Victims of the Victoria Hall Calamity
Toward Road, Sunderland runs along the eastern edge of Mowbray Park, perhaps the most outstanding of the city's many impressive public amenities. However, this attractive urban setting hides a terrible secret, for here, at the junction of Toward Road and Laura Street, stood the Victoria Hall which was the scene of what was arguably the country's worst ever tragedy, a tragedy which moved the whole country in a way only matched by the outpourings of grief following the terrible events at Aberfan in 1966 and the recent death of Princess Diana. The tragedy occurred on Saturday, June 16th 1883, during a children's show when gifts were being distributed from the stage. The 1100 or so children in the gallery, determined not to miss the treats, dashed down the spiral staircase to the stalls, but at the foot of the staircase their way was barred by a door which could only open towards them. Tragically the rush of children was such that, before the door could be opened, the leading youngsters were already being pressed against the door by those behind them. The yells of delight soon turned to screams of terror as more and more children found themselves trapped. In the ensuing confusion no less than 183 young children were crushed to death. Truly a tragedy without equal. Money poured into the town - this is not a modern phenomenon - and some of the donations were used to erect a monument to the dead children in Mowbray Park. This took the form of a life-size white marble statue depicting a grieving mother holding a dead child. Some time after WW2 this monument was moved to its present location in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery. Victoria Hall remained in use for a further 58 years until the night of April 15th/16th 1941 when, at around 3:00 a.m. during a heavy air-raid on the town, a German parachute-mine scored a direct hit on the northern end of the building and completely demolished it. Few would have missed that sullen reminder of an earlier tragedy, but sadly several other nearby buildings were seriously damaged too, including the Winter Gardens and the Museum and Library in Mowbray Park and the Palatine Hotel at the northern end of Toward Road.
Victim's Surname and Forename Age Residence (Sunderland)
Dring, Charles 8 61, Roker Avenue
Dring, John Robert 11 32, Dock Street East
Following a public enquiry the committee recommended that public buildings should have outward opening emergency exits. This led to the invention of 'push bar' emergency doors.
Update from 2003
I was looking at entries about the Victoria Hall in Sunderland and would like to update you on current status. The monument has been returned to Mowbray Park as part of the rebuilding of the war damaged winter gardens and museum. It now takes pride of place int the park. My eventual task is to try and prove a link between my great-great grandfather Joseph Thompson and a Captain Thompson of the 'SS Nebo' who was among the first on the scene at the hall. George Downes