New council homes signal landmark moment in Tower Hamlets' rich history

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The great granddaughters, and a great great granddaughter of Sarah Chapman, an East End woman who was one of the leaders of the Matchgirls’ Strike of 1888, officially opened nine new council homes named in her honour.

Sarah Chapman House in Mile End is now complete and ready for residents to move in. The building on the corner of Arbery Road and Strahan Road was opened by great granddaughters Sam Johnson, Carol Watts, Linda Pollard and great great granddaughter Laura Watts, and the Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman. Ken Dearman, 85, Sarah's grandson, who knew her when he was a boy, sadly could not attend the ceremony, but sent a message saying how proud he was of his grandmother's role in the Strike.

Sarah Chapman was born in Mile End in 1862 and worked at the Bryant & May match factory in Bow. She was a member of the Strike Committee that negotiated with the directors of the factory over poor conditions, low pay and the use of white phosphorus, which caused serious health complications.

The Matchgirls Strike was a landmark moment for working rights and later social commentator, Henry Snell, described it as “one of the most important events in the history of labour organisation in any country”.

Following the strike’s success, Sarah was elected President of the new Union of Women Matchmakers and represented them at TUC Congress meetings in London and Liverpool.

Sam and Graham Johnson, Founding Trustees of The Matchgirls Memorial, said: "Our aim is to ensure that the success of the 1888 Matchgirls Strike is memorialised in the East End, so we are delighted that Sarah Chapman is remembered in this social housing initiative.”

Sam added: “As a descendant of Sarah’s, I am particularly proud. We hope to follow this with more naming, plaques, and in particular, a statue. A heritage trail will emerge.”

The pair said: “The Matchgirls success led to ‘New Unionism’ and no doubt influenced the dockers and their 1889 strike. There were even strikes by school children demanding shorter hours, more holidays and no cane!”

Sarah Chapman House has nine homes, which are a mix of 1, 2 and 3-bedroom properties, all with an external balcony. It has been built on the site of an old council housing office.

Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman, said: “We have made a commitment to deliver 4,000 genuinely affordable homes in four years and this is another step towards us achieving that target."

“Tower Hamlets has a rich and radical history, and it is fantastic to be able to connect these new homes with such an important part of the borough’s past.”

Posted on Friday 1st March 2024