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Slater becomes Sclater, and what's the Link between the Matchgirls Strike and Ornithology?

Updated: Sep 5

Early in the Matchgirls Strike, at the suggestion of Harry Hobart, a Social Democrat Federation activist, a Strike Register was created to record details of the Matchgirls and the payments made. It shows a K Slater, single and living with parents at 266 St Leonards Road, Bromley St Leonards.

Strike Fund Register (Centre and Top Centre of the Factory) - Courtesy of TUC Library Collections
Strike Fund Register (Centre and Top Centre of the Factory) - Courtesy of TUC Library Collections

Both the Strike, and Union Committees have Kate Slater recorded as a member.

Extract from 'The Link' 21st July 1888 © British Library
Extract from 'The Link' 4th August 1888 © British Library

Before the Strike, Kate is recorded in the 1881 Census as living with her parents William and Ellen, plus five siblings, at 24 Hawthorne Buildings, Bromley St Leonards. This time the surname is Sclater with a ‘c’.


Kate Sclater married George Godby Furnell in 1889 at St Michaels and All Angels, Bromley.

St Michael's and All Angels Church Bromley

In 1891, some three years after getting married, they had their first child, Martha, and were living at 266 St Leonards Road with Kate’s parents. Furthermore, in 1901, they were still living there with their own six children and Kate’s parents. All of them were STILL there in 1911. Kate Sclater was to stay at that address at least until 1939.

St Michael's and All Angels Church (ringed) with St Leonards Road leading up to and along the Limehouse Cut

Kate’s husband died in 1935, and by 1939 Kate was living at 266 St Leonards Road with just her 46 year old daughter, Kate Ellen, who was registered as ‘incapacitated’. Kate died in Ilford, 1950 aged 86. Her daughter Kate Ellen survived until 1986.



So, Kate 'Slater' was actually Kate Sclater. It appears to have been a wrongly recorded when the Strike Register was drawn up, and the name was perpetuated in various publications.


But what of Kate Sclater’s early history?


Kate’s roots are far from the crowded slums of East London. In fact, her ancestors were from Hampshire and Devon. Kate’s father, William Sclater, was born in Exeter but, in 1859, married Ellen Jane Blake who was born in Southampton, to Hampshire parents.


In 1861 they lived with Ellen’s widowed mother, Jane Blake, at 29 Houndwell Gardens, St Mary’s, Southampton. Her father was a shoemaker, which had been his trade in Exeter.



Kate was born 1863 in Charlotte Street, Southampton. By 1871 they were at 26 Dock Street, Southampton. Her father had now become a ships fireman and her mother an upholsterer.

Kate and her family

Southampton 1871: Houndwell Gardens (top left), Charlotte Street (bottom left) and Dock Street (right)

moved to London between May 1873 when her brother, Alfred, had been baptised in Southampton, and October 1874, the birth in Bromley of another brother, James Joseph. William continued to be a ships stoker. In 1881 Kate, her mother and sister were machinists – possibly all at the Bryant and May factory?


Then came the 1888 Matchgirls Strike but that’s another story!


Final food for thought . . .


When Robert Mitchell wrote his 1940 play ‘The Match Girls’, his research included speaking to survivors of the Strike, so it is possible that Kate Sclater was the inspiration for his lead character, Kate. Unfortunately, most of his papers were lost in the WWII blitz.



Kate appears to have influenced literature in another way. In his ‘Story of Unity Theatre’, Professor Colin Chambers reports that Robert Mitchell asked Fabian, political activist and playwright, George Bernard Shaw, to review his script. He liked it - even adding a scene involving himself – but he went on to model his Pygmalion’s Eliza Doolittle on Kate.

1948 Programme Cover © New Theatre Sydney

EastEnders fans may remember a character called Kat Slater. I’ve spoken to the Producers and, unfortunately, the character was not named after our Kate!


Our hope is to trace Furnell and Sclater descendants, so please get in touch if you have any information on them.


We will, of course, explore the family connections with our home town, Southampton. One sad connection is the Titanic. W T Stead, Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, would have known of Kate. In 1912 he headed to America from Southampton on the Titanic but didn’t survive.


We wonder what the true East End people made of the West Country/Hampshire accents of Kate and her family!


SO WHAT’S THAT LINK?

It’s ‘Sclater’. There’s a road in Shoreditch called Sclater Street. At it’s junction with Brick Lane, there is a plaque that says ‘Sclater Street 1798’.

It is thought that the French Huguenots introduced the custom of keeping canaries and singing birds. Sclater Street became London’s foremost bird market. In 1894 Montagu Williams wrote, ”Here was to be seen the East End bird-fancier in all his glory . . . . birds of every description dear to the fancy - linnets, mules, canaries, chaffinches, bullfinches, starlings, and furriners.”



The final connection is Philip Lutley Sclater, who, like one side of Kate’s family, lived in Hampshire. Philip was an expert ornithologist, who gave his collection to the British Museum in 1886.



So there it is. West Country, Hampshire, Matchgirls Strike, birds - all with SCLATER connections. What else could the Matchgirls story reveal?

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