Saturday 25th August 1883 started as any summer holiday in August did, the weather was bright and cheerful and was the perfect day for the hosting of the Shotley Bridge Horticultural Societies Annual Exhibition. It had been a major success having being held at the Spa grounds since 1849 and now into its 34th consecutive year. It was said to have been one of the biggest and best of its kind throughout the whole Country. The exhibits ranged from the most exotic of fruits, vegetables, flora and fauna as well as having major prizes and great entertainment.
The morning saw a major influx of people from all over the North East who had made the journey to Shotley Bridge on the special trains that had been laid on especially for the event and running throughout the day. The previous years had saw crowds reach well over 50,000 across the day and it seemed that this year was to be no exception. The morning and early afternoon events had gone off without a hitch. However, outside the gates crowds of day travellers had started to arrive from the train station, waiting on the reduced admission charge after 4pm. The crowds stretch as far as the eye could see, a dense moving mass bent on getting into the ground. When a carriage appeared and the gate opened to allow it access the crowd surged forward to the howls and cries of woman and children caught up in the wave of bodies.
Sergeant Cruickshank and his staff of policemen appeared from the other side of the gate to try and quell the rush, but they were initially crushed into the wall by the crowd. Bruised and battered with his officers trying to hold back the onslaught, Cruickshank climbed the gate and earnestly begged the crowd that “if they had a spark of manliness left in them, or if they wished to avoid a repetition of the Sunderland Catastrophe” not to rush heedlessly on, or he would be forced to lock the gates and close down the event.
The Sunderland Catastrophe occurred 16th June 1883, just one month prior, in which over 1000 children rushing to get toys from a cabaret performer at the Victoria Hall, Sunderland were crushed when they came up against a closed door. The stampede and inevitable crush lead to 200 children being crushed to death and many others injured. A tragedy which shook the entire Country, even Queen Victoria openly enquiring on the event.
Cruickshanks words seemed to have the desired effect on the holiday-seekers and the crowd settled down and slowly passed through the gate in a much more orderly fashion. The crush of people took two hours to finally clear and in the end, apart from some minor crushing and some bruised nerves, no reports of any personal injuries were received.