How The Death Of 183 Children At A Magic Show Led To The Invention Of Crash Bar Doors
A horrific tragedy at what was supposed to be a happy kids event in 19th century Britain changed doors forever
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but tragedy ranks right up there in terms of catalysts to help bring about change. Sometimes, the most horrific events imaginable can effect change of all magnitudes. Modern society largely takes crash bar doors for granted as easy ways to exit buildings. However, they originated from a tragic accident that saw 183 children die while attempting to escape a magic show in 19th century England that became known as the Victoria Hall Disaster.
On June 16, 1883, traveling entertainers named Mr. and Mrs. Fay (who were either married or siblings- the evidence is unclear) brought their children’s variety show to Sunderland, England. It was a popular magic show of the time, displaying various tricks, illusions, ventriloquism and other hard to believe displays for eager audiences. It’s estimated that more than 1,100 kids purchased the one-penny tickets and packed into Victoria Hall to see that day’s performance, which was rather uneventful save for a few eager youngsters feeling ill from some smoke that escaped the stage during one of the tricks.
It was the end of the show when tragedy struck. As was normal, the entertainers announced that children who possessed tickets containing certain numbers were eligible to receive a prize as they left the show. Simultaneously, prizes began being given out from the stage from the final trick, as a performer pulled goodies from a seemingly empty hat and threw them to the audience, causing excited children to push forward, afraid they would be left out from receiving something.
The huge audience combined with the mass excitement created a horrible situation. There was one door at the bottom of the staircase to the side of the auditorium, but it only opened inward and had been bolted in such a fashion as to permit only one person to pass through at a time. This was a measure later believed to have been taken to ensure all tickets were thoroughly accounted for.