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Margaret Sheehan

by her Great Great Nephew, Richard Hodgetts

Margaret Sheehan was the first-born child of Irish parents Patrick and Elizabeth Sheehan (née Hastings), on 31 March 1869 at 38 Stepney Causeway, Ratcliff. She was the sister of Annie who was also a striker is featured on this website. Margaret’s father was a London dock worker who struggled to provide for his family of 7 children and had to continually move to less desirable residences as finances fluctuated.

Margaret seems to have been a healthier child than her siblings, who had numerous visits to the Poplar Sick Asylum with at least two dying of common diseases prevalent at the time. In her early teens Margaret and sister Annie joined the Bryant & May workforce together in the Wax department. It is believed that Margaret married Philip McCarthy in 1887, although little is known of him after this time. Interestingly, in 1891, living with her parents Margaret described herself as married but the name she states is Sheehan. History shows that Margaret and Annie used the truth sparingly at times in describing their marital status.

By the time of the strike, the Sheehan family were living in slum housing at Silver Lion Court, which was described as populated by the 'Irish of the lower class'. Margaret’s 14-year-old brother Patrick is also described as a matchbox worker. Prior to the Strike, Margaret received wages of 5/6d and during the strike she received strike pay of 4/0d and 4/6d. She was, with Annie, very active in the strike.


Some years later, on 13 April 1894, the Sussex Agricultural Express was one of several newspapers who covered strike incidents reporting the following incident:

“Two young women, Annie Sheehan, 23, and Margaret Mc’Carthy, 25, matchmakers, lately in the employ of Messrs. Bell and Co, match manufacturers, charged on remand at Thames Police-court on Tuesday, with unlawfully intimidating Emily Cakebread, were committed for trial.  The case arose out of the strike at Messrs. Bell’s works, and the defendants, it was alleged, had threatened to throw the prosecutrix into the Limehouse canal if she attempted to go to Messrs. Bell’s where she was engaged to work.”

They were convicted of 'Wilful Intimidation' but not assault and were let off with a bond. Both girls showed a true Irish spirit of not taking a backward step and displayed a fierce independent nature.

Margaret is next heard of in 1901 when she is stated to be living at Silver Lion Court and the wife of Charles Nolan, although no marriage can be found. Annie (by now Mrs Yates) is living with them, described as a widow although her husband would actually live for many decades. The two sisters have a strong bond and Margaret was present at Annie’s untimely death in 1904. In the following years, Margaret appears to revert to the name of McCarthy and is a char woman, spending many periods in the Poplar Workhouse Her death has not been established but was most likely around the time of WWI.

Both Margaret and Annie had less than comfortable lives but remained fiercely independent and strong in the face of adversity.

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