British women trade unionists on strike at Bryant & May, 1888

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Bryant & May Matchwomen's Strike, 1888

Bryant & May Matchwomen's Strike, 1888

Using Bryant & May's own material, combined with contemporary accounts in personal journals and diaries as well as newspapers, it was possible to reconstruct the events of the strike in detail, and show its seminal importance to a new wave of trades unionism
Louise RawHistorian and author of 'Striking a Light'.

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Trade union history isn't just about men, learn about Irish women trade unionists

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These Women went on strike at Bryant and May in 1888, just before the start of the New Unionism movement. These papers cover both the business and the strike itself. The early papers cover the partnership, May’s personal history and buying the factory where the strike took place. Items on the heyday include staff photographs and more personal information on the directors. Press cuttings on the strike are joined by the managing director’s letters. Papers on the aftermath include debates on the disease which destroyed the jaws of Bryant and May employees. Read these papers and judge whether this mainly female workforce started New Unionism with their strike.


British women trade unionists on strike at Bryant & May, 1888...

Containing 4,926 pages belonging to 39 documents housed in 6 volumes...

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Early years

Bryant & May grew from modest roots. The founders, William Bryant and Francis May, worked variously as soap and tea...


In 1884 Bryant and May became a public company which was to expand greatly during the remainder of the nineteenth...

The strike

Bryant & May continued to prosper into 1887: the Bryant sons had renounced the Quaker religion, perceived as a serious...


Despite the company relenting to worker demands in 1888, its label as 'the Phossy Jaw firm' continued to prevail. Ten...


  • These records provide a rare insight into the industrial practices and attitudes of the 19th century. Papers on the 'sweating system' cover a range of businesses and industries.
  • Coverage of the strike includes shareholders' reactions to claims made by Wilberforce Bryant as well as reactions to the strike by journalists and politicians.
  • Charles Dickens' journal Household Words features within papers from the early years of Bryant & May. The volume from May in 1852 includes a description of the damage done by phosphorus necrosis.
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