identifier: 2014005 BARNSLEY DISASTER SOLD
The Children’s Disaster at Barnsley. (George Cresswell).
In the Public Hall, at Barnsley.
The children went to view
The animated pictures,
As children love to do.
[Poems, including The Barnsley Disaster] pamphlet.
Series No.15. Ombler & Sons, Printers, 26 & 27 Mason Street, Hull.
LEAD THE WAY by Bingley Wilson. The Barnsley Disaster by Bingley Wilson. Tom Jinkin’s Dream of Balaam’s Ass. The West Hull Bye-Election. The Barnsley Disaster by George Cresswell (The Engine-driver Poet), 3 Dorset Street, Hessle Road, Hull.
8 internal pages, plus folded pink paper cover. Size: 128 x 193mm.
The physical dangers of attending a filmshow in the early days of cinema were largely because of the highly flammable nature of early nitrocellulose film, not helped by open-flame illuminants, sometimes including volatile ether as a fuel. The latter caused the infamous Charity Bazaar fire in Paris in 1897, which claimed over 100 lives. But fire wasn’t the only danger.
The Barnsley Public Hall disaster occurred during a penny performance for children in Barnsley, West Riding of Yorkshire, on 11 January 1908. Children from across Barnsley had come to watch a film, walking to the public hall through falling snow. According to news reports at the time, a large number showed up, and the hall quickly became overcrowded. With the ground floor seats full, children packed into the gallery to such an extent that the aisles of the gallery were filled and children were pressed against the lower gallery railing. In order to relieve some of the crowding, and concerned about the press of bodies against the gallery railing, an attendant in the hall called for some of the children to descend the stairs to the main floor. This precipitated a mass rush for the stairs as children pushed to gain access to the ground level. As the crowd surged down the narrow staircase, a number of children fell and were trampled or were crushed. Others, under pressure from the crowd behind them, had to climb or walk over the fallen to escape danger. Even children who had not originally joined the stampede became panicked because of the screams of those on the stairs. Theatre attendants and police who were quickly called managed to keep the children on the main floor safe and evacuate them. They then worked to extricate those who had been injured. According to a wire news report at the time, “When the reserve police arrived they found the narrow stairway practically blocked with bodies.”
16 died and more than 40 were injured. Wire services carried news of the disaster far and wide, and newspapers as far away as New York City covered the story, sometimes in a sensational manner and with graphic detail about the injuries of the victims. [adapted from Wikipedia]
The disaster was commemorated on its 100th anniversary, 11 January 2008, with a civic ceremony. A plaque was unveiled inside the building, now called the Civic, which listed the names of the sixteen victims of the tragedy, all of whom were under the age of 10 at the time of their deaths. Among the attenders was a younger sister of two of the victims.
There are two poems about the accident in this pamphlet: The Barnsley Disaster by Bingley Wilson, and The Children’s Disaster at Barnsley by George Gresswell. The poems here are perhaps typical of the period. To us, they might seem irredeemably trite – predictable rhyming doggerel, unsuited for such a tragedy. But no doubt they came from the heart. Wilson contributed to A Book of Poems for the Blue Cross Fund (to help horses in war time) 1917.
Some quick research on George ‘The Engine-Driver Poet’ Gresswell reveals that he was no stranger to the fragility of young lives. In 1892 the York Herald reported on ‘…the body of a child which was picked up the day previously in the Barmston Drain at Hull, enveloped in some old clothing. George Gresswell, an engine driver, deposed to finding the bundle, which on examination was found to contain the body of a male infant…’ (York Herald, 26 May 1892). Gresswell would also have been familiar with survivors’ trauma – he was driving the Hornsea Express when it ran down a pedestrian in 1903. (‘Killed by Hornsea Express’, Hull Daily Mail, 14 October 1903). His other verses of mourning included one about the Loss of the Golden Sunrise – a steam trawler sunk in a fishing accident, with one crewman drowned – in 1908. I’ve found a reference to an anthology of his rhymes, published in 2006, but this has proved elusive.
A contributor to the local paper wrote in 1912, ‘I always read with interest the verses of George Gresswell, the engine-driver poet. Mr Gresswell does not profess to be a grammarian, but he certainly can claim to be a mouthpiece of what people are thinking.’ (Humber-Side Echoes, Hull Daily Mail, 23 July 1912.) Other numbers in this series of leaflets are listed on the back cover. I’d like to find a copy of No.4, which includes the poem A Railway Message from Mars.
Condition: Generally good. Staining from rusty staples (they have now been removed) caused deterioration of the paper in the central gutter area, and those areas have been repaired with acid-free Japanese tissue. Now in acid-free paper wallet.
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