At 10.00am on a Friday morning 30 children file into the factory. They’re late…. Very late. The foreman barks the instructions at them – Mr Bryant and Mr May will not be happy if they talk, run, or work at someone else’s job. They must make as many matches as possible and they will be fined if they break any of the rules. Silence descends. The counters count out 20 match sticks, the dippers dip them into the phosphorous, the fillers take them out again, and the packers tie them into small bundles. They earn a mere 3d for each bundle of matches. They don’t make many bundles.
At the PHM the Learning Team faces the challenge of taking complex, challenging subject matter and making it accessible for children and adults of all ages and abilities. Fortunately we have a team of brilliant and talented freelance actors, artists, writers and directors who we work with to bring our stories and collections to life. The 30 children struggling to make matches were just a few of the thousands of learners each year who participate in our popular Living History workshops. They were taking part in our Strike a Light! session and would go on to meet Maggie McCallow, a Victorian match girl involved in the strike of 1888.
125 years ago today a group of female workers at the Bryant and May match factory in London went on strike to demand better working conditions and pay. The white phosphorous used in the production of the matches led to a horrific disease called ‘phossy jaw’, they worked 14 hour days and were fined excessively. Social activist Annie Besant became involved and after three weeks the strike succeeded.
Maggie tells the story better than I do! Come along to our free public performance of Strike a Light! – A Match Girl’s Story tomorrow at 1.15pm to find out more.
If you can’t make the performance, then we have a permanent display dedicated to the Match Girls’ Strike in Main Gallery One. See if you can spot the typo….
Groups can book a performance of Strike a Light! or any of our Living History workshops by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling the Learning Team on 0161 838 9190. For full details see our Learning Programme.
Just in case anyone was about to report us to Health and Safety – our ‘phosphorous’ is actually plasticine!