Victoria Hall disaster

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Victoria Hall disaster
Victoria hall disaster.jpg
Poster advertising the variety show at which the children died
Victoria Hall disaster is located in Tyne and Wear
Victoria Hall disaster
Location in Tyne and Wear
Date16 June 1883 (1883-06-16)
Time3 p.m.
LocationVictoria Hall, Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, England, UK
Coordinates54°54′12.3″N 01°22′44.8″W / 54.903417°N 1.379111°W / 54.903417; -1.379111Coordinates: 54°54′12.3″N 01°22′44.8″W / 54.903417°N 1.379111°W / 54.903417; -1.379111
TypeHuman stampede
Grid referenceNZ398565
Summary: 183 children, aged between 3 and 14, were crushed to death in a rush to the stage when free toys were offered.

The Victoria Hall disaster occurred on 16 June 1883 at the Victoria Hall in Sunderland, England, when a stampede for free toys caused 183 children (aged between 3 and 14 years old) to be crushed to death due to compressive asphyxia.


Illustration of the disaster, from Le Journal illustré

On 16 June 1883, a children's variety show was presented by travelling entertainers Mr. and Mrs. Fay.[1][2] The travelling magic show, consisting of a variety of conjuring tricks and illusions, passed without incident, except when a puff of smoke from one of the tricks "disagreed" with some of those in the front row, and caused a few children to be sick.[citation needed]

At the end of the show, an announcement was made that children with certain numbered tickets would be presented with a prize upon exit. At the same time, entertainers began distributing gifts from the stage to the children in the stalls. Worried about missing out on the treats, many of the estimated 1,100 children in the gallery surged toward the staircase leading downstairs.[3]

At the bottom of the staircase, the door opened inward and had been bolted so as to leave a gap only wide enough for one child to pass at a time. It is believed this was to ensure orderly checking of tickets.[4] With few accompanying adults to maintain order, the children surged down the stairs toward the door. Those at the front became trapped and were crushed to death by the weight of the crowd behind them.[2]

When the adults in the auditorium realised what was happening they rushed to the door, but they could not open it fully as the bolt was on the children's side. Caretaker Frederick Graham tried in vain to disentangle the pile-up, then ran up another staircase and diverted approximately 600 children to safety by another exit.[1] Meanwhile, other adults pulled the children one by one through the narrow gap, before one man wrenched the door off its hinges.[1]

In his 1894 account, survivor William Codling, Jr., described the crush and the realisation that people were dying:

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.[5]


The Victoria Hall Disaster Memorial in Mowbray Park

The compressive asphyxia as a result of the stampede killed 183 children between 3 and 14 years of age. Queen Victoria sent a message of condolence to the grieving families and contributed to the disaster fund.[6]

Donations sent from all over Britain totalled £5,000 (equivalent to £535,758 in 2021) and were used for the children's funerals and a memorial in Mowbray Park. The memorial, of a grieving mother holding a dead child, was later moved to Bishopwearmouth Cemetery where it gradually fell into disrepair and was vandalised. In 2002, the marble statue was restored at a cost of £63,000 and moved back to Mowbray Park with a protective canopy.[2][7]

Newspaper reports at the time triggered a mood of national outrage and the resulting inquiry led to legislation that public entertainment venues be fitted with a minimum number of outward opening emergency exits,[2] which led to the invention of "push bar" emergency doors.[8] This law still remains in force.[2] No one was prosecuted for the disaster[2] and the person responsible for bolting the door was never identified. The Victoria Hall remained in use until 1941 when it was destroyed by a World War II parachute bomb.[2][9]

Annual memorial services were set up in 2010 by the Sunderland Old Township Heritage Society.[10]

Depiction in media[edit]

The disaster inspired a poem by Scottish poet William McGonagall entitled "The Sunderland Calamity".[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Sunderland's Victoria Hall Stampede". North Country Web. Archived from the original on 8 January 2007. Retrieved 27 January 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Sarah Stoner (2008). "Children's deaths that shocked the world". Sunderland Echo. Archived from the original on 21 June 2008. Retrieved 13 June 2008.
  3. ^ "Victims of the Victoria Hall Calamity". Genuki. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 27 January 2007.
  4. ^ "The Victoria Hall Disaster 1883". Local Studies Centre Fact Sheet. No. 5. Sunderland City Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 June 2013. Retrieved 18 October 2013.
  5. ^ "Remembrances of the Victoria Hall Disaster 1883". Durham Past. Archived from the original on 24 July 2007. Retrieved 27 January 2007.
  6. ^ "Victoria Hall Disaster Toy Rocking Horse". BBC. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  7. ^ "Toy Tragedy Children Honoured". BBC News. 12 May 2002. Retrieved 27 January 2007.
  8. ^ Eveleth, Rose (19 August 2013). "183 Children Died in a Stampede for Toys in 1883". Smithsonian. Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  9. ^ Talbot, Bryan (2007). Alice in Sunderland: An Entertainment. London: Jonathon Cape. pp. 58–60. ISBN 978-0-224-08076-7.
  10. ^ Wheeler, Katy (16 June 2017). "Sunderland falls silent to remember 183 children killed at Victoria Hall disaster". Sunderland Echo. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  11. ^ McGonagall, William. "The Sunderland Calamity". Retrieved 30 December 2021.