A plaque commemorating the eight young children who died in a fire in Hereford’s Garrick Theatre 102 years ago will be dedicated in Hereford Cathedral’s Lady Arbour on Friday 13 April.
The plaque will be a lasting memorial to the victims of this terrible tragedy, which took place at the Garrick Theatre in Widemarsh Street on 7 April 1916, at the end of a concert in which local children were providing entertainment to raise funds for troops at the Front – this was of course in the middle of the First World War. As the curtain fell, fire broke out on stage and, as a result, eight little girls died.
The community was hugely saddened by this tragedy and, when the funerals of five of the girls took place in the cathedral on 13 April 1916, Broad Street was crowded with mourners, all wishing to pay their respects. The mayor of the time opened a memorial appeal in aid of the children’s ward at Herefordshire General Hospital, which would ‘commemorate a terrible event in our history and be a permanent expression of sympathy with the parents of the immortal dead; it will also confer a great service on our hospital, whose needs are always and ever urgent and pressing’.
With the passing of the General Hospital, the memorial was lost. A small plaque was placed on the site of the Garrick Theatre, now the Garrick car park, but relatives and friends of the girls, many of whom still lived in Hereford, thought that something more worthy and lasting was needed.
On 16 April 2016, the centenary of the tragedy, a small act of remembrance was held in the cathedral. Since then, relatives have worked with the Dean of Hereford, the Very Revd. Michael Tavinor, to identify a place and funding for such a permanent memorial. Thanks to this fund-raising and with the support of the First World War Committee, a plaque has now been made and placed in the Lady Arbour on the south side of the cathedral.
The plaque will be dedicated on Friday 13 April 2018 at 10.30am – the 102nd anniversary of the funeral of five of the girls in the cathedral. The short service will be attended by civic representatives and by members of the families of the girls who died. All are welcome to attend.
Commenting on the dedication, the Dean said: ‘This was a terrible tragedy in the city and community and it is right that we should provide a fitting memorial. The dedication will take place when the Weeping Window display of poppies is on the other side of the cathedral from the new memorial. The two are linked – these little girls themselves played their own part in the war effort – they were not involved in combat, as those we so often recall, but they, in different and seemingly smaller ways, were part of the greater tragedy which we know as the Great War. After all these years, how right it is to offer sadness, gratitude and remembrance and still to say “May they rest in peace and rise in glory”.