Sunderland Theatre Disaster
With typical Victorian bravado the tickets for the June 16 1883 children’s entertainment at Sunderland’s Victoria Theatre declared it would be “The Greatest Treat for Children Ever Given.” That was to prove a horribly ironic boast.
At the end of the performances – conjuring, talking waxworks and so forth – as advertised there was to be a draw for the distribution of toys and books to those with ticket numbers selected. Giddy children, with very few parents present, were further excited by seeing that some toys were being thrown to those in the stalls. Those in the gallery were worried they were missing out; a huge surge of more than 1000 children in the gallery above rushed down the stairway, to find that at the bottom there was only a gap for one child at a time to pass. A crush began; some fell and were trampled; it was impossible to force the children back; and the inevitably high death toll would have been far worse had one adult not managed to rip a door from its hinges to widen the gap and ease the pressure. But still 183 children died, a terrible blow for the town.
The accident led to changes in safety procedures in British theatres ; and to the invention of the push-bar door-opening device still seen at cinemas , theatres and other such venues.
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