ordinary Springboks. White Servicemen and Social Justice in South Africa, 1939-1961. University of Pretoria. Ashgate & Gower, London, 2005.

        WITH a relevent entry from :
        No 1,372 RAND LIGHT INFANTRY
        NOTE : 3. During the fighting, rebels housed in a council public toilet, that built in the shape of a Scottish Borders fortified house, of brick and stone and a solid roof, caused major problems due to its very thick walls and slit windows. With the RLI and other units taking a lot of effort to overwhelm it, from this action there entered into the English language vernacular the expression to describe structures (and human beings) built in a formidable manner “Built like a brick S—t House”! From ‘Home Front’ (MOTH journal) Summer Edition, January 1949.

        No 1,638 SOUTH AFRICAN LEGION, just known as the “Legion”, link with MOTH. Best known as a service organisation that has spoke out on behalf of veterans since 1921. Its rallying cry being “We cannot break faith with them that died”. Its motto, Not for Ourselves, But for Others. Its National Office in Johannesburg, with a country-wide network of Branches providing social and support activities for members. There no rank in the Legion, the members all Legionnaires. Springbok, the Legion’s national magazine was once an influencial publication within the Nation.
        Remembrance Day : At 1100 hours on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the guns on the Western Front fell silent (1). The carnage of the war to end all wars had ended over leaving millions dead and even more suffering the effects of the war. Many men underwent incredible hardship on return to civilian life. Responding to the serious need, to help them the British Empire Service League (BESL) was founded. The South African Branch was titled BESL (South Africa), its inaugural meeting in the City Hall, Cape Town, 21st February 1921. Due to factionalism within the Union retitled April 1941, to ‘South African Legion of the BESL; 1952 to South African Legion of the British Commonwealth Ex-Service League (now Royal Commonwealth Ex-Service League – RCEL). The RCEL link is with 54 member organisations in 49 countries, 18 in Africa.
        HQ originally Bloemfontein, to Johannesburg in 1942. Its aim being to provide care, employment and housing for ex-service members. In the latter part of this War it commenced housing schemes throughout the country, including for coloured and black soldiers. It always maintained a close liaison with Government Departments, although at times relations were strained. A major incident between the Legion and Government in 1956 related to their ban on Black and Coloured veterans from Remembrance Day Services. It worked with Governments. when drawing up war pension legislation, Legion representations obtained parity of pensions for all white, coloured and black veterans in 1986-87. A major undertaking being to securing pensions for South African post-war disabled servicemen.
        In 2012, described as a time when there more military veterans in South Africa than ever before, those in need of food, clothing, financial assistance, advice, assistance with pensions and accommodation turn to the Legion for help. It would assist military veterans on their first visit to a Branch. The Casual Relief Scheme, in operation since 1948, assisted War veterans and their spouses with short term emergency relief provided by the National War Fund. It also acts as an agent for the National War Fund provided continuous grants to certain disabled veterans or their widows. The Post War Fund 1945 onwards, with monies raised by the Sunday Times Border Fund entrusted to the Legion. There a heavy call on its resources to provide for the needs of a younger generation that included many unemployed veterans and their families.
        Its Membership once restricted to those with military service, “is now open to all those who have its ideals at heart” Most veterans’ organisations do not assist those who served with WK, APLA or AZANLA. It doing so, using funds specially obtained for the purpose. On behalf of the RCEL, the Legion cares for military veterans from other Commonwealth countries resident in South Africa. Assistance obtained from national, corps and regimental funds in Britain. Other schemes cared for specific needs; the SA Soldier Graves Organisation, assisting in the upkeep of military cemeteries, a former prisoners-of-war fund, visitation of veterans in psychiatric institutions.
        Its Policy : “The Legion is a National, non-sectarian and strictly non-partisan in relation to politics.” It’s Mission : “We are leaders in maintaining the memory of the Fallen and promoting unity of comradeship and safeguarding the interest and welfare of all ex-servicemen and women.” It’s objects are: “To provide an organisation for ex-servicemen and women, veterans as well as those serving at present; to perpetuate the spirit of comradeship; to safeguard their interests; to provide financial and other assistance for them and their dependants when in need; to perpetuate the memory of those who gave their lives for their country in war or peace; to negotiate with Government in matters affecting their interests.”
        NOTE : “And in the bare wastes of the battlefields grew the poppy, carpeting the graves of the fallen.” It was Lord Macaulay who first drew attention to this strange symbolism and it was he who first suggested that the poppy should be known as the flower of sacrifice and remembrance, and it natural that it chosen to remember all those who died in war. Colonel John McCrae, medical officer, Canadian Army Medical Corps who witnessed the slaughter first wrote of it:

        In Flanders fields the poppies blow
        Between the crosses, row on row,
        That mark our place: and in the sky
        The larks still bravely singing, fly
        Scarce heard amid the guns below.

        Before his later dying of wounds, a further verse was wrote, the last lines being:
        If ye break faith with us who die
        We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders’ fields.

        The red poppy, a international symbol for peace and remembrance, 11th November Remembrance Day for all the dead of modern wars. In South Africa, specifically of Korean War, the Border War and the internal conflict of 1948-1994. In Cape Town a Remembrance Service is held each 11th November. Poppy Day, the Legion holds a street collection to gather funds to assist in the welfare work, in the Saturday prior to it.
        TEXT : KLEIN H. Springbok Record World War II. South African Legion of the British Empire Service League, 1946. Laminated illustrated hardcover, 304pp., photographs, drawings.


      • Mr Dickens, no problem is all within the public domain, if you know where to look. And further more it will be published in the UK in the New Year, so there it is. I would hope for acknowledgement please.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Many thanks for reigniting old memories. I recall yrips down to Durban with late father when he went to the Warriors’ Gate Shellhole regularly in the late 1950s from Umhlali School where he was headmaster. A wonderful d building!

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  2. 12 Pounders were the guns that used to be used for the Gun Run events in the Navy. I took part in the 85th anniversary of the relief of the siege parade at Ladysmith, along with my Navy compatriots. We dragged one of those 12 pounders behind us as part of the parade. (For the uninformed Some Navy Gunners were press ganged in Durban for involvement in the Anglo Boer War. I’m rusty on the history, but think they manned a Naval gun building up to the relief of the siege.
    It was a very hot day when we did the parade and we were billeted at 6 SAI. So, we made good use of the NCO’s mess for some very cold beers.
    The 12 pounders were also used at the Durban tattoo at the 100th anniversary of the local Reserve Force Navy Unit SAS Inkonkoni (previously the oldest navy volunteer unit in the free world, before they closed it down).

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  3. I have just dug out my late Pa’s copy of “Old Soldiers Never Die” (first impression inscribed May 1952 by my father) which i am about to re-read. I had forgotten the copy of the letter from Genl. Smuts to C. A. Evenden on the back of the dust cover, and the quote on the front “you built better than you knew..” General J.C.Smuts

    In the last chapter the author speaks of the opening of the Pretoria Moth Centre by General Smuts, with a 1,000 Moths singing the chorus of Old Soldiers Never Die – here is a snippet from the web to help imagine how it might have sounded. Moving!

    Liked by 1 person

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