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Alice Francis

by her Grandson, Andrew Regan

My Grandmother, Alice Francis, was born on 27th June 1862 to Thomas Francis, a Shoemaker, and his wife, Sarah Ann (née Lloyd) at 21 Wellington Place in Bethnal Green. Thomas was from Olney in Buckinghamshire and Sarah was born in Romford, so quite how they came to meet, or move to the East End is unclear. Most likely they were drawn to London for work. Whatever, the reason, it was in in the East End that they settled to raise their family, and would stay for the rest of their lives.


At the time Alice was born, she had only one sibling, Rosena, but, by the time she was 9, the family had moved to 2 Crown Terrace in St Leonards Street in Bromley with a further three siblings for Alice, Alfred, Elvina and Frederick.


By 1881, her parents were still in St Leonards Street with just Elvina at home. Whether Alice had moved out to get work or not is unclear but there is an Alice Francis in Deptford St Paul’s aged 18 working as a General Domestic Servant. If this wasn’t her, it is highly likely she would have been working in a similar type of job by this age.


What we do know is that, by the time of the Matchgirls Strike in 1888, Alice, then aged 26, was living back at home with her Mother, by this time a widow, as Thomas had died earlier the same year. They had moved to 19a Jefferson Street, still in Bromley St Leonards.


We know from records of the Strike that Alice was one of the Leaders, as she served on both the Strike Committee and, after they had won, on the newly formed Union Committee. Alice worked in the ‘Wax and Box Stores, and Patent’ area of the Bryant and May factory, as a Patent worker. Without knowing for sure but, guided by the family photograph of her in later life, we believe the famous Union Committee photograph has Alice on the end of the back row, linking arms with, and standing next to, Sarah Chapman. How lovely to think their descendants have made contact with each other 132 years later!


Following the success of the Strike, Alice would stay on at the factory for many years. In 1891, she still lived with her Mother and a previously unheard of older brother, George, who had followed in his father’s footsteps to become a Bootmaker.  


On 11th April 1898, Alice got married to my Grandfather, John Connell, a widower, originally from Cork in Ireland. John moved into the Francis household in Jefferson Street. At the time of their marriage John was listed as a Labourer but by 1911 he was a Night Watchman at the Bryant and May factory and Alice worked there too. Whether she had left to have children and re-joined or had worked there constantly since the Strike, we don’t know. John eventually went on to receive a long service medal for 50 years’ service. You can see the medal in the photograph of him that I found in the paperwork I received after my Mother died.


We cannot find the family in 1901 but by 1911, they lived at 13 Douro Street in Old Ford, which is literally just around the corner from the factory. By this time, they had three children; John, Thomas and Ellen, my Mum! Interestingly, their surname had also changed to O’Connell. This perhaps could have been John’s original name when in Ireland that had got somehow lost when he moved over to England with his family.


Unfortunately, I never knew my Grandmother as she died of stomach cancer on 29th August 1936 in St Andrews Hospital, just 8 months after I was born. At the time of her death, my parents lived across the road at 12 Douro Street.

I would like to say how proud I am of Alice and her part in the Strike. It could not have been easy at all the way women of that time had no rights at all. I only found out about Alice’s link with the Strike when I started to do my Family tree after I retired. I think her genes passed down to me, as nearly all my working life I was a troublesome (to my Management!) member of the Union of Scalemakers. I was also a member of the Council for the  London area and had many a disagreements with my employers about pay and conditions. I also have a Great Uncle, Will Crooks, on my paternal Grandmother’s side who was much like Alice. But that’s another story . . .

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