The story of Alexander Fay, the magician performing on the day of the Victoria Hall disaster in Sunderland

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A researcher has put the spotlight on a magician whose links with Sunderland are embedded in history.

Meg Hartford has taken a look at Alexander Fay, a Victorian entertainer.

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A fatal crush caused the deaths of 183 children and many more were injured.

Victoria Hall in Sunderland. Meg Hartford has researched the disaster in which 183 children died in June 16, 1883.Victoria Hall in Sunderland. Meg Hartford has researched the disaster in which 183 children died in June 16, 1883.
Victoria Hall in Sunderland. Meg Hartford has researched the disaster in which 183 children died in June 16, 1883.

This year, Meg has shared her research into the performer whose show the children came to see.

Alexander’s life in show business began in the mid 1870s when he started touring “Fay’s Wonders” around the country.

By 1881, he was using an address in Derby for bookings for “The American Wonders” which included Miss Annie Fay who performed mystery, magic and spiritualism.

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By 1883, they were the resident performers at the Tynemouth Aquarium and The Fays and The American Wonders were still touring the country at the start of the 20th century.

An archive view of Victoria Hall.An archive view of Victoria Hall.
An archive view of Victoria Hall.

Researching Alexander Fay’s career led me to want to know more about his background. I always suspected Fay was not his real name and was “borrowed” as there was an American spiritualist called Anna Fay who performed a similar show.

Finding out about Alexander was like chasing shadows. There are no birth records in that name, but there were some census returns.

In 1881, Alexander was recorded at Bacup, Lancashire as a ventriloquist/performer, aged 30. Annie Fay was with him, a ventriloquist’s wife, aged 23,

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By 1901, he was in Coventry with his wife, Nellie Fay and both were public entertainers.

Another view of Victoria Hall.Another view of Victoria Hall.
Another view of Victoria Hall.

There were also two daughters, Eveline, and Lillian.

In 1911, Alexander was an entertainer and a widower in Barnsley at a boarding house but gave his birthplace as Derby.

A breakthough came when I was searching a newspaper archive and found a court hearing of an Alfred William Hutchinson also known as Alexander Fay.

He was before the petty sessions for failure to provide proper maintenance for his wife of 27 years. In the previous year he had paid only 7s 0d. An order was made to pay 10s per week. Alfred/Alexander did not appear in court.

I traced his birth in Derby to 1850. He had four sisters.

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But Alfred is doubly recorded in the 1881 census. As well as the Bacup entry, he is recorded with his mother, sisters, wife and daughters at High Street, Pendleton, Salford. His occupation is theatrical manager, his mother and sisters are dressmakers.

Ann Hutchinson nee Sisson, lived in the Ilkeston area until she died in 1917. There is no indication that she divorced her husband so if he did marry Nellie in the late 1890s, the marriage would have been bigamous.

I suspect there was no ceremony but he lived with Nellie as man and wife.

He did marry again in 1917 to Julia Maisie St Ives in Leeds. This may have been another stage name.

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Julia was widowed in 1920 with Alfred/Alexander having died in Leeds as Alfred A. Hutchinson.

Alexander Fay was the man who staged a children’s matinee at the Victoria Hall on June 16, 1883. At the end of the performance toys were distributed to some children.

This caused the fatal crush in which 183 children lost their lives.

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