The day 16 children died in cinema stampede

A moving memorial service has been held in South Yorkshire to remember 16 children crushed to death in a cinema stampede 100 years ago. Gail Robinson reports.

MAY Mosley was not even born when her big brother and sister excitedly set off from their Barnsley home, each clutching a one penny piece, to see a cinematography exhibition.

But the tragic events that unfolded in January 1908 are almost as vivid to Mary, now 87, as they remained for her parents Arty and Lucy Stott throughout their lives.

May's brother Hardy, just four, and eight-year-old sister Mary Elizabeth, were two of 16 children crushed to death in what became known as Barnsley's Public Hall Disaster.

In the building which is now the Civic, 16 girls and boys were suffocated or trampled to death as they queued to see a cinematography exhibition and variety show. In the rush for admission, which cost one penny, a staircase became overcrowded and the children were crushed.

Now, 100 years on, a plaque has been unveiled inside the Civic recalling and naming all those lost young lives - a ceremony attended by modern-day children who placed daffodils at the war memorial.

May, her sister Ethel Mellor, 94, and brother Arty Stott, 84, were among the many relatives of the tragic youngsters who attended the moving remembrance service.

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They applauded as the Mayor of Barnsley unveiled the plaque, then stood in the pouring rain with their heads bowed as the children's flowers were laid and a minute's silence was observed.

May, who still lives in Barnsley town centre, told The Star: "Mum and dad talked about it all the time and they never really got over it.

"Even years later my mum used to say she could still see Mary and Hardy just like they were that Saturday morning - running out of the house wearing their best clothes, holding their one penny piece, so excited.

"Some time later a woman rushed past and shouted that something had happened at the public hall. At the time the rumour was children had been killed in a fire.

"My mum ran out of the house without putting a coat on, even though it was snowing heavily, and as she raced towards the public hall she met my dad.

"She said she just knew they had died because she felt it in her heart.

"She told us over and over again about how they were taken to the mortuary and there were all these little bodies lined up covered by sheets. Then suddenly she started to cry and she shouted out, 'Those are my children'. Their little feet were sticking out from the bottom of the sheets and she recognised their Sunday best boots."

She added: "It's so nice that so many people have come here to remember.


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FEATURES: Memorial to tragic kids crushed in stampede All my life I have thought about the brother and sister who died before I was born, and I'm glad they have a memorial plaque.”

Martha Larkin, 62, and 74-year-old Muriel Wright were there to remember their aunt Mary Lee who was aged five when she was killed.

“My grandparents - Mary's mum and dad Grace and James - told us how Mary had gone to the public hall with her older brother Tom, who was 10,” said Martha.

“They told us Tom had been holding on to her hand, trying to save her, but finally she lost her grip. He survived but Mary didn't.

“When they saw her body afterwards they said she looked perfect, without a mark or a blemish on her, and looked as though she was just fast asleep.

“The only injury they could see was her arm had been broken - it was the arm she had been trying to hold on to her brother with.

“Uncle Tom never talked about what had happened that terrible day. When his parents talked about it he left the room, it haunted him all his life.

“What happened on that day scarred so many people and, even though it has taken 100 years, it's good that at last all those little children have a fitting memorial.”