Bryant and May matchgirls' strike June/July 1888

Many of those who did history at secondary school in New Zealand in the 1970s will recall learning about the Bryant and May matchgirl strike and the part that Annie Besant played in this. 

Not only did those working in the factory strike but they were also supported by many of the outworkers who made the matchboxes and is recognised as the first strike by unorganised workers to gain national publicity and was a key to the founding of unions nationwide.

In late June / early July 1888, some 1400 workers from the Bryant and May match factory in the East End of London went on strike against their working conditions and unfair practices imposed on them by the management.  The strike lasted a little over two weeks but during that time the girls came to the notice of the national press and as a consequence some very public and powerful people.  Some supported the girls in their attempts while others were equally loud in their opposition.

Unfortunately, few records about those who participated in the strike survive.  However, a strike fund was set up to assist the strikers and a register kept recording payments to the women.  The details in this register form a database of 714 names and can be viewed on FindMyPast UK website (available free of charge in Auckland Libraries), in the database Matchworkers Strike, Bow, 1888. 

Details given on the database are:- name, address, occupation, wages, how much paid by the strike fund, marital status and who they lived with. 

The register represents only about 50% of those involved in the strike but what a find if one is an ancestor as these women have otherwise faded from history as individuals participating in a major event in British history.

If you want to know more about the strike, read:


Articles were published in newspapers at the time and some can be viewed through the Digital Library on the libraries’ website – particularly the Times and Guardian and Observer.


Procession of matchworkers to Westminster July 1888
(held by TUC Library collections, London Metropolitan University)

Marie Hickey

This entry was posted on Tuesday, 16 October 2012 and is filed under ,,,,,,,,. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

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