Bryant & May Matchmakers Strike Register

Scope and Content

Bryant & May Strike Register, 1888, later used as a letter and cuttings book. Strike Register giving details of 263 workers on strike, July 1888 at the Centre, and Top Centre workshops. Show 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 July 1888. Cuttings and miscellaneous section: cuttings on the strike, July 1888; strike and balance sheets 14 and 21 July, 1888; Labour Gazette cutting on the Factory and Workshops Acts (FWA), 1893; Matchmakers' Trade Union balance sheet, August 1888-July 1889; Matchmakers' Union leaflet, 1893, with hand-written notes on 'phossy jaw'; Matchmakers Union strike fund appeal for Bell's factory, Bromley, 1894; cuttings on 'phossy jaw', 1898-1899; FWA notices on lucifer match factories, 1895-1896.

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, Annie 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 6.30am in summer (8.00am in winter) to 6.00pm. 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. The whole side of the face turned green and black, discharging foul-smelling puss and finally death. 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, Annie 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 on 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 such as 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 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 return in triumph. The Bryant & May dispute was the first strike by unorganised 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 phosphorous, the workers were soon producing six millions 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 11 and 12 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 Bryant & May, announced it had stopped using yellow phosphorous.


Single volume

Conditions Governing Access

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

Acquisition Information

Deposited with the TUC at an unknown date.

Other Finding Aids

Fonds level description available only.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Binding of volume in poor condition.

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Alan Kucia as part of RSLP AIM25 Project. Used with the kind permission of the AIM25 project. Amended by Genesis Project Officer, June 2002. The description was submitted to the Archives Hub in 2008 as part of the Genesis 2008 Project.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopying is permitted within the terms of copyright legislation, although copying of some items including fragile material is at the discretion of the librarian.

Custodial History

Fly leaf of the book shows the insignia of The Theosophical Society, with the signature of Herbert Burrows.