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Panic at the Hebrew Dramatic Club

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Panic at the Hebrew Dramatic Club

Post by Karen on Fri 21 Jan 2011 - 22:04

Superintendent Arnold watched the proceedings on behalf of the police, and Detective-inspector Abberline gave evidence at the following inquest on the seventeen bodies which were trampled to death at the Hebrew Dramatic Club.

THE SPITALFIELDS DISASTER.

INQUEST TODAY.

This morning, at the Shoreditch Town Hall, Mr. Wynne E. Baxter resumed the inquiry into the circumstances attending the deaths of the seventeen victims of the panic on the night of the 18th inst., at the Hebrew Dramatic Club, Spitalfields. The Rev. David Fay attended as the representative of the Chief Rabbi; and Superintendent Arnold watched the proceedings on behalf of the police. The solicitors present were Mr. Romain and Mr. Ratcliff, on behalf of relatives of some of the deceased persons; and Mr. Beard in the interests of Mr. Smith, the proprietor of the Club.
Abraham Smith, the manager of the Club, and the son of the proprietor, said it was open every night except Fridays, from five in the evening till one. Concerts and dances, together with games such as chess and draughts, took place in the Club, besides dramatic entertainments. There were about five hundred members, male and female. Gambling was strictly prohibited. On the 18th instant a dramatic entertainment was given on behalf of a member of the Club, who was in reduced circumstances, and to the best of his knowledge there were present on that occasion about four hundred men, women, and children. Everything went all right till about a quarter to eleven. At that time witness was in the passage leading from the hall to the street door, when he heard an alarm of fire. "Gas explosion; alarm of fire" was the cry. Witness asked those round him to open all the doors, and then, seeing some coming out, he said, "You see, it's only a false alarm, so go back to your seats." They remained there waiting, however, in the passage, and seeing others coming, witness repeated his assurance that it was a false alarm, and asked them to follow him back to the hall, as they might know he would not go into danger. They waited about for their relatives, however, and would not go back. Witness spoke to the people both in English and in their own language, which was Hebrew-German. He squeezed his way through the people into the body of the hall, and shouted to everybody to keep their seats. When he reached the body of the hall the gas was out, but candles had been lit on the stage, and they were left alight. The gaslights on the staircase from the gallery and in the bar were not out, as they were served be a separate meter. There was thus a glimmer of light through the hall, and that served to show him a scene of the greatest confusion. Most people were pressing towards the exits (of which there were three in the hall), but some were not. The greater number were pressing towards the main exit - that leading into Princes-street, chairs were thrown over, and shrieks were coming from all over the hall. There were at this time still people in the gallery. The people on the stage tried to quiet the audience and a good many of the audience themselves endeavoured to reassure their neighbours, but without success. The hall was built over twelve months ago by his father and a committee. The premises had before been an ivory manufacturer's, but he did not know whether, originally, it was, as it seemed to have been, a private house with a back garden or yard.
At the request of the Coroner, Superintendent Arnold here handed in the rules of the Club.
Witness, proceeding with his evidence, in answer to the Coroner's interrogation, said the Club was governed by a committee of nine members.
The Coroner - I see one of the rules is that no strangers are to be admitted on any pretence whatever.
Witness - That is right.
The Coroner - But were these all members present on the occasion of the disaster?
Witness - Since that rule was drawn up the members wished to bring their wives in, so that rule had to be altered.
The Coroner - Then these are not the correct rules at the present moment?
Witness - Yes, excepting that one. Proceeding, he said that the hall and gallery were together capable of accommodating about six hundred. The exits from the body of the hall consisted of three doors. The main exit, 8ft. 8in. at its widest part, led past the staircase from the gallery, with swing doors, thence into a lobby, from which two door ways led to the street. The other two door ways led, one directly, and the other indirectly, into a yard. That yard was connected with the passage by a door at the foot of the gallery staircase, and with the street by a narrow door.
The Coroner said he did not think it desirable to take evidence as to the gallery exits. If those exits had been used there would, in his opinion, have been a much greater catastrophe, for people would have pitched over to the streets below.
Mr. Smith said he himself, and a good many other people, used the gallery exits. On the right gallery there were three doors, leading to a flat, with iron steps into the yard.
The Coroner - This flat is not lighted, I believe?
Witness - Yes. There is a lamp, but it is not in the plan.
The Coroner - You mean the lamp in the yard at the bottom of the steps?
Witness - Yes.
The Coroner - This flat is seven or eight feet from the level of the ground. How is it protected? What is there to protect any one from falling over?
Witness - There is a little dwarf wall about eighteen inches high.
The Coroner - Well, we have got to the fact that you were in the hall trying to quiet the people. No, go on, after this digression.
Witness, resuming, said some of the people were using the exits to the yards as well as the main exit, and there were some going through the bar, down to the cellar, and through into the yard. There was a crowd round the main exit, and a few were on the ground. Witness did not see anybody pressing down from the gallery. He was too excited. The swing doors were wide open, but people from the street were coming in and thus stopping others going out. There was no movement at all, the two conflicting streams of people causing a jam until the police came and prevented the people crushing in. The police had been sent for by witness, and they, having stopped outsiders from coming in, picked up those who were on the ground. Eventually the hall was cleared, and there were found to be seventeen dead. The police removed the bodies to the reading-room. Witness did not know who turned out the gas. The building was not licensed for theatrical performances, and there was no music or dancing licence, because strangers were not admitted. There was an Excise permission to sell intoxicants to members. Nobody could come in unless he or she was introduced by a member. The children present on the night of the 18th were introduced by their parents, who were all members. Witness had a list of the members, which he produced. The whole of the victims were members or relatives of members. Members were only allowed to introduce one friend each; but they were sometimes allowed two, as they were rather obstinate.
The Coroner - My impression is that some of the families had more than two children with them.
Witness said children were not considered. The ticket produced was one of those printed in connection with the entertainment. They were printed without witness's knowledge, and did not entitle the holder to admission unless he was a member or friend. Witness did not know what was the meaning of the words, "Tickets only will benefit," which were printed on the ticket produced. A printed slip warning visitors against attempting to obtain by payment any excisable article was handed to all visitors as they came in. Witness believed the plans of the hall had been approved by the district surveyor. The gas was re-lit within two minutes after it was turned out - not at all the jets, but at one side of the hall. The meter was in the cellar, and when the alarm was raised somebody must have gone to the cellar and turned it off. Witness could not say who it was that turned if off, or who it was that re-lit it.
By Mr. Romain - There was room in the gallery for another hundred people on the night of the 18th inst. None of the tickets were sold for a shilling each to his knowledge. If so, it was without the Committee's permission. He went out for a few minutes in the course of the evening without instructing anybody to take charge. He did not consider it necessary to do so, for although he was manager or controller, yet there were other officials who were about, while he was away. The rush of the people out of the hall did not cause the partition forming the secretary's office to give way. The police and some of the members of the Club pulled it down to make more room. The three doors leading from the gallery to the flat were usually used by those attending the entertainments, who could see their way out by means of the light from the hall; but when the gas was turned out the flat was in total darkness, except for the light of the stars.
By Mr. Ratcliff - The object of the tickets was not to evade the law by doing away with the necessity for payment at the door. They were simply for the advertisement of the forthcoming entertainment. Several months ago witness had engaged a constable to prevent a gang from forcing themselves into the hall. One man had threatened to set fire to the place or do some other mischief, and an assault on the police occurred. He believed the disturbance was the result of the rivalry of another club. The conclusion witness had arrived at was that some member of the Club had turned out the gas as a matter of precaution when the alarm of fire was raised. Witness was not very well at the time the tickets for this entertainment were printed, and he had nothing to do with them. The only use of the tickets was for the beneficiare to canvas with, and it was entirely optional of members of the Club to give or not, just as they pleased, and just what they pleased.
Douglas Gliddon, an architect, called by Mr. Beard, produced a plan of the Club, which he had made yesterday, and swore to its accuracy according to scale.
Isaac Kaluki, 3, Fieldgate-street, Whitechapel, said he was the secretary of the Hebrew Dramatic Club, which was formed on the 16th of March last. About a quarter past eleven on the night of the 18th instant, he was in the Committee-room. He heard a noise, and opened the door. He found several members were rushing out of the building. He asked what was the matter, and was told there had been a gas explosion. He tried to force his way into the hall, but was carried right out into the street. He then ran for the police. He received a salary of 1 pound a week. The amateurs received the surplus money. The income of the Club was derived from the members' subscriptions. There were about 550 members. He knew nothing about the rule as to the admittance of strangers having been altered. The tickets they usually employed were for the members to enter the Club. They were also given to the person for whom the benefit was intended, and he distributed them amongst the members. They were afterwards retained and destroyed. The members generally gave a donation to the person distributing the tickets, and he was forbidden to sell them. On entertainment nights each member was allowed to bring with him a visitor. No one would be admitted unless accompanied by a member. Some girls were members of the Club. On the night in question, Rose, the doorkeeper, took the tickets. He did not know who turned the gas off or on again, or who raised the cry of "Fire!"
By the Jury - If a person had not paid his subscription he would not be admitted. He produced the minute-book of the Club. On the 9th December a resolution was passed that the hall should be granted to Mr. Kalinski. That was for a benefit. Witness did not know the name of the gentleman for whom the entertainment was provided.
The Coroner - I suppose this very respectable reduced tradesman has an existence?
Witness - Yes, he has an existence. Witness (continuing) said he was paid by Mr. Smith. Mr. Harris Lewis was the treasurer. Dancing was carried generally on a Wednesday night. Witness was ill when the minutes should have been entered up. The person who had the benefit did not have to pay anything for the use of the hall. There was no printed list of members. He could not say if the whole of the persons present on the 18th January were members. He did not know if the tickets received on the 18th inst. were given to persons who were not members. Great annoyance was at first caused to the Club by Rubenstein.
By Mr. Romain - Witness had been secretary since the formation of the Club. A by-law had been passed stating that no stranger should be admitted on any account. There was a rule that ladies should be admitted as members. Beadles were told off to examine the cards of membership. Rose examined them on the night in question. The names of the present committee were Mr. A. Cohen, 92, High-street, Whitechapel, Mr. A. Abrahams, and other gentlemen.
The architect (recalled) stated the sitting accommodation was as follows: - Body of hall, 474; and gallery, 248. His allowance to each person was at the rate of eighteen inches.
Abraham Grossberger, barman at the Club, said at the time of the panic he was in the bar under the gallery. He heard the alarm given. He heard a cry of "Fire!" and then saw persons rushing out of their seats. The gas was then extinguished. Witness then got out by the exit through the yard, and found no difficulty in getting out that way. The call of "Fire!" came from the gallery opposite the stage.
Constable Seguin stated on the night in question he was on duty in Princes-street. He saw two women come out of the Club, and then heard them screaming. He crossed over, and entered the Club. He saw Mr. Smith, and asked him what was the matter, but he made no reply. The hall was in complete darkness, and the only light was against the street door. There was no light in the bar. He turned his lamp on, and saw a mass of people lying together. People were jumping on them, and others were coming down the stairs. He called to the people to keep back, and told them there was nothing the matter. They took no heed of him, and he then went to the door and blew his whistle. A sergeant and other constables came to his assistance. They entered the passage door, and got into the hall at the back of the people. They then made the people go back, and also removed those who were lying down. The police then made them go out by the yard exit. Some they had to remove by force, and some went quietly. Witness picked up some of the people who were lying dead, and also conveyed some of the living ones into the street.
Sergeant Leonard gave corroborative evidence.
Detective-inspector F. Abberline said when he got to the Club he found a panic was going on. He then ran for Dr. Phillips, and afterwards assisted in clearing the hall. He thought the gas had been turned off for a good motive.
Some further evidence having been given, the inquiry was again adjourned.

Source: The Echo, Friday January 28, 1887, Page 3

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Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"
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