Wearside Echoes: Young victims of Britain’s worst stampede remembered

Young victims of the Victoria Hall remembered
Young victims of the Victoria Hall remembered
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TRIBUTES have been paid to victims of a Victorian tragedy which shocked the world.

Wearsiders were left mourning a lost generation after 183 children – some as young as five – were crushed to death during a stampede for free toys at Sunderland’s Victoria Hall in 1883.

A memorial to those who perished was erected at Mowbray Park in the months following the disaster, and this week youngsters from Thorney Close Primary laid a floral tribute at the site.

“Although it is possible to learn some basic concepts within the classroom, there is no substitute for learning through experience. It makes history come alive,” said teacher Rachel Chedzoy.

“Not only did the visit develop the children’s knowledge of the Victorians, but it also gave them the opportunity to build a passion for their local area, and the history surrounding it.”

The visit to the Victoria Hall memorial was organised by the Leaning Team based at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, to help the Year 5 students take a closer look at the city’s past.

The children dressed in Victorian attire – with the girls wearing pinafores and mop caps and the boys in caps, ties and waistcoats – before laying the flowers of remembrance.

“Mowbray Park is full of stories, both good and tragic, about the history of Sunderland, particularly during the Victorian boom years,” said learning officer Jennie Lambert.

“The museum staff are helping the children to unlock these stories and to feel that sense of wonder, surprise and pride in their local area.”

The visit by The Fays, of Tynemouth Aquarium, to the Victoria Hall on June 16, 1883, was billed as ‘The Greatest Treat for Children Ever Given.’ Instead, it was to turn into a nightmare.

For the offer of free toys sent dozens of children racing from their seats in the gallery towards the stage. Tragically, a door at the bottom of the stairs had been bolted only slightly ajar.

Within seconds, the narrow gap was choked. “Children tumbled head over heels, one on top of the other. Shrieks and screams vibrated through the staircase,” reported the Echo.

“The heap of writhing humanity became higher and higher, until it became a mass of struggling and dying children over six feet in height.”

Many Wearsiders lost two or more children, and all 30 from a Sunday School party died. But no-one was ever blamed for bolting the door – despite two inquests.

“The disaster sent a tremor of horror across the world, for it had never known such a tragedy,” said local historian Carol Roberton, who campaigned to have the memorial returned to Mowbray Park.

“The tragedy did, however, prompt the passing of legislation to provide doors which opened outwards at all places of public entertainment. A law which still continues to this day.”

The Thorney Close youngsters were allowed to examine original documents relating to the disaster, including newspaper reports, inquest evidence, photos and etchings, as part of their school visit.

But one of the most poignant relics of the tragedy can be viewed by all visitors to the museum – a toy rocking horse which had its front legs torn off in the fatal panic for prizes.

“It was given to Emily Steel, of Gray Road , Sunderland, on the day of the disaster, but a boy grabbed it and got away with the front legs and rockers,” said Jennie.

Schools interested in finding out more about museum activities should contact the Learning Team by email at learning@sunderlandmuseum.org.uk or call 553 2323.

Sidebar: Victoria Hall facts

The hall was designed by architect G.G. Hoskins, with financial backing from the Backhouse family, and opened on January 8, 1872.

Performer Alexander Fay continued touring after the disaster, but is believed to have never again taken part in a similar Saturday afternoon event for children.

It is believed that “poverty overtook Fay” – according to The World’s Fair magazine, and he eventually died in a workhouse in Leeds.

The Victoria Hall hosted the first moving picture shows in Sunderland in 1901, offering people a look at ‘moving magic.’

Sunderland Corporation bought the hall for £8,000 and spent £30,000 enlarging the theatre. It re-opened on November 7, 1906, playing host to dozens of stars over the decades.

It was the scene of many political campaigns, including a three-night debate between Echo founder Samuel Storey and Mr J.M. Robertson on tariff reform versus free trade.

Winston Churchill spoke at the hall in 1920, when he told the audience; “Labour is not fit to govern at this time.” Asquith, Baldwin and Lord Halifax also appeared there.

Edward Elgar and the Halle Orchestra were among the top draws for musical concerts.

Howard Holt, Melba, Pachmann, Backhaus, Madam Patti, Albert Sammons, Bratza, Henry Baynton, Owen Nares, Sidney Fairbrother and Rosaline Courtneidge appeared there too.

The Victoria Hall had been dubbed a ‘white elephant’ by the time it was bombed during World War Two.

Sidebar: The victims of the Victoria Hall disaster

Margaret G Adams, (10), Parade Street

Charles John Algren, (8), Parade Street

Margaret G Adams (10), Parade Street

Charles John Algren (8), Parade Street

Michael Allan, (5), North Bridge Street

Margaret Cook Allan,(7), North Bridge Street

George F Anderson, (7), Brougham Street

Jane Athey, (9), Wayman Street

Ruth Athey, (11), Wayman Street

Thomas Bailey, (8), East Street

James Beale, (8), Ford Street

Isabella Bell, (7), Norman Street

James Bell, (6), Pemberton Street

William George Bell, (8), Bridge Street

Barbara Blakey, (10), Page Street

William Bland, (10), Hedley Street

Robert W Booth, (9), St Lukes Terrace

Newrick Briggs, (4), Blandford Street

William James Briggs, (9), Blandford Street

John William Brodie, (8), Buxton Street

Emily Browell, (9), Gilsland Street

Margaret Ellen Brown, (12), D’Arcy Street

Margaret Brown, (4), Lisburne Terrace

Dorothy B Buglass, (3), Thornton Place

Thomas Butler, (9), Thompson Street

Charles Henry Carr (8), Trinity Place

Sarah Jane Chandler, (7), Wilson Street

Thomas H Chandler, (10), Wilson Street

Barker Ramsay Cogdon, (8), Flag Lane

Mary Jane Conlin, (10), Burleigh Street

George H Coulson, (8), Watson Lane

Andrew Coupland, (10), Queen Street

John Curry, (8), Back Whitburn Street

Alfred David Curtin, (5), Clanney Street

James Fred Curtin, (9), Clanney Street

John C Davison, (6), High Street

Martin H Davison, (8), Tweed Street

Rosanna Davison, (6), Thomas Street

Charles Dixon, (7), Willow Pond Terrace

John Edward Dixon, (7), Howick Street

Charles Foster Dodds, (6), Victor Street

Mary Downey, (7), Back Sussex Street

Charles Dring, (8), Roker Avenue

John Robert Dring, (11), Dock Street East

Elva Dumble, (7), St Mark’s Road

Mary Ann Duncan, (11), William Street

Thomas H Dunn, (9), Colliery Row

Elizabeth Watt Elliott, (8), Burleigh Street

James Oliver Elliott, (10), Burleigh Street

Charles Evans, (9), Thompson Street

John George Evans, (11), Thompson Street

James Fairgreave, (10), Brougham Street

Peter Fairgreave, (7), Brougham Street

Kate Falley, (9), Cornhill Road

Cuthbert M Fenwick, (6), High Street West

John Fenwick, (7), Wear Street

Thomas W Fleming, (8), Vine Street

George Fox, (6), Gilsland Street

Robert Fox, (9), Gilsland Street

William Fox, (4), Chester Terrace North

John G Gibson, (11), Tower Street

John R Gillies, (5), Dame Dorothy Street

Fred W Graham, (11), Bramwell Street

Thomas Graham, (7), New Grey Street

John Thomas Greener, (7), Eglinton Street

Robert Henry Grey, (7), Hawthorn Street

Mary Ann Hall, (8), Deptford Road

Thomas Hall, (8), Alexandra Terrace

Eliza Halliman, (8), Grey’s Buildings

Thomas Harrison, (9), Abbs Street

James Hayhurst, (7), High Street West

Cicely Henderson, (11), Hopper Street

James Henderson, (10), Hopper Street

Joseph Henderson, (9), Nicholson Street

Margaret Henderson, Jane, (7), Hopper Street

Richard Henderson, (7), Nicholson Street

Robert P Hilton, (6), Emma Street

Eveline Hines, (6), Booth Street

William Arthur Hines, (8), Booth Street

Robert Hall Hogg, (8), Harrison Street East

John Howard, (7), Pemberton Street

Thomas Edward Hughes, (5), Swinbank Street

Thomas Hughes, (7), Clanney Street

Laura V Hutchinson, (6), Hendon Road

Thomas Jefferson, (9), Gosforth Street

R Jewitt, (10), Foyle Street

William Johnson, (10), Pickard Street

William Kelty, (10), Dock Street East

William Kemp, (7), Henry Street East

A Edward Kirby, (10), D’Arcy Terrace

Elizabeth Kirton, (9), Carr’s Yard

George W Knox, (9), Brougham Street

Johnson Lackenby, (4), Queen Street

Charles H Lane, (10), Clanney Street

James W Lane, (6), Clanney Street

Isabella Lawrence, (7), Addison Street

John Lawrence, (5), Addison Street

Edward Liddle, (8), Burlington Road

William S Longstaff, (7), Coatesworth Street

Kate McCann, (8), Silver Street

John William McKeever, (5), Society Lane

Nellie Maconkie, (10), Christopher Street

Fred Maddison, (5), Kingsley Street

Sarah Maddison, (5), Kingsley Street

John Marley, (5), Tees Street

James Meek, (8), Villiers Street

Hannah I Milburn, (9), Alderson Street

Charles Miles, (9), Catherine Street

Emily Miller, (9), Gilsland Street

William Miller, (8), Burlington Road

Alice P Mills, (10), Ann Street

Elizabeth A Mills, (12), Ann Street

Frederick Mills, (8), Ann Street

Richard Mills, (6), Ann Street

Emily Morris, (7), Glebe Cleft Villas

John Morrison, (7), Richmond Street

Jane Muse, (6), Biss Street

Catherine Newton, (9), Carter Street

George Stokeld Nipper, (9), Howick Square

John Waller Noble, (11), Winchester Terrace

Margaret Orrock, (12), Covent Garden Street

Mary Paget, (10), Lisburn Terrace

Edward Paley, (6), Garden Place

Alfred Patterson, (7), Matlock Street

Louis A Paxton, (8), Dunning Street

Ann Marie Peace, (7), West Stanley Street

William Pearey, (9), Bright Street

Mary Eleanor Pescod, (8), Burleigh Street

William Henry Pescod, (10), Burleigh Street

Emmerson Phillipson, (11), Dame Dorothy Street

Ann M Pringle, (9), Southwick Road

Maggie Pringle, (7), Southwick Road

George Prior, (12), Kingsley Street

John T Proudfoot, (8), Burleigh Street

Robert Ramsey, (11), Covent Garden Street

Annie Redmond, (14), Booth Street

Catherine Richmond, (7), Grey’s Buildings

Thomas C Ritson, (9), Mordey Street

Annie Patteson Robertson, (10), High Street East

Ethel Robertson, (7), High Street East

Eleanor Robson, (6), Tyne Street

Margaret Roper, (8), East Cross Street

Elizabeth Rowell, (7), Gladstone Street

Mary Helen Russell, (6), Lawrence Street

William Rutherford, (8), John Candlish Road

James H Scott, (10), Vine Street

Eugenie Scrafton, (8), Handel Street

Walter G Shipley, (10), Griffin’s Buildings

Abraham Simey, (8), Silver Street

William Simpson, (7), Sans Close

George Sleightam, (8), Hendon Street

William Sleightam, (6), Hendon Street

Carrie Smith, (5), Northumberland Street

Elizabeth Snaith, (8), Fowler Terrace

George Snaith, (8), East Street

Tiney Solomon, (9), Henry Street

Thomas Southern, (8), Catherine Street

Joseph Spence, (10), Howick Street

John Thomas Swinney, (6), George Street

John James Taylor, (6), Coatesworth Street

Margaret Ann Thompson, (6), Norman Street

Margaret Thompson, (3), Palmer Street

Mary Ann Thompson, (11), Palmer Street

Annie M Tomlinson, (4), South Durham Street

Ada Ann Topin, (11), Emma Street

Nora Topin, (6), Emma Street

Thomas Toward, (9), Coatesworth Street

Margaret A Turnbull, (8), Norman Street

John George Thomas Venus, (7), Eglinton Street

Grace Newton Vowell, (8), Norfolk Street

Lilly Vowell, (4), Norfolk Street

Elizabeth Wanless, (7), Dock Street

Florence Edith Ward, (6), Back Charles Street

Amy C L Watson, (13), Wayman Street

Annie Emily C Watson, (10), Wayman Street

R C Watson, (12), Wayman Street

William R Weighill, (8), Vine Cottage

Robert Wilkinson, (7), Addison Street

John Henry Willan, (11), Zetland Street

John Robert Williamson, (11), Johnson Street

John James Wise, (10), Moor Street

Andrew Wright, (7), Bright Street

Mary Wright, (5), Willow Pond Inn