Garrick Theatre fire

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A fire killed eight young girls at the Garrick Theatre, Hereford, England, in 1916.

Theatre[edit]

The theatre was built in 1882 and renamed in 1909 after David Garrick, the actor and theatrical manager, who was born in Hereford in 1717.[1]

Concert[edit]

In 1916, during World War I, a fund-raising concert was held "for the benefit of the Herefords and Shropshires"[2] (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.[3] One of the turns was provided by more than forty local school-children,[2] wearing snow maiden and Eskimo costumes made in part from cotton wool,[3][4] even though its use was prohibited in theatres, due to the risk of fire.[2]

As a group of 13 children were leaving the stage, one of their costumes caught fire: within moments, all 13 were alight.[2]

By the end of the night, despite rescue efforts by members of the cast and audience,[2] six children had died.[3] Two more died subsequently from their burns.[3]

Funerals[edit]

A joint funeral for five of the victims was held at Hereford Cathedral.[2][4] The public stood "ten deep" in parts of nearby Broad Street as the funeral corteges passed. Soldiers served as pall-bearers.[2] The girls were buried at Hereford Crematorium,[3] but the precise location of their graves is lost.

Inquest[edit]

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.[2] Theatre staff and others present denied that anyone had been smoking.[2] Verdicts of accidental death were returned.[2]

Legacy[edit]

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).[2] That target was exceeded, and the cot was unveiled there, together with a memorial plaque, in April 1917.[2][5]

The theatre was rebuilt later in 1916, but subsequently demolished.[3] Another plaque, mentioning the fire, marks its former location, on Widemarsh Street.[3][4] As of 2014, local residents are campaigning for a "lasting memorial" near the site.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Text on plaque; see photo
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Chester, Jerry (24 February 2014). "World War One: Hereford theatre fire killed eight at fundraiser". BBC Online. Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Memorial call for WW1 Hereford theatre deaths". BBC Online. 2014-02-26. Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c "World War One At Home, Garrick House, Hereford: Tragic End to a Fundraiser". BBC Online. 27 January 2014. Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  5. ^ Renton, Charles (1999). The Story of Herefordshire's Hospitals. Logaston Press. pp. 61–62. ISBN 1873827210. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°3.5340′N 2°42.9744′W / 52.0589000°N 2.7162400°W / 52.0589000; -2.7162400