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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Toy tragedy children honoured
Marble statue to the dead children
The memorial was restored due to vandalism
A memorial to 183 children who died stampeding down a staircase to claim free toys has been restored after 70 years in obscurity.

On 16 June 1883, 69 girls and 115 boys were crushed and suffocated during a show billed as "the greatest treat for children ever given" at Sunderland's Victoria Hall.

After the tragedy, a white marble statue of a grieving mother cradling her dead child was erected in a park near the scene - but was later put in a cemetery, vandalised and forgotten.

Now council leaders have placed the memorial back in the city's Mowbray Park.

It was re-dedicated during a ceremony involving 183 children who laid a single flower at the base of the restored figure.

Six-feet deep

Deputy leader of Sunderland City Council Bryan Charlton said: "People remember Lockerbie and Aberfan and the dreadful impact they had, but the Victoria Hall disaster was just as shocking in its day.

"The tragedy blighted a whole generation.

"Families lost all their children and it's very important that we don't forget the dreadful impact it had on those left behind and on Sunderland itself."

The disaster was triggered when the children were told they could claim free toys and poured down a narrow winding staircase only to find their way barred by an inward-opening door at the bottom.

Marble memorial to the dead children
The restoration was funded by the council

They fell on top of each other until they lay six-feet deep against the door.

A Sunday school class of 30 died and one girl was later found wandering the streets with her dead younger sister in her arms.

Most of those killed were between seven and 11-years old.

Queen Victoria sent a message of sympathy from Balmoral and laws were introduced which required outward opening doors to be put up in places of public entertainment.

Broken horse

The memorial, restored to its original state at a cost of 63,000, now has a protective canopy to protect it.

Mr Charlton said: "I'm delighted to see it returned to its original resting place just a stone's throw away from the scene of the tragedy."

A display of material connected with the Victoria Hall disaster has been put on show at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.

One of the items is a wooden horse with its legs broken, said to have been one of the prizes being given away on stage on the day.

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The BBC's Doug Morris
"The children who died... feared they would miss out on free toys"
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