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Bryant & May Matchworkers Strike Register

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 1924 Matchmakers Union
Held at: Trades Union Congress (TUC) Library Collections at London Metropolitan University
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Full title: Bryant & May Matchworkers Strike Register
Date(s): 1888-1899
Level of description: Collection (Fonds)
Extent: 1 volume
Name of creator(s): Matchmakers' Trade Union
Burrows | Herbert | fl 1888-1899 | Secretary of the Matchmakers' Trade Union


Administrative/Biographical history:

In June 1888, Clementina Black gave a speech on Female Labour at a Fabian Society meeting in London. Annie Besant, a member of the audience, was horrified when she heard about the pay and conditions of the women working at the Bryant & May match factory.

The next day, Besant went and interviewed some of the people who worked at Bryant & May. She discovered that the women worked fourteen hours a day for a wage of less than five shillings a week. However, they did not always receive their full wage because of a system of fines, ranging from three pence to one shilling, imposed by the Bryant & May management. Offences included talking, dropping matches or going to the toilet without permission. The women worked from 6.30 am in summer (8.00 in winter) to 6.00 pm. If workers were late, they were fined a half-day's pay.

Annie Besant also discovered that the health of the women had been severely affected by the phosphorous that they used to make the matches. This caused yellowing of the skin and hair loss and 'phossy jaw', a form of bone cancer. Although phosphorous was banned in Sweden and the USA, the British government had refused to follow their example, arguing that it would be a restraint of free trade.

On 23rd June 1888, Besant wrote an article in her newspaper, The Link. The article, entitled White Slavery in London, complained about the way the women at Bryant & May were being treated. The company reacted by attempting to force their workers to sign a statement that they were happy with their working conditions. When a group of women refused to sign, the organisers of the group were sacked. The response was immediate - 1400 of the women at Bryant & May went on strike.

William Stead, the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, Henry Hyde Champion of the Labour Elector and Catharine Booth of the Salvation Army joined Besant in her campaign for better working conditions in the factory. So also did Sydney Oliver, Stewart Headlam, Hubert Bland, Graham Wallas and George Bernard Shaw. However, other newspapers, including The Times, blamed Besant and other socialist agitators for the dispute.

Besant, Stead and Champion used their newspapers to call for a boycott of Bryant & May matches. The women at the company also decided to form a Matchmakers' Union and Besant agreed to become its leader. After three weeks the company announced that it was willing to re-employ the dismissed women and would also bring an end to the fines system. The women accepted the terms and returned in triumph. The Bryant & May dispute was the first strike by unorganized workers to gain national publicity. It also helped to inspire the formation of unions all over the Country.

Annie Besant, William Stead, Catharine Booth, William Booth and Henry Hyde Champion continued to campaign against the use of yellow phosphorous. In 1891 the Salvation Army opened its own match-factory in Old Ford, East London. Only using harmless red phosphorus, the workers were soon producing six million boxes a year. Whereas Bryant & May paid their workers just over twopence a gross, the Salvation Army paid their employees twice this amount. William Booth organised conducted tours for MPs and journalists round this 'model' factory. He also took them to the homes of those "sweated workers" who were working eleven and twelve hours a day producing matches for companies like Bryant & May.The bad publicity that the company received forced the company to reconsider its policy. In 1901, Gilbert Bartholomew, managing director of Bryant & May, announced it had stopped used yellow phosphorus.


Scope and content/abstract:

Bryant and May Strike Register, 1888, later used as a letter and cuttings book.
Strike Register giving details of 263 workers on strike, Jul 1888, at the Centre, and Top Centre workshops - showing address, marital status, occupation, rate of pay, and dependents, boy workers are indicated; details of 186 workers at the Victoria factory and 264 workers at the Wax and Box Stores and Patents; Payments register for Victoria, Wax and Box, Centre and Top Centre, showing strike pay allotted and amounts actually paid out to each striker on 14 and 21 Jul 1888.
Cuttings and miscellaneous section: cuttings on the strike, Jul 1888; strike fund balance sheets, 14 and 21 Jul 1888; Labour Gazette cutting on the Factory and Workshops Acts (FWA), 1893; Matchmakers' Trade Union balance sheet, Aug 1888 - July 1889; Matchmakers' Union leaflet, 1893, with hand-written notes on 'phossy-jaw'; correspondence and papers on strike at Bell's Match Factory, Bromley-by-Bow, London, 1893-1894, including correspondence between Herbert Burrows, and the Managing Director, Charles Bell, on pay and conditions, parliamentary question (with reply) by J A Murray McDonald MP for Bow and Bromley, on the use of police at the factory, and Matchmakers Union strike fund appeal; cuttings on 'phossy-jaw', 1898-1899; FWA notices on lucifer match factories, 1895-1896;

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Single volume

Conditions governing access:

Open to bona fide researchers at the discretion of the TUC Librarian.

Conditions governing reproduction:

At the discretion of the TUC Librarian and subject to copyright conditions.

Finding aids:

List (1998), copy at the National Register of Archives.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Fly leaf of the book shows the insignia of the Theosophical Society, with the signature of Herbert Burrows, secretary of the Matchmakers Union.

Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers were transferred to the TUC Library Collections in the University of North London by the TUC in 1998.

Allied Materials

Related material:

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled by Alan Kucia as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Mar 2002

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