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Matchgirl descendant leads heritage walk 130 years after Bryant & May’s strike

PUBLISHED: 07:00 07 July 2018 | UPDATED: 01:09 08 July 2018

Teenage girl workers who led strike at Bryant and May in Bow, July 1888. Picture source: Bishopsgate Institute

Teenage girl workers who led strike at Bryant and May in Bow, July 1888. Picture source: Bishopsgate Institute

Bishopsgate Inst

A descendant of one of the original 1888 matchgirl strike leaders at Bryant & May’s in Bow is leading a heritage walk today to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the famous dispute that changed industrial working conditions for ever.

Working conditions at the Bow factory where dangerous white phosphorous was used in the manufacturing process led to legislation to imnprove industrial conditions in Britain. Picture source: Bishopsgate Institute Working conditions at the Bow factory where dangerous white phosphorous was used in the manufacturing process led to legislation to imnprove industrial conditions in Britain. Picture source: Bishopsgate Institute

Social enthusiasts and students of history are meeting at Trinity Green in the Mile End Road at noon to follow the route the strikers took on their protest march.

Samantha Johnson’s great-grandmother Sarah Chapman was one of the organisers who led the march from the Mile End Road to the Fleet Street office of social reform campaigner Annie Besant.

“My great-grandmother was one of the deputation of three who went into Annie’s office to ask for support,” Samantha said.

“The first strike meeting was on Mile End Waste on July 8 which was followed by meetings with MPs at the Houses of Parliament.”

The strikers at the Fairfield Road factory had grievances over working conditions and safety. They suffered ‘fossy jaw’, a bone degenerative disease caused by working with dangerous white phosphorous—a practice later outlawed by Parliament.

They also had grievances about the poultry pay for long hours and the system of fines docked from their wages for minor “offences” in the workplace which was later also made illegal.

The strike eventually forced Bryant and May to improve pay and conditions which inspired their menfolk who worked in the docks which led to the Great Docks Strike of 1889 that sparked the modern trade union movement.

Speakers at Bridewell Hall following today’s walk include another Matchgirls descendant, Robin Head, as well as University of East London’s Dr Anna Robinson, broadcaster Lemn Sissay, historian Dr Melanie Reynolds, Citizens UK civic network’s founder Neil Jameson, Salvation Army’s Ian Watkins and writer Anne Cooper.

The gathering at Trinity Green, next to Tower Hamlets Mission, starts 12 noon, with the commemorative march ending at 6pm at Bridewell Hall off Fleet Street.

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