© 2019 West Midlands Police Heritage Project

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PC John Ballance

On the 5th May, 1855, PC John Ballance was on duty at the Midland Counties Concert Hall. The Hall consisted of ground floor with a horse-shoe shaped gallery above. There was only one narrow staircase up to the gallery, where about 400 people were seated. One patron in the gallery spotted smoke coming up between the floorboards and a shout of “Fire!” was raised. Immediately there was a stampede for the stair, where PC Balance was trying to organise an orderly evacuation. Unfortunately he was forced over backwards into the heaving mob already on the stairs and was one of three fatalities. On investigation, it was discovered that the smoke had come from smouldering sawdust under the flooring. There was also a leaking gas pipe present, so that if the sawdust had ignited, there would have been an explosion and much greater loss of life. The death of PC Balance increased calls for the Watch Committee to look into providing a pension fund “for a body of men who are exposed to hazards peculiar to their calling”. The manager of the Concert Hall covered the funeral costs for the deceased, and PC Balance’s funeral was attended by 200 members of the force.