Remembering the 183 children who died in Sunderland tragedy
The 183 children who lost their lives in a tragedy which touched the world were remembered at an annual service.
On June 16, 1883, a generation of Sunderland children lost their lives in a stampede for free toys at the old Victoria Hall theatre in Toward Road.
On Saturday, as they do on June 16 each year, local children and dignitaries gathered at the Victoria Hall memorial in Mowbray Park to pay their respects to those affected by the tragedy.
The service, led by Reverend Andrew Collins Brown of St Ignatius Church, is organised each year by Sunderland Old Township Heritage Society (SOTHS) after member Raymond Davison started the annual event in 2011 to honour one of the darkest chapters in Sunderland’s history.
Pauline Hilton, treasurer with the society, said: “The service was attended by civic dignitaries, clergy and members of the public, but most poignant of all were the small children brought by their parents to lay the posies as a tribute to the 183 children so tragically lost in 1883.”
Raymond Davison said: “The service was just perfect - dignified and focused on those children who so sadly lost their lives in the Victoria Hall disaster.”
On the fateful day in 1883, hundreds of children gathered at the Victoria Hall in Toward Road for a variety show billed as the ‘Greatest Treat for Children Ever Given.’ But 183 children would never return home after perishing in a stampede for toys.
Only a few adults had been able to afford tickets for themselves at the sold-out event, so no one was there to restrain the happy youngsters who raced from the gallery to try and win a new toy.
Tragically, a door at the bottom of the stairs from the gallery had been bolted ajar, leaving just enough space – 22 inches – for one person to squeeze through at a time and the children died in a heap after being crushed.
It became one of the worst catastrophes in the world involving children, which left Sunderland in mourning and changed laws around exit and fire doors in public buildings.
The Victoria Hall remained in use until 1941 when it was destroyed by a German parachute bomb.
Last week, people and schoolchildren across the city also took part in an art project to create 183 hand-painted jars in memory of each of the victims.