DCSIMG

GIVE THEM A FITTING MEMORIAL

TODAY the Echo calls on the ci

We applaud the restoration of Mowbray Park to its Victorian grandeur under the new umbrella name of Mowbray Gardens, incorporating the Museum and the new Winter Gardens.

We believe the time is now right for the return of the Victorian statue to its original site in the park or some other prominent central position.

The statue belongs to the people of Sunderland. It carries an official Grade II listing as a historical monument. Sculpted in white marble, it depicts a mother cradling a dead child in her arms.

It was originally erected in Mowbray Park, close to the scene of the disaster, but for many years it has languished in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery, tucked away and forgotten, a prey to vandals and the vagaries of the weather now it is no longer in its protective glass case.

It was paid for out of a relief fund set up for the families of the victims. The fund helped pay the funeral costs in those hard times and the statue was erected so that the loss of the childrens lives would never be forgotten.

The matinee at the Victoria Hall on Saturday, June 16, 1883, had been billed as "the greatest treat for children ever given". But it became one of the worst tragedies in the history of Wearside and it sent a tremor of horror across the world.

By the end of the afternoon, more than 180 children were dead, either suffocated or trampled underfoot in a stampede for prizes.

The entire town went into mourning. It took three days to bury the dead in Sunderlands three cemeteries. Shops were shut, silent crowds lined streets and cemeteries as the tiny coffins went to their resting place.

The hall had been packed with 2,000 children, most of them unaccompanied by adults. Tickets for parents or nursemaids cost threepence (1 p) but a childs ticket cost just one old penny (less than p).

Many people simply could not afford to go with their children and it must have seemed safe enough to leave them at the door of the Victoria Hall.

But an announcement from the stage that prizes would go to certain tickets sent a stampede of excited children racing from the gallery down the stairs and at the bottom a tiny bolt held the door ajar, opening inwards with a gap of only 22 inches.

The first in the race were trampled to death or suffocated in the crush.

The disaster sparked worldwide legislation requiring the doors of public buildings to open outwards.

Ten good reasons to preserve the memorial to the Victoria Hall disaster:

1. It was built from public funds so that the children who died would never be forgotten.

2. It carries Grade II status in the official listing of Britains important historical monuments.

3. Too much of Sunderlands heritage has been allowed to crumble into decay. We must restore what is left before it is too late.

4. It marks one of the saddest days if not the saddest of all in Sunderlands long history.

5. It is far too important to be tucked away in a corner of a cemetery, forgotten and neglected.

6. Although it is damaged and its inscription eroded, it is not beyond restoration.

7. Modern conservation techniques could ensure its preservation.

8. Originally in a glass case, it may not have been intended to withstand the weather. It could go inside the new Winter Gardens or a new case of unbreakable glass.

9. Much of the rest of the city centre, and the park, is being restored to its former Victorian splendour and the memorial is a fine example of its kind and its time.

10. The disaster brought worldwide regulations requiring the doors of public buildings to open outwards and so at least prevented other disasters waiting to happen elsewhere.

 
 
 

Back to the top of the page