Victoria Hall disaster: Sunderland to host annual service to remember the 183 Wearside children who died in stampede for toys

A previous Victoria Hall Memorial service
A previous Victoria Hall Memorial service
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The 183 children who died in one of Sunderland’s greatest tragedies will be remembered at an annual service.

Hosted by the Sunderland Old Township Heritage Society (SOTHS), the Victoria Hall Memorial service honours the 183 children who lost their lives in a heart-breaking accident which touched the world.

The old Victoria Hall in Toward Road

The old Victoria Hall in Toward Road

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.

Next Sunday, as they do on June 16 each year, local children and dignitaries will gather at the Victoria Hall memorial in Mowbray Park to pay their respects to those affected by the tragedy.

SOTHS member Raymond Davison started the annual event in 2011 to honour one of the darkest chapters in Sunderland’s history.

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.’

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.

Next Saturday’s service will be led by Rev Ian Davies and local schoolchildren will be laying posies at the memorial statue. All are welcome to come along and pay their respects at the service which starts at 11am.