Garrick Theatre fire
In 1916, during World War I, a fund-raising concert was held "for the benefit of the Herefords and Shropshires" (two local county regiments, the former actually being part of The Worcestershire Regiment; the latter the King's Shropshire Light Infantry) at the Garrick Theatre, Hereford. One of the turns was provided by more than forty local school-children, wearing snow maiden and Eskimo costumes made in part from cotton wool, even though its use was prohibited in theatres, due to the risk of fire.
As a group of 13 children were leaving the stage, one of their costumes caught fire: within moments, all 13 were alight.
A joint funeral for five of the victims was held at Hereford Cathedral. The public stood "ten deep" in parts of nearby Broad Street as the funeral corteges passed. Soldiers served as pall-bearers. The girls were buried at Hereford Crematorium, but the precise location of their graves is lost.
The subsequent inquest heard conflicting claims. Faith Mailes, the concert organiser, whose daughter died, said that she had seen a smoker, backstage, discard a match. Theatre staff and others present denied that anyone had been smoking. Verdicts of accidental death were returned.
At a meeting held in Hereford town hall in September 1916, it was decided to raise £500 with which to endow a memorial cot on the Children's Ward of Herefordshire General Hospital (since demolished). That target was exceeded, and the cot was unveiled there, together with a memorial plaque, in April 1917.
The theatre was rebuilt later in 1916, but subsequently demolished. Another plaque, mentioning the fire, marks its former location, on Widemarsh Street. As of 2014[update], local residents are campaigning for a "lasting memorial" near the site.
- Text on plaque; see photo
- Chester, Jerry (24 February 2014). "World War One: Hereford theatre fire killed eight at fundraiser". BBC Online. Retrieved 27 February 2014.
- "Memorial call for WW1 Hereford theatre deaths". BBC Online. 2014-02-26. Retrieved 27 February 2014.
- "World War One At Home, Garrick House, Hereford: Tragic End to a Fundraiser". BBC Online. 27 January 2014. Retrieved 27 February 2014.
- Renton, Charles (1999). The Story of Herefordshire's Hospitals. Logaston Press. pp. 61–62. ISBN 1873827210.