On this day in history : 16th June 1883 – One hundred and eighty-three children are killed in the Victoria Hall stampede in Sunderland, after rushing to claim a prize at the end of a variety show….

The children’s variety show had been put on by the travelling entertainers Mr and Mrs Fay…. At the end of the performance it was announced that children with certain ticket numbers would receive a prize on exit…. At the same time gifts were distributed from the stage to the children in the stalls…. Some 1,100 children in the upper gallery, not wanting to miss out, stampeded for the stairway leading downstairs….

Public domain

However, the door at the bottom of the stairs opened inwards….and had been bolted in such a way as to only open far enough to let one child at a time through….possibly to ensure orderly checking of tickets…. Those children at the front became trapped – and were crushed to death by the weight of the crowd behind them….

Once the adults realised what was happening they hurried to try and open the door – but were unable to…. Caretaker Frederick Graham rushed up another staircase and managed to lead some 600 children to safety….whilst the adults downstairs continued to pull the ones at the front out one-by-one…. Eventually a man tore the door from its hinges….

This remains the worst disaster of its kind in British history; all of the children were aged between 3 and 14 years old…. Queen Victoria sent a message of condolence to each family who had lost a child…. Donations were sent from all over the Country and were used to pay for the funerals and to erect a memorial in Mowbray Park – a statue of a grieving mother holding her dead child….

Victoria Hall Disaster Memorial in Mowbray Park – Photo credit: Barliner CC BY 2.5

Following an inquiry legislation was passed that every public entertainment venue had to have a specified number of outward opening emergency exits…. This resulted in the ‘push-bar’ emergency doors we are all familiar with today….

As for the Victoria Hall itself….it continued to be an entertainment venue but was destroyed by a World War 2 parachute bomb in 1941….

Sunderland Public Libraries via Flickr

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