Memorial service takes place for victims of Sunderland’s Victoria Hall disaster

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The young victims of a tragedy which scarred Sunderland were remembered at a moving service today.

On June 16, 1883, 183 children lost their lives in the Victoria Hall disaster, which sent the then town into mourning.

Memorial service for the Victoria Hall in Mowbray Park, Hudson Road Primary School pupils Amber Devlin and Rahil Islam with flowers

Memorial service for the Victoria Hall in Mowbray Park, Hudson Road Primary School pupils Amber Devlin and Rahil Islam with flowers

Though their lives were tragically cut short, the youngsters are commemorated every year on the anniversary of the disaster in a service hosted by Sunderland Old Township Heritage Society (SOTHS) and Living History.

This year’s service, held at the Victoria Hall Memorial in Mowbray Park, saw children from Hudson Road Primary School lay flowers, provided by Bill Dove, to honour the dead.

Relatives of those crushed to death in the disaster - a stampede for free toys during a show at the old Victoria Hall in Toward Road - were also in attendance.

Sisters Hazel Davie, 63, from Grangetown, and Hilary Holden, 55, from Seaburn, still have the bible which was sent out by Queen Victoria to the relatives of the victims.

This was a tragic chapter in Sunderland’s history, some families lost as many as four children.

Pauline Hilton

Their grandmother’s brother’s son John Marley was just five when his life was snuffed out in the crush.

The sisters’ late father, Ronald Bonallie, kept John’s memory alive by telling his own children about the disaster.

“We didn’t realise this service happened every year,” said Hazel.

“But we grew up knowing about the disaster as our father would speak about it.

A view of the Victoria Hall from Mowbray Park. The building was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.

A view of the Victoria Hall from Mowbray Park. The building was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.

“We still have the bible in the family and there’s an inscription in the back by a bishop or clergyman which looks to have been signed by Queen Victoria.”

Hilary added: “Apparently every family affected by the disaster received these bibles, as well as £50 from the Queen.

“We wonder how many of those bibles exist today.”

The service was led by Father Andrew from St Ignatius Church, Hendon, and was attended by the Mayor and Mayoress of Sunderland, Councillor Barry Curran and his wife Carol.

Memorial service for the Victoria Hall in Mowbray Park, Hudson Road Primary School pupils Amber Devlin and Rahil Islam with flowers

Memorial service for the Victoria Hall in Mowbray Park, Hudson Road Primary School pupils Amber Devlin and Rahil Islam with flowers

Pauline Hilton, treasurer of SOTHS, said: “We host this service every year.

“Everything we do as a society is centred around the old parish church of Sunderland, Holy Trinity, and is about keeping old Sunderland alive.

“This was a tragic chapter in Sunderland’s history, some families lost as many as four children.”

Subsequent inquests into the tragedy went on to prompt new laws on providing doors which opened outwards at all places of public entertainment – rules that still remain in place today.

The Victoria Hall remained in use until 1941 when it was destroyed by a German parachute bomb.

Memorial service for the Victoria Hall in Mowbray Park, Hudson Road Primary School pupils Amber Devlin and Rahil Islam with flowers

Memorial service for the Victoria Hall in Mowbray Park, Hudson Road Primary School pupils Amber Devlin and Rahil Islam with flowers

The afternath of the Victoria Hall disaster, with worried parents gathered around the Toward Road building.

The afternath of the Victoria Hall disaster, with worried parents gathered around the Toward Road building.