APPALLING DISASTER AT SHEFFIELD - Eight children killed

Matthew Street, Sheffield - 25th August 1886

From the Illustrated Police Review - 2nd September 1886

On Page 4 of The News of The World dated 29th August 1886, there was the following report that was headed

"Appalling Disaster in Sheffield - Eight children killed"

"On Wednesday evening a terrible accident occurred at the works of Messrs. Daniel Doncaster and Sons, steel converters, in Sheffield. Their premises are situated in a densely populated part of the town and are skirted on the right by Matthew Street. On this was the warehouse where there was stored steel and iron bars roughly estimated at from 600 to 1,000 tons; the greater portion of this pile was stored against the wall which, in addition, supported the roofs. About 5 O'clock the wall suddenly gave way and fell into the street, carrying with it the immense mass of steel with the timbers of the roofs and slates. There was a report as of thunder but for several minutes nothing could be seen for the dense cloud of dust which rose high into the air. The people living at the opposite side of the street came to there doors in alarm and had their attention immediately attracted  by the screams of two children who who had been seated close to their doorsteps and who were nearly covered by debris.. The children were liberated and found to be little injured. In the road lay the steel piled up to a height of about 10 feet, and as several children had been seen a few minutes before playing under the warehouse wall the worst fears were entertained as to their fate. the workmen of Messrs. Doncaster, of Messrs. Southern and Richardson and neighbouring firms at once commenced to remove the steel but when it is stated that some of the bars were as much as three or four man could lift the nature of the task before them may be imagined. The chief constable with a strong force of police arrived, and their services found to be very valuable in keeping back the crowd, for news of the disaster had quickly spread. and not only Matthew Street but all adjacent streets were blocked by the excited people. After some tons of metal had been removed it was decide to open passages into the mass, the more readily to ascertain whether any bodies were buried or not for the parents of five children had already reported the missing, and they were frantic with grief with the possibility of their having been crushed. The men worked with energy, and by seven o'clock one opening in the metal had been made and underneath were found the remains of three children, mangled almost beyond recognition. A stretcher was brought and the bodies were removed to a room in the works. A little later another body was found and was identified form the clothing as that of a boy called Cullingworth whose parents keep a tavern close by. The work of removing the metal now proceeded more rapidly and by nine o'clock three more bodies had been found making seven in all. By this time the authorities had satisfied themselves that if there were more bodies under the metal, of which there was still an immense mass to remove, life must be extinct, and it was decided to suspend work until next morning.

The following is a list of the dead - Martha Armitage aged 10 years and John Armitage aged two, children of John Armitage, Hoyle street: Henry Crisp aged six years whose parents live in Adelphi Street: (see note 2) William Cullingworth, aged seven years, son of  Tom Cullingworth of the Burnt Tree Tavern, Hoyle Street;(see note 1) Clifford Anderson aged seven years whose parents live in Burnt Tree lane; Samuel Oates, five year old son of John Oates, table blade grinder, Hoyle  Street; William Henry Ward age five, son of a table blade grinder.

During an examination of the bodies, some heartrending scenes were witnessed. fathers and mothers came forward and identified their dead children by their garments which alone afforded a means of identification. Two children were also removed to the infirmary suffering from severe injuries. The wall was 25 yards long and 18 feet in height. A person who was near the spot at the time of the accident said that two sharp reports like pistol shots were heard and then a great crash and clouds of dust obscured everything as the mingled bricks and mortar and metal fell in confused masses. 

Thursday morning's search among the debris revealed another body, that of Herbert Crookes aged five and a half years old. His corpse was fearfully injured, and the father could only identify it by its clothing.

On Friday, the Sheffield Coroner opened an inquest. The bodied were identified by the parents of the children and the Coroner, having granted certificates for burial, intimated his intention of having an inspection of the premises prior to taking further evidence, and adjourned the inquest for that purpose. Messrs. Doncaster expressed their great grief at the occurrence and offered the Coroner every facility in the conduct of the inquiry"

The only other reports I have is from The Times dated Thursday, August 26th 1886 which although filed the day after the tragedy does not really add to the information given by the News of The World

Two other contemporary reports though do give additional information. The first of these is from The Manchester Guardian dated 26th August 1886

  

The following days edition Friday August 27th 1886 does give more detail of the aftermath

THE FATAL ACCIDENT AT SHEFFIELD -

Early yesterday morning, the workpeople of Messrs. Daniel Doncaster and Sons, steel manufacturer's of Sheffield resumed the task of clearing away the debris in Mathew street where, by the falling of a steel warehouse stacked with iron bars, several children lost their lives on Wednesday afternoon. About 8 o'clock another body was found making the number of killed eight. It was identified as that of Herbert Crookes whose father lives in Portmahon. By half past nine o'clock the bricks and iron bars had all been cleared way, no more bodies being discovered. It is fortunate that the accident occurred early in the evening, for towards 7 or 8 o'clock it was the custom for a great number of children to play together under the wall. there is very little traffic in Matthew street, and it had become to a great extent a children's playground, being in the centre of a dense working class population. The inquest will take place today  

Another newspaper reported "Heartrending Scenes" at the site of this "deplorable accident"

 

In February 2014 I eventually managed to obtain a report of the inquest into the tragedy. It is from the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 4th September 1886

 

In January 2012 I received an account of the tragedy from a writer who was compiling the memoirs of an ancestor who actually witnessed the events of that day and its aftermath

"Life went on for Jane and Shepsel. Their house was always filled with their neighbours and they lived happily together. They were not rich, but nothing was lacking. Dolly was growing up and attending Carver School. They lived at the corner of Hoyle Street,[1] where, in the middle of the street, was a large old school.[2] Dolly did not attend this school for her district included a school about two blocks away. One afternoon the children in Hoyle Street School were playing at afternoon recess when one of the walls caved in and buried and maimed nearly two hundred children[3] No one ever knew or found out whether the wall had collapsed of its own weight or if an explosion had occurred. The tragic event was too horrible to mention for the whole neighbourhood in that district was suddenly bereaved; children of parents, brothers’ and sisters’ children and of neighbours. Shepsel was standing by the door of his shop when the noise of a commotion was heard. The screams and noise made such a tumult, it was bewildering, but, realizing that something had happened, he began to run. At once he saw the front wall was so shattered that he went to the back and jumped across. Other people came running and all old doors and shutters and empty wagons were improvised to carry the hurt and dying to the Infirmary. Shepsel and the other men herded away the children who were unhurt, pushing them through exits and over walls to safety. What can be said of such a calamity? How can it be described?
Funerals were occurring for fully three days. The hospitals were crowded. Every doctor was busy helping the pitiful children. The whole neighbourhood was paralyzed for weeks. No one did any business and people failed to show up in their usual haunts. Everyone was in mourning. This tragedy was worse than some battlefields. It really took years before these tragic people recovered. It was a wholesale tragedy since everyone was related in some way. It is a sad thing to talk of material things at a time like this, but the living must go on. The shop was at a dead standstill and more often than not one was busy doling out a few pennies to the neighbours. For this disaster was a feature that in a way could not be bridged. In the time that I am writing of, when people were poor, they went to the Alms House. There were no disaster funds, no outside help and the only assistance was given voluntarily by neighbours helping one another. These men were puddlers or grinders in the steel mills, or colliers in the mines. There was never any money left after each week so they were ill-prepared for the agonizing trouble that had befallen them. Jane could do very little except for her three-penny bits which did not go very far when she doled them out to many people. She carried soup and gruel daily and, more than all else, she encouraged them, but the shop was running down. The only benefit was that Jane still kept on at the markets and, being in other towns that were not affected by this tragedy, eventually she weathered the storm.

[1] No 3 Hoyle Street. Carver Street was considerably further away than ‘two blocks.’

[2] This was St Philip’s National school which was a church foundation which Dolly would not have attended. Sheffield had an advanced and influential School Board:Carver Street School was a Board School and open to all denominations.

[3] No trace of a collapse of a school wall and certainly none at St Philip’s School has been found but shortly before 5 o’clock on Wednesday, 25 Aug 1886
(per The Sheffield Daily Telegraph and The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent) a warehouse wall (at the side of Messrs Doncaster & Sons of Doncaster Street) under the weight of iron bars, which had been stacked inside against the wall, collapsed into Matthew Street This street runs from behind the school parallel to Hoyle Street. The infant school in Hoyle street had a doorway into Matthew Street, and many of the children came out that way. At least eight children who were playing in the street were crushed to death and others injured. The event took up many columns of the newspapers over three days and was certainly a most traumatic event for the populace of Sheffield and particularly for the Block family and its neighbours. Had the wall collapsed a day earlier many more children would have been killed since, it was reported, over a hundred were playing ‘Salvation Army’ [whatever game that may have been] at the same spot. No 3 Hoyle Street was perhaps less than 100 yards from the school’s front entrance but much further to reach than the Matthew Street entrance".

This is all the information I have to date on the disaster. The only fact I can add to the reports is that it took place on Wednesday, 25th August 1886 at around five o'clock in the evening. This disaster is not mentioned at all as far as I can ascertain in any local history books and seems to have been forgotten at least until now. If you can supply me with any additional information, I would be grateful.

As  a footnote I came across the following photograph that was taken of Matthew Street playground circa 1930. I wondered if this was a memorial of sorts to those eight children who died in the tragedy or if it was just pure co-incidence. Needless to say the playground disappeared long ago

There is a rather strange "twenty-first century" twist to the events that summer's day in 1886.

A Press Release that was issued on 26th June 2012 to publicise a book signing by the author gives a full explanation. Under the title " Horrific deaths of Victorian children set to be remembered" it states  

A bizarre set of 21st century coincidences are about to put a long forgotten Victorian tragedy back on the front pages.

It was 5pm on August 25, 1886, when eight children met most horrific deaths on Matthew Street in Shalesmoor, Sheffield.

They'd been happily playing in the shadow of the nearby works of Messrs Daniel Doncaster & Son when the wall dividing the firm's steel mill warehouse and the road they were on suddenly gave way and around 1,000 tons of steel and iron bars collapsed on them.

The sound was likened to a crash of thunder and was heard right across town.

It took a good few minutes before the cloud of dust caused by the collapse started to clear and the extent of the disaster was realised.

The News of the World reported at the time: "Appalling disaster in Sheffield - eight children killed." It went on to report "children, almost mangled beyond recognition".

Parents were frantic with worry that their offspring might be under the 10 feet high mass of steel.

The injuries were so appalling many of the kids could only be identified by the clothes they were wearing.

The wall was 25 yards long and 18 feet high.

The tragedy might have remained in the dark annals of Sheffield history if it hadn't been for three bizarre twists of fate.

A few months ago Chris Hobbs and Matthew Bell approached Neil Anderson, head of city-based publisher ACM Retro Ltd, to see if he'd be interested in their manuscript for Sheffield's Shocking Past.

He was immediately grabbed by the Matthew Street tragedy and insisted that a shocking depiction of the event went on the front cover of the book.

A few days later Neil was talking to his dad, Haydn Anderson, about the book and the tragedy.

Haydn Anderson was months into exploring the Anderson family tree and, bizarrely, had come across the same tragedy and found it quite a coincidence that one of the children killed, 7-year-old Clifford Anderson, held the family surname and lived on Burnt Tree Lane, home to two Anderson households that were directly related to him.

Chris Hobbs then mentioned that he was already in contact with Mary Armitage, a direct descendent of Clifford Anderson. She was able to confirm Clifford Anderson was actually a direct relation of Haydn and Neil Anderson and they found out they'd discovered a whole new side of their family they never knew existed.

But then, even more bizarrely, Neil Anderson had a call from Dr Amanda Crawley Jackson, of Sheffield University, to say they'd been excavating a piece of waste ground on Matthew Street and found out it had been the site of an appalling Victorian accident that had seen a number of children killed.

They were now looking to campaign for a memorial on the site and, as she knew of Neil's work around the Sheffield Blitz Memorial Fund which is raising money to provide permanent memorials to mark the sacrifices Sheffield made in WW2, she wondered if he'd like to get involved.

They'd stumbled on the same tragedy as part of Sheffield University's art regeneration project, plastiCities, which is focusing on the Shalesmoor, Kelham Island and Neepsend area.

Neil Anderson said: "It seems like the spirits of the dead have been working their magic in mysterious ways. This has been one of the most bizarre set of coincidences I've ever known.

"There's nothing to mark the site of one of worst tragedies in the city's history and if it wasn't for these events it would have been totally forgotten.

"It looks as though Clifford Anderson and his seven playmates are finally going to get the memorial they so deserve."

But this wasn't Neil Anderson's only link with Sheffield's Shocking Past.

Clifford Anderson's brother, he soon found out, also died in horrific circumstances and also stars in the book. Frank Anderson, aged 15, died in a boiler explosion on Doncaster Street in 1899.

Neil Anderson said: "I never thought the perfectly innocent pastime of writing and publishing books would lead me to find out I'm a part of one of the unluckiest families in Sheffield!"

Sheffield's Shocking Past is published by ACM Retro and is on sale from all good bookshops now priced £12.95.

Sheffield Star dated 28th June 2012

 Sources

Page 4  - The News of The World  - Sunday 29th August 1886

Page 8 - The Times - Thursday, August 26th 1886

The Manchester Guardian dated 26th August 1886

Page 3 - The Times  - Friday, August 27th 1886

Illustrated Police Review - 2nd September 1886

Sheffield Records Online

 Doncasters

Burngreave Cemetery

Notes

1. William was buried in Sheffield's General Cemetery. The burial record is as follows

Burial no: 14357 Grave no: U1 3 Death date: 25 Aug 1886 Burial date: 29th August 1886 Name: William Cullingworth : Age: 3y 6m cause of death: description: Son of Tom Cullingworth,Victualler birthplace: residence: 83 Hoyle Street parents: informant: minister: J W Talbot burial type: consecrated.

William CULLINGWORTH Son of Tom Cullingworth,Victualler, 83 Hoyle Street age: 3y 6m, buried: 29 Aug 1886
Tom CULLINGWORTH Victualler, 83 Hoyle Street age: 33, buried: 30 Jan 1889
Tom CULLINGWORTH Steel Turner, 182 Firth Park Road age: 22, buried: 16 Nov 1908

2. Henry Crisp is buried in Sheffield 's Burngreave Cemetery. The burial record is as follows

Burial no: Grave no: V3-31 Burial date: 30th August 1886 name: Harry Crisp description: Son purchaser: Henry Crisp purchaser address: 35 Adelphia Street burial type: consecrated comment:

3. In December 2011 I was contacted by a descendent of Clifford Anderson who died in the tragedy. The newspaper reports have Clifford aged 7 but the descendent stated that he was only 5 years old when he was killed. On the basis of the information I was provided with I found a record of his burial in Sheffield 's Burngreave Cemetery

ANDERSON, Clifford (son of Septimus Anderson, age 5). Died at 4 Ct 5 Burntree Lane; Buried on August 30, 1886 in Consecrated ground;
Grave Number 24, Section V2 of  Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield.  

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