June 16, 1883: The Victoria Hall Disaster takes place. Victoria Hall was the larget venue for public entertainment in Sunderland, England. Sunderland is the 26th largest city in England with a population of about 180,000 today. In is in northeast England. The Hall was located on Toward Road and facing Mowbray Park. Mr. and Mrs. Fay were offering a variety show to children. Their flyer stated the show would start at 3 PM on this Saturday. Along with a host of entertainers, “Prizes!” would be offered with all children attending eligible to win. Tickets were one penny each and would admit any number of children to the gallery. Reserved seating downstairs cost more.
An announcement telling children certain ticket numbers would receive prizes was made at the end of the show. Entertainers began handing out prizes to those children in the reserved seats. There were about 1,100 children upstairs in the gallery (with very few adults). As these children saw prize distribution taking place, they surged toward the stairs to get in on the treats. The door at the bottom of the stairs opened inward and was bolted in such a way that only one child at a time could exit. The children kept coming but there was no fully open exit at the base.
Adults became aware of the problem but could not open the door since the bolt was on the children’s side. Frederick Graham rushed up another staircase and led 600 children to safety via this second exit. Adults at the blocked door pulled children through as quickly as possible until the door was finally ripped from its hinges. The bottleneck resulted in compressive asphyxiation of 183 children. Most of the dead children were aged seven to ten with the youngest three and the oldest fourteen. There were another 100 children severely injured.
The disaster was the worst of its kind in Great Britain. Queen Victoria sent a message to the families and donations poured in from across the country. A total of £5,000 (≈ £375,000 today) was raised and paid for burials and a memorial. A marble statue of a mother holding a dead child was placed in Mowbray Park. It was later moved to a cemetery and fell into disrepair. It was vandalized as well. In 2002, the statue was repaired and moved back to the park. It was also placed under cover. The repair costs ran to £63,000. In the aftermath of the disaster, laws were passed insisting doors open outward and eventually the push bar was invented. The Hall was destroyed by a bomb in 1941. No one was prosecuted as the person bolting the door was never identified.
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, I passed slowly over and onwards with the mass and before long I passed over others without emotion. – William Codling, Jr., survivor of the panic
Death has shaken out the sands of my glass. – John G. C. Brainard
Death has so many doors to let out life. – Beaumont and Fletcher
Death in its way comes just as much of a surprise as birth. – Edna O’Brien
Death is always, under all circumstances, a tragedy, for if it is not then it means that life has become one. – Theodore Roosevelt
Also on this day:
Red v. White – In 1487, the Battle of Stoke Field is fought ending the Wars of the Roses.
Education – In 1976, the Soweto Uprising took place.
Psycho - In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller was released.