The Diary: Tragic playmates to be remembered

The Matthew Street Tragedy, August 25, 1886. Engraving taken from Illustrated Police Review.
The Matthew Street Tragedy, August 25, 1886. Engraving taken from Illustrated Police Review.
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It was a time when death and disaster were not all that uncommon – but even by Victorian standards the Matthew Street tragedy was horrifying enough to make national headlines.

Eight children died, buried alive beneath 100 tons of brick, iron and steel, when a wall collapsed on them in Shalesmoor in 1886.

The tragedy occurred as the youngsters – aged between just two and 10 – were playing in the shadow of steelworks Messrs Daniel Doncaster and Son. The firm’s wall gave way.

“The bodies were managled beyond recognition,” reported The Sheffield Independent at the time. The injuries were so bad, several of the children could only be identified by their clothes.

“In short,” says Haydn Anderson, a descendant of one of the families involved in the tragedy, “It was a bad one.”

Now, those eight playmates are to be remembered on Saturday, March 22 with a memorial service and tree-planting ceremony at a new urban greenspace, Furnace Park, built on the land where they died.

Descendants of the families involved will attend a talk by city historian (and former Diary star) Chris Hobbs, then a tree will be planted.

“This disaster had largely been forgotten in Sheffield until last year when it featured in a book by Chris,” says 77-year-old Haydn, whose great grandfather was related to seven-year-old victim Clifford Anderson. “And it shouldn’t be.”

The retired engineer formerly of Millhouses but now living in Chesterfield adds: “Eight children died that day which must make this one of the worst tragedies in the city’s history. The place should be marked. Ideally that would be with a plaque but a tree is a nice start.”

The disaster, on August 25 1886, first came to light again after research by Chris Hobbs, of Crookes, and Matthew Bell, of Heeley, published in their book Sheffield’s Shocking Past.

They found the victims included, as well as little Clifford, Martha Armitage, 10, and her two-year-old brother John; Henry Crisp, six; William Cullingworth, seven; Samuel Oates, five; William Henry Ward, five; and Herbert Crookes, five.

Furnace Park – as previously reported by The Diary – has been transformed into a community greenspace and outdoor arts venue by a team of community volunteers.

Service takes place at 2pm. The book is available in The Star Shop, £12.95.