On Saturday 24th April 2021 The Matchgirls Memorial will be marking 150 years since the Match Tax Protest of 1871. Bryant and May workers along with the owners of the factory in Fairfield Road Bow, protested against a halfpenny sales tax per box of matches proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. 3,000 match workers attended a protest meeting on 23rd April 1871 in Victoria Park. On that day Queen Victoria wrote to the prime minister, William Gladstone, objecting to the tax. On 24th a protest march to Parliament was turned rowdy by police harassment. The government to backed down.
On the side of the gatehouse in Fairfield Road (my photos here) there is the inscription EX LUCE LUCELLUM. It means “out of light a little profit” which was to be the motto on the tax stamp stuck to each box of matches. You can see it if you look through the gates.
To mark the 150th anniversary of the March Tax Protest the organisers are asking people to take a selfie holding a lighted match, and post it on social media (afternoon of 24th) using the hashtag #STARTSWITHASPARK
Back in 1852 Charles Dickens wrote about the risks of phossy jaw (bone cancer) caused by white phosphorus. It wasn’t until 1901 that Bryant and May stopped using it.
The famous Matchgirls strike of 1888 was caused by appalling working conditions: 12-14 hour shifts six days a week, fines from low wages for talking or having an untidy workbench, and physical abuse from the foreman.
The Matchgirls memorial are raising money to honour the Matchgirls with a statue.
The Tombland Bookshop in Norwich have published a great article called The Days’ Doings May 6th 1871 about the tax on matches.