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  • 6/16/2010

The Day in History:

Victoria Hall disaster (1883)

victoria hall
Poster advertising the variety show in which 183 children were trampled to death.The Victoria Hall Disaster, in which 183 children died, occurred in Sunderland, England on June 16, 1883.

The Victoria Hall was a large concert hall on Toward Road facing onto Mowbray Park. On June 16, 1883 a children's variety show was presented by traveling entertainers Mr and Mrs. Fay.

At the end of the show, an announcement was made that children with certain numbered tickets would be presented with a prize upon exit. At the same time, entertainers began distributing gifts from the stage to the children in the stalls. Worried about missing out on the treats, many of the estimated 1,100 children in the gallery rushed toward the staircase leading downstairs. At the bottom of the staircase, the door had been opened inward and bolted in such a way as to leave only a gap wide enough for one child to pass at a time. It is believed this was to ensure orderly checking of tickets. With few accompanying adults to maintain order, the children surged down the stairs toward the door. Those at the front became trapped, and were crushed by the weight of the crowd behind them.

When the adults in the auditorium realised what was happening they rushed to the door - but could not open it fully as the bolt was on the children's side. Caretaker Frederick Graham ran up an another staircase and diverted approximately 600 children to safety. Meanwhile, the other adults had resorted to pulling the children one by one through the narrow gap, before one man pulled the door from its hinges.

Victoria Hall Disaster Memorial in Mowbray Park.In his 1894 account of the incident, survivor William Codling, Jr., described the crush, and the realisation that people were dying:

“ Soon we were most uncomfortably packed but still going down. Suddenly I felt that I was treading upon someone lying on the stairs and I cried in horror to those behind "Keep back, keep back! There's someone down." It was no use, I passed slowly over and onwards with the mass and before long I passed over others without emotion. ”

  — William Codling, Jr.

With the asphyxiation of 183 children between 3 and 14 years old, the disaster is the worst of its kind in British history. Queen Victoria sent a message of condolence to the grieving families. Donations were sent from all over Britain, totaling £5,000, which was used for the children's funerals and a memorial in Mowbray Park. The memorial, of a grieving mother holding a dead child, was later moved to Bishopwearmouth Cemetery, gradually fell into disrepair, and was vandalised. In 2002 the marble statue was restored, at a cost of £63,000, and moved back to Mowbray Park with a protective canopy.

Newspaper reports at the time triggered a mood of national outrage and the resulting inquiry recommended that public venues be fitted with a minimum number of outward opening emergency exits, which led to the invention of 'push bar' emergency doors. This law still remains in full force to this day. No one was prosecuted for the disaster; the person responsible for bolting the door was never identified. The Victoria Hall remained in use until 1941 when it was destroyed by a German parachute bomb.

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com


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