‘Old Stories Retold; The Bell Street Hall Catastrophe in 1865.’ (21 January, 1888)

The following is a retelling of the dreadful crush at the music hall on Bell Street which claimed 20 lives, only three of which were over 18 years old. This was the first ‘Old Story Retold’ in a sequence that appeared in ‘The Peoples Journal’.

Bell Street Hall was, exactly 23 years ago, the scene of a fearful tragedy. The dreadful occurrence put an untimely end to New Year holiday festivities, it saddened many hearts, and overshadowed many lives for over, and it created a widespread feeling of dismay, not in Dundee only, but over the whole country. For, as the Scotsman pointed out, the occurrence was one that might happen anywhere, and among any class of people.

It is a strange thing that, while one man would probably not lose his presence of mind in the face of danger, yet men in a crowd always become panic-stricken. The ever recurring stories of theatres on fire, with audiences, composed of people usually sane, madly rushing to the doors, and bearing down everybody and everything in their way, are sufficient proof of this extraordinary tendency. The proverbial flock of sheep are not more uniformly animated by a single desire than is every man and woman there determined on the same thing—to be out first. On board a sinking ship, too, the passengers and crew have been known to make a wild rush for the boats; but for this there is some excuse. The danger is great and obvious. But why men should crowd and push and jostle when there is no danger and no panic whatever is more than any one can understand.

This, however, is what happened on the 2d [2nd?] of January 1865, at the door of Bell Street Hall, Dundee. This building, which has long been used as a furniture wareroom, was then a popular Music Hall. It was occupied by a Mr Springthorpe, who had provided a specially attractive entertainment for the Christmas and New Year holidays. The year 1865 began on a Sunday, and Monday the 2d [2nd?] was, therefore, a general holiday. Some snow had fallen, and the weather was seasonable. About seven o’clock in the evening a large crowd of people might have been seen making their way to Springthorpe’s Music Hall. They were mostly young men and women, factory operatives, shop assistants, and the like, bent on having an evening’s amusement. Springthorpe’s Music Hall was very popular among this class.

The hall was reached by a flight of steps, lending downwards, not upwards, from the street. Such an arrangement would not, of course, be permitted now-a-days. At the top of the steps an iron gate stretched across. The gate was in two divisions, only one being open, and here the money-taker was stationed. Entrance to the hall was thus not very easily or quickly obtained, and soon the crowd began to stretch up and down, and right across the street. Then the people grew impatient. The night was cold, the waiting was tedious, the delay seemed, to those behind, both long-protracted, and unnecessary. Would the people in front not move off a little quicker? Those on the outskirts showed a tendency to crowd in upon the centre, and the money-taker began to find himself borne back by the pressure of the dense, ever-increasing mass of human beings that surged and swayed before him. Continue reading “‘Old Stories Retold; The Bell Street Hall Catastrophe in 1865.’ (21 January, 1888)”