Victoria Hall disaster

The Victoria Hall disaster, in which 183 children died, occurred in Sunderland, England, on 16 June 1883 at the Victoria Hall, which was a large concert hall on Toward Road facing onto Mowbray Park.

Victoria Hall disaster
Poster advertising the variety show at which the children died
Location in Tyne and Wear
Date16 June 1883 (1883-06-16)
LocationVictoria Hall, Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, England, UK
Coordinates54.902°N 1.380°W / 54.902; -1.380
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 disaster is the worst of its kind in British history.


On 16 June 1883, a children's variety show was presented by travelling entertainers Mr and Mrs Fay.[1][2]

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 the door 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, the 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]


With the compressive asphyxia of 183 children between 3 and 14 years old, the disaster is the worst of its kind in British history.[4][6] Queen Victoria sent a message of condolence to the grieving families and contributed to the disaster fund.[7] Donations sent from all over Britain totalled £5,000 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][8]

The disaster inspired a poem by Scottish poet William McGonagall entitled "The Sunderland Calamity".[9]

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.[10] 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][11]

Annual memorial services were set up in 2010 by the Sunderland Old Township Heritage Society.[12]

See also


  1. "Sunderland's Victoria Hall Stampede". North Country Web. Archived from the original on 8 January 2007. Retrieved 27 January 2007.
  2. 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. 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. "The Victoria Hall Disaster of 1883". The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Earth Edition. BBC. 17 December 2002. Retrieved 26 May 2007.
  7. "Victoria Hall Disaster Toy Rocking Horse". BBC. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  8. "Toy Tragedy Children Honoured". BBC News. 12 May 2002. Retrieved 27 January 2007.
  9. McGonagall, William. "The Sunderland Calamity". McGonagall Online. Retrieved 18 October 2013.
  10. Eveleth, Rose (19 August 2013). "183 Children Died in a Stampede for Toys in 1883". Smithsonian. Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  11. Talbot, Bryan (2007). Alice in Sunderland: An Entertainment. London: Jonathon Cape. pp. 58–60. ISBN 0-224-08076-8.
  12. Wheeler, Katy (16 June 2017). "Sunderland falls silent to remember 183 children killed at Victoria Hall disaster". Sunderland Echo. Retrieved 15 June 2018.

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