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

Local school children have laid flowers to remember 183 young lives lost 136 years ago.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 16 June, 2019, 12:33

The people of Sunderland went to Mowbray Park yesterday, to mark a day of remembrance of the lives lost 136 years ago.

In a memorial service, which lasted a few minutes, Rev Ian Davies spoke about the devastating events which took place at Victoria Hall in Sunderland.

Memorial service for the Victoria Hall Disaster, attended by the Deputy Mayor of Sunderland Coun Harry Trueman, Mowbray Park, Sunderland.

Local school children laid flowers at the foot of the Victoria Hall Disaster Memorial statue in Mowbray Park, as onlookers joined Rev Davies in paying their respects during the Lord’s Prayer.

During the memorial, Rev Davies gave thanks to the people who tried to save the children and said: “These are real people in the meaningless number of 183. Today we cannot help but reflect also on the tragedy, exactly two years ago in a London tower block, when again numbers hide personal tragedies.

“Today we remember the children who died in Sunderland, and as we do so, we bring our own remembrances.”

In the disaster, 183 children died in a stampede during a children’s entertainment show on June 16, 1883. At the end of the show, an announcement was made that children with certain numbered tickets would get a prize. Worried about missing out, many of the estimated 1,100 children in the gallery stampeded toward the staircase leading downstairs.

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Youngsters, Ollie Jardine, Francesca Cooper, and Isla Smith laying flowers at the memorial service for the Victoria Hall Disaster, Mowbray Park, Sunderland.

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.

In his 1894 account, survivor William Codling Jr described the realisation of the horror unfolding: “Soon we were most uncomfortably packed but still going down. Suddenly I felt that I was treading upon someone lying on the stairs and I cried in horror to those behind ‘Keep back, keep back! There's someone down.’ It was no use.”

Following the Sunderland tragedy, a Sunderland trainee architect, Robert Alexander Briggs patented the new push bar release that we see on fire exits in Britain today.

Memorial service for the Victoria Hall Disaster, attended by the Deputy Mayor of Sunderland Coun Harry Trueman, Mowbray Park, Sunderland. Service led by Rev Ian Davies.
Advertising poster for the Victoria Hall event in 1883