The Burning of the People’s Variety Theatre, Aberdeen

’Twas in the year of 1896, and on the 30th of September,
Which many people in Aberdeen will long remember;
The burning of the People’s Variety Theatre, in Bridge Place
Because the fire spread like lightning at a rapid pace.

The fire broke out on the stage, about eight o’clock,
Which gave to the audience a very fearful shock;
Then a stampede ensued, and a rush was made pell-mell,
And in the crush, trying to get out, many people fell.

The stage flies took fire owing to the gas
Not having room enough by them to pass;
And with his jacket Mr. Macaulay tried to put out the flame,
But oh! horrible to relate, it was all in vain.

Detective Innes, who was passing at the time of the fire,
Rendered help in every way the audience could desire,
By helping many of them for to get out,
Which was a heroic action, without any doubt.

Oh! it was a pitiful and fearful sight,
To see both old and young struggling with all their might,
For to escape from that merciless fire,
While it roared and mounted higher and higher.

Oh! it was horrible to hear the cries of that surging crowd,
Yelling and crying for “Help! help!” aloud;
While one old woman did fret and frown
Because her clothes were torn off when knocked down.

A lady and gentleman of the Music Hall company, Monti & Spry,
Managed to make their escape by climbing up very high
To an advertisement board, and smashing the glass of the fanlight,
And squeezed themselves through with a great fight.

But accidents will happen both on sea and land,
And the works of the Almighty is hard to understand;
And thank God there’s only a few has fallen victims to the fire,
But I hope they are now in Heaven, amongst the Heavenly choir.

An Aberdeen Music Hall Burned Down

Three Lives Lost

Thirty People Seriously Injured and Several Missing

The most serious fire which has occurred in Aberdeen for many years occurred last night, when the Music Hall in Bridge Place known as “The Palace of Varieties” was burned to the ground. The fire broke out shortly after the commencement of the evening’s performance, and in the stampede upwards of thirty people were more or less seriously burned and injured. The music hall has a frontage to Bridge Place of about fifty feet, the rear being to Crown Terrace; while to the east is situated a photographer’s studio and a restaurant, the latter forming a corner to Bridge Street, Internally, the hall was circular in form, and was originally adapted for a circus by Mr John Henry Cooke. Latterly, however, the building was turned into a music hall by the Livermere Brothers, and performances have gone on regularly during the season under their auspices. As a place of amusement the Palace, as it was called, was very popular, and usually drew large audiences. The bill for last night was described as “a special company for the holidays.” Fortunately, the autumn holiday was observed in the city on Monday, and on that account the “house” was smaller than it might otherwise have been. The area was thinly filled, but the gallery and promenades were fairly well occupied. Just after the second “turn” by O’Connor and Martrey, described as eccentric comedians and dancers, the curtain was rung down, and preparations were being made for the next item on the programme. Without a moment’s warning the audience were startled by seeing a red glare through the drop scene. The import of this was all too evident. A fire had broken out in the top of the flies among the scenery to be used in the third act, and it is supposed the inflammable material had come in contact with the gas jets. An attendant at once rushed to the spot and attempted to extingnish the blaze. His hands got badly scorched, however, and he had to desist. Then Mr Russell, the assistant stage manager, went to the front and calmly advised the people to retire. At the same moment almost, Peter McIntosh, the bill inspector, rushed across the street to the Bath Hotel, and telephoned for the Fire Brigade. With a rapidity tliat baffled all subsequent efforts, the flames burst through the roof, and then seized on the wooden interior. A wild rush was made by the audience for the exits. They scrambled through the narrow passages and down the stairs leading to Bridge Place. As indicated, it was fortunate that the house was not filled as it usually is, otherwise the consequences would unquestionably have been very terrible. As it was, the results were disastrous. The people tumbled over each other in their efforts to get out. Clothes were rent, and serious personal injuries were received, while those who escaped the crush had a worse fate in being terribly scorched by the rapidly advancing flames. The fire spread through the building and had attacked the whole wooden framework before the last of the audience gained the street, and several people had to be dragged from what was soon a fiery furnace. The artistes, about a dozen in number, had barely time to gain the passage leading to the street, and several ladies were practically in dishabilé. They were carefully attended to by Mr Thomson in the Bath Hotel. One of the artistes, in his anxiety to save some of his property, threw a dress basket in the direction of the exit door, but unfortunately it blocked the way, and a number of people who rushed out by that particular passage tumbled over the obstacle, and created a somewhat serious congestion. Then it turned out that the door was locked, and it was burst open — a man having previously got out by smashing the glass and clambering through the fanlight. One of the audience leapt from the gallery window to the street, and sustained a fracture of the leg. In the panic a man named Charles Cooper ran back to rescue his wife, and she was got safely out although severely burned, her hiusband in his gallant effort also being badly scorched. Both were afterwards removed to the infirmary. A baby of five months was snatched from its mother’s arms, and is missing. In the course of the conflagration the gas exploded with a terrific noise, and the heat was so fierce that the glass of the house windows in the vicinity was cracked.

The full strength of the brigade was present under Firemaster Inkster, but the fire practically burned itself out. Streams of water were poured upon the burning mass both from Bridge Place and Crown Terrace, the end of the latter thoroughfare just overlooking the hall. A tremendous crowd congregated in the streets, but the operations of the firemen were not hampered, Chief-Constable Wyness and a force of policemen regulating the movements of the spectators. A detachment of Gordon Highlanders did splendid service in the extinguishing operations, All the injured were removed to the Infirmary.

The Scotsman, 1st October 1896

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Comments (8) »

  1. In the year 2012, on the 5th day of September at 7:43 pm

    I noticed from the original clipping there is no mention of the young boy, James Simpson (aged 14 yrs), who lost his life in the fire at the peoples palace. Does anyone have any information as to why?


  2. Chris Hunt
    In the year 2012, on the 5th day of September at 11:48 pm

    I generally choose one of the first reports of the event in question when choosing cuttings to publish on this site, as they tend to be shorter and to the point.

    Victorian newspaper practice was usually to print a short initial report with the first news of the incident, and then to print lengthy articles on subsequent days complete with verbatim witness statements etc. The latter are a bit much to republish here, though they’re very useful when putting together the “additional notes” which accompany some poems.

    So to answer your question, perhaps Master Simpson had not been identified when The Scotsman first went to press or maybe he died of his wounds later on. Your best source of information, until I get round to adding further information to this page, is the online newspaper archives such as The Scotsman’s or the British Library. Neither of them free to access, sadly, but both of them invaluable to students and researchers.

  3. sean
    In the year 2012, on the 27th day of October at 9:02 pm

    i work in the building and have for only 8 weeks its the largest nite club in aberdeen now and i can tell u its most defenetly haunted, i am a cleaning supervisor and go in 4 days a week and have to open up in total darkness and its only when you are up stair that things start happening even more so when the lights are on, shadows apperitions smokey shadows and today 1 other cleaner seen a man standing on the stairs,am not a big beliver in ghosts or i wasn’t but i am now,the only reason i found this page is because i was investigating to see if any 1 had died there i never knew there was a fire there until now that explains alot,

  4. Michael Byrne
    In the year 2012, on the 27th day of November at 12:22 pm

    Absolutely woeful poetry by this man.

  5. Sue McGrath
    In the year 2013, on the 4th day of November at 9:07 am

    I believe that I am related to the “Monti & Spry” mentioned in the poem. It appears that Basil Montigue & Freda Spry were my grandparents. My father Sydney Marden Beaumont Montigue was a dancer/vaudevillian and apparently Basil died here in Sydney in my home suburb of Turramurra in 1946, three years after I was born. Neither my father or mother are alive, and I would welcome any publications, printed articles or pictures that you might be able to provide me about ‘Monti & Spry’ as I am not far off beginning the interesting task of tracing my family tree on the English heritage side. If you are not able to assist, perhaps you might be able to point me in the right direction to continue my search.

    Thank you.
    Mrs Sue McGrath

  6. John Nisbet
    In the year 2018, on the 11th day of April at 2:03 pm

    I remember reading this one in the library in the year 1991, on the 5th day of July at 3.30pm and I was asked by the librarian to be quiet please because I was laughing so loud.

  7. Dan E
    In the year 2018, on the 10th day of July at 10:40 am

    I’ve never understood how someone could laugh at a tragic situation like this, even though it was William who was giving his rendition of it.
    This along with other discriptions of other tragedies on this site, I would never of heard of if not for William and Chris Hunt.

  8. Peter Reid
    In the year 2024, on the 6th day of February at 7:42 pm

    I lost my gr gr grandmother Mrs Cooper in this fire, her husband Charles went back into the theatre to save her but unfortunately she died few days later.

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