Aldersbrook Community Choir rehearsing for the Matchgirls concert
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East London musicians hold brand new concert remembering Bow’s Matchgirls

Striking Sparks: The Story of the Matchgirls is a musical collaboration between East London Music Group and the Matchgirls Memorial, telling the story of the 1888 Bryant and May Matchgirls’ Strike.

East London Music Group has teamed up with the Matchgirls Memorial to organise a concert about the 1888 Matchgirls Strike on Saturday 1 July. 

Striking Sparks: The Story of the Matchgirls will be performed by five East London intergenerational choirs and the East London Community Band at the People’s Palace on the Queen Mary campus in Mile End. 

East London-born composer, Jonathan Pease, has written a brand new piece of music telling the story of the Matchgirls who worked in the Bryant and May match factory in Bow. 

Playing for one night only, East London Community Band will be joined by Aldersbrook Community Choir, East London Children’s Choir, Poplar Singers, Queen Mary University of London Choir, and Victoria Park Singers.  

Ella Harris, Assistant Producer at East London Music Group, said: ‘The choirs are open to anyone in the community and it’s particularly lovely to see such a mixture of ages. There aren’t many places outside of work where people mix with other generations but music making is a good way to do this.’

According to Harris, finding the right standard of music can often be a barrier for community music groups. The original score and lyrics, composed by Pease, have been written with the ability level of the choirs in mind.

A lot of the musicians come from the very same streets that the Matchgirls marched down.

Ella Harris

The concert on Saturday 1 July falls just one day before the 135th anniversary of the Matchgirls’ strike. It will run for one hour with no interval, telling the story of London’s first successful female-led strike.

Bryant and May match manufacturer was one of the largest factories in East London, employing around 2,000 women and girls in our area. 

Standing up against terrible working conditions, low wages and toxic materials used in the factory, the demands of the Matchgirls were met in only 12 days and their strike became well-known around London. 

‘You can’t ignore the parallels with the current political situation and all of the strikes, but the main aim of the concert is to hold a fun community event where people will come away having learnt something about our East London history,’ said Harris 

‘It’s really inspiring to hear stories of strikes actually working first time, particularly when it was led by working-class women,’ she added: ‘A lot of the musicians come from the very same streets that the Matchgirls marched down.’ 

Last year a blue plaque was unveiled at the site of the former Bryant and May match factory to commemorate the Matchgirls’ strike. Up until 2022, there were no local memorials of the workers, such as street names, murals or most meaningfully, statues of the girls.

The Matchgirl Memorial is campaigning for a Matchgirls statue and for more community events like the upcoming concert to recognise the women’s bravery. 

Tickets for the concert start at £6.13 and can be booked online

For more local heritage about inspiring women from the East End, find our article about Sylvia Pankhurst’s Mother’s Arms

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