diamond geezer

 Sunday, November 10, 2002

Strike a light

Things to do during another 4-hour power cut on a wet Sunday afternoon: surf the internet, write blog, watch video, watch television, listen to music, have hot bath, cook lunch, talk to neighbours for the first time this year, go shopping, give up.

I live within sight of the old Bryant and May match factory, site of the great matchgirl strike of 1888. The factory employed some 1,400 workers, mainly young women under the age of 15. They worked in appalling conditions for up to 13 hours a day and many suffered through handling the poisonous phosphorous used in match production. When journalist Annie Besant exposed the conditions in the factory, the management sacked three women simply for talking to her. The matchgirls then all walked out on strike, launching a golden age of Victorian trade union unrest.

That old match factory is now Bow Quarter, a rather posh development of titchy flats complete with sauna, gym, swimming pool and very high security fence. The inhabitants now all earn consideably more than a shilling a week, although I doubt if even half of them are members of trade unions.

I've spent much of this afternoon stumbling around my flat in the dark with a box of Bryant and May matches, lighting candles and igniting the gas on the cooker to brew a cup of tea. I could see the old match factory gently twinkling in the distance, a reminder that the Victorian conditions I was experiencing were nothing compared to the real thing, just a few hundred yards away.

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