My article on the great beer flood of 1814 is copping lots of reads today, it being the anniversary of that bizarre industrial accident. The incident took place at the Horseshoe Brewery of the Meux company, at or very near the site of where the Dominion Theatre now stands.
A remarkable story. But to my mind not the most interesting thing about this brewing family. Far from it. That has to be the amazing life and times of Valerie, Lady Meux.
She was the wife of Sir Henry Meux, 3rd baronet and grandson of the fellow who owned the brewery in 1814 at the time of the beer flood. Born Valerie Susan Langdon in 1847, she worked as an “actress” and singer in Holborn. When Sir Henry married her in secret in 1878, it caused a scandal. But while she was obliged to live always outside of polite society, the impediment never prevented her from enjoying a flamboyant and fascinating life.
Ensconsed at the Meux’ family seat, “Theobalds” in Herfordshire, Lady Valerie is said to be responsible for persuading her husband to purchase Christopher Wren’s Temple Bar from the City of London, and ship it stone by stone to the estate where it was re-erected. There it stayed until returned to town in the 1990s when it was placed in Paternoster Square.
Lady Valerie had many interests, chief among them being the turf and collecting Egyptian artefacts. She offered her collection of over 1,700 ancient Egyptian objects to the British Museum, a gesture that was spurned by the Trustees: they were sold off instead. Duh.
Shortly after her husband’s death, Lady Meux became concerned for the beleaguered British forces during the Siege of Ladysmith during the 2nd Boer War. Her offer quickly to finance some ordnance was rejected by the War Office, so the redoubtable woman went ahead and did it privately anyway, supplying 12 field guns from Armstrongs which she had shipped to Lord Roberts.
After the war, she got to know Sir Hedworth Lambton, who had been the senior naval officer at Ladysmith. So impressed was she with this gentleman that she left everything, including the Meux brewery, to Lambton in her will (Valerie and the late Sir Henry Meux had no children). The proviso was that Sir Hedworth change his name to Meux, which he readily did on his benefactress’ death in 1910. Sir Hedworth Meux went on to become Admiral of the Fleet and a Conservative MP.
Valerie, Lady Meux was remembered in oil by no less than James Whistler, who painted her portrait on three occasions. She was often to be seen in London in her phaeton which at one stage was drawn by a team of zebras!
The Meux Brewery was founded in 1764 in Clerkenwell before moving to the Horseshoe brewery site in St Giles. After Lady Meux’ time, it underwent a number of mergers and takeovers before finally ceasing trading in 1961.