The fate of 183 children who died is well known. But former journalist Adrienne Hunter wants to find out more about those who survived as she is writing a novel about the 1883 disaster.
Adrienne, who started her career on the Sunderland Echo, said: “During this awful tragedy, children at a magic show were crushed when they stampeded down a staircase for free toys.
“But there were thousands in the Victoria Hall that hot summer afternoon and many were saved by the quick actions of hall keeper Fred Graham, who thought on his feet and diverted the rushing children down an escape route.”
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Adrienne, 59, a Durham-based member of Sunderland Antiquarian Society, said: “Many people have done great research on the tragedy, and I’m lucky enough to be able to access that.
“While I was researching online, I found Chris Cordner’s story on Meg Hartford, a former Sunderland woman who is Fred’s great great niece. Meg holds her own memorial every year for the lost children.”
Chris put Adrienne, a PhD researcher in creative writing at Sunderland University, in touch with Meg – and the results have been great news for the novel.
“I’m really grateful – Meg is a fantastic researcher who has looked into Fred’s later life and told me all about him and his family,” she said.
“She’s also uncovered some excellent information about one of the little girls who survived and who gave evidence at the inquests.”
Adrienne’s novel, provisionally titled The Tall Streets, combines the created characters with the stories of real people to trace the unfolding event and how
its consequences rang down through the years.
She added: ““The Victoria Hall Disaster remains the worst tragedy of its kind, and was mourned across the land – even Queen Victoria sent condolences.
“I’m hoping that by writing a work of fiction, I’ll be able to express its full emotional impact on Sunderland, and perhaps help bring back to life some of
these people who have been gone so long.”
:: Did you have a relative who died in the Victoria Hall Disaster, or who left memories of the catastrophe? Contact Adrienne on Facebook @AdrienneHunterNovel.