The Brunswick Theatre disaster

The Brunswick Theatre disaster

I come from a long line of hoarders. We hate throwing things away, and have done since at least 1828.

Sometimes that causes problems – like when you want to move house, or find something, or move freely around the room. (I exaggerate…but only a little…)

Sometimes, though, it’s wonderful. Like when you find letters from your great-great-great grandfather to his wife and kids.

Click to enlarge image

To be clear, I didn’t exactly ‘find’ the letters. My dad acquired them after his dad died. They’re beautifully written, but very hard to read, so Dad typed them up, and added lots more information about our family history. For the most part, they’re little more than an interesting snapshot into family life at the beginning of the 19th century (when George IV was still on the throne – I’d never twigged that before!). But in the letter dated 28 February 1828, Robert Pollock wrote to tell his wife Christian about the collapse of a theatre close to where he worked in what is now Shadwell.

Robert was a blacksmith, working on building St Katherine’s Docks. He and a number of his colleagues were called to the disaster, to help dig for survivors – and to retrieve the dead bodies – from the rubble.

I’ve always loved the sense of my family history touching London’s history, and this week I got the opportunity to write about it for my favourite Londony website –

Click here to read the full account, with quotes from this report by Charles Dickens, written about 40 years later.

It was while looking for evidence of the theatre a few years ago that I stumbled upon Wilton’s Music Hall round the corner – so that’s two things to thank my ancestor for – a cool writing opportunity and an amazing venue to visit. Thanks, Robert! And thanks to everyone down the years who has restrained themselves from throwing the letters away!

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