The Match Girls

Everyone knows the beginning of the age of industrialization in England was not pleasant. As more and more factories grew, people who lived in the countryside chose or were forced to move into towns for better-paid work.

People looking for work crowded into cities, which then became cesspools of disease and pollution.

Match makers

Matchstick making was incredibly popular in 19th century England, with hundreds of factories spread across the country. For 12 to 16 hours a day, workers dipped treated wood into a concoction of phosphorus before drying and cutting the sticks into matches. This was a particularly dirty job done mostly by women and children. It actually made them glow in the dark and it contributed to “phossy jaw” a disease as gross as it sounds – necrosis of the jaw bone caused by phosphorus poisoning.

I have been fascinated by the work of women and children in Victorian times, particularly in London as my ancestors lived in and around the sad streets of the east end. And today I found this in my mailbox – It’s worth reading.

But in case you don’t have the time, Samantha Johnson’s Grandmother was one of the matchgirls who went on strike for better working conditions in July 1888. ” Ultimately, 1400 girls and women marched out of the factory, en masse, on that fateful day of 5th July 1888. ” Bryant and May, the employers, accepted all their demands and apparently, working conditions were greatly improved.

I wonder how many other unsung women heroes there are.

And apologies for being MIA for so long. I will try hard to do better.



14 responses to “The Match Girls

  1. Great to see you here. Hope all is well. A great story of how a few can make a difference.


  2. I was just thinking about you…and happily, here you are! Thanks for sharing some interesting history.


  3. Judith, you say that people who lived in the countryside chose or were forced to move into towns for better-paid work. So I wonder, how much they were being paid for doing work on the land?!
    It is very interesting Judith, to speculate on conditions during the industrial revolution. Then as now only the people with assets, like for instance land owners, were doing well. The poor people were dreadfully underpaid. I think this happens more and more again now.


    • Yes, Uta, nothing really changes and all around the world, even in our two countries, the gap between the haves and the havenots is ever widening. I hope you are both well.


  4. I was so pleased to see your post. I missed you! I knew nothing about making matchsticks, so this was informative, as well.


  5. Interesting. A friend of mine wrote an historical novel about a strike in a corset factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1912. It’s coming out in the next year as The House on Lowell Street by Deep River Books. Those women and girls working in that factory endured awful working conditions. And I thought it was bad to have to work two weekends out of three as a young nurse in the 1960s! History helps us see our lives in perspective.


  6. My mind reacts to those awful working conditions. We think it was mostly women and children but unfortunately, it was not so. Many men worked intolerably hard and long hours for meagre pay. Thankfully, we have moved on but in other parts of the world condions are still very bad.


  7. Great post. I’d never heard of phosphorus poisoning. The link you shared didn’t work, so you might try to find a different source online for the article. I’d like to read it if you do. Cheers from Vermont.


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