The Victoria Hall and Temperance Institute was a Gothic-style building, which until it was destroyed by German bombers in 1941 stood on Toward Road, facing Mowbray Park. It was established in the 1870s by the banker, Quaker minister, and philanthropist Edward Backhouse and used for social, political, and religious meetings and performances.

4a Victoria Hall

Image courtesy of Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

On a Saturday afternoon, 16 June 1883, 2,000 children attend a matinee variety show, performed by the Fays from Tynemouth Aquarium. Their advertisement promised ‘The Greatest Treat for Children Ever Given. Conjuring, Talking Waxworks, Living Marionettes, The Great Ghost Illusion , &c.’. When it was announced that presents would be given out on stage, children in the upper balcony rushed down the stairs but became caught on a door which opened inward onto the staircase and was bolted so only one child could get through at a time. In the resulting crush, 183 children aged between four and 14 died. This led to national safety legislation for entertainment venues, later being recognised as one of the first examples of Health and Safety legislation. The restored Victoria Hall Disaster Memorial stands in Mowbray Park as a memorial of the tragedy.

4b Victoria Hall statue

4c Victoria Halll statue detail

Photographs courtesy of Colin Smith.

William Macgonagall, from Dundee, is often regarded as the worst poet in the history of the English language. He specialised in disaster poems and commemorated the tragedy soon afterwards in ‘The Sunderland Calamity’. You can read an edited version of the much longer poem here.