Author's poignant tribute to the 183 Sunderland children who died in the Victoria Hall disaster

An award-winning historian has written a book which looks in detail at Sunderland’s Victoria Hall tragedy which claimed 183 lives.

Sunday, 8th August 2021, 8:49 am

Two years of tireless work went into John Taylor’s new publication which focuses on the disaster of 1883.

The tragedy happened when the children were crushed in the stampede for free toys during a show and John’s book is a 210-page look at the children who were involved that day.

"These were young children, some three and four year old,” he said. “Can you imagine their excitement as they went through the streets of Sunderland. Over 2,000 of them went to that show and you can imagine them meeting up.”

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John Taylor and his new book on Victoria Hall.

John’s book is titled The Day The Children Fell Asleep and it puts detail to the youngsters within the disaster.

At the end of the show on June 16, 1883, an announcement was made that children with certain numbered tickets would get a prize. Worried about missing out, many of the estimated 1,100 youngsters in the gallery stampeded toward the staircase leading downstairs.

At the bottom of the staircase, the door opened inward and had been bolted so as to leave a gap only wide enough for one child to pass at a time. Those at the front became trapped and were crushed to death by the weight of the crowd.

John, 78, from Hastings, has relatives who come from the Hetton area. He learned about the disaster when he was studying for another book he had planned.

John Taylor's new book on the Victoria Hall disaster.

John, a Spurs fan, said: "I was actually doing research on a Tottenham Hotspur footballer called Albert Hall and I was looking into his life when I found something on Victoria Hall.”

He added: "It was the biggest ever disaster involving children in the UK, I believe, and when I heard about it, I could not believe it. I started some research and it went from there.”

But John’s painstaking look into the detail of the disaster had a profound effect on him. His book was written over time because he had to take a break from the research as the stories ‘upset him so much’.

"I came back to it and then I came back to it again,” he said.

Victoria Hall in 1938.

As well as the heartbreaking tales of those who lost their life, there are moments of joy – such as the mother who rushed to the hall to find her daughter. She could not find her little girl.

She went back home to find her daughter playing in the street. The child explained that she had fallen asleep on the stairs and avoided being involved in the tragedy that day.

John, a former asphalt roofer who went on to become a college teacher in the profession, is a father of two and grandfather of 8. He was raised in Wimbledon before he moved to Hastings.

He is a member of the Hastings Writing Club and a winner of the Catherine Cookson Writing Club prize.

Another view of Victoria Hall.

His latest work is available on Amazon from £7.99.

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The book's author John Taylor.
The Victoria Hall memorial.