The Bow Quarter Plaque . . . . Or is it Not the Plaque, That is the Question!

Updated: Nov 10, 2020


Thanks to Alan Cock’s daughter, Sybil, who we, The Matchgirls Memorial, met while exhibiting at the TUC Women’s Conference in March 2020. She kindly shared her archives with us and gave permission to use them. Thanks also to all those who have cast their minds back and shared their memories with me. It is a privilege to have been able to make this story public.

Current plaque (photograph Alan Patient

The Blue Plaque on the wall at Bow Quarter, the old Bryant and May factory, is well known locally but, how did it get there? The plaque is clearly dedicated to Annie Besant and states that she ‘led’ the Strike. While it is undoubtedly the case that Annie was a positive force in the successful outcome of the Strike, she was not an advocate of strike action and preferred to implement change with social reform.

Today, the Bow Quarter residents have applied for an English Heritage Blue Plaque to commemorate the Matchgirls and the 1888 Strike.

It’s likely that many people, seeing that the present plaque is blue, assume it was given by English Heritage. But it wasn’t. There is another plausible story - that it was put up by the company that developed the old factory into flats in 1988, perhaps to mark the 100th anniversary of the Strike and to give their Bow Quarter historical gravitas. This would have fitted their philosophy. As Patrick Wright says, the sales line of the developers went: 'Parisians have the Latin Quarter, New Yorkers have Greenwich Village, now in East London, a stone's throw from the City, there's a new Quarter… “ [1]. However, neither of these are true.

So, how did it really get there?

It’s all down to Bow Quarter resident and retired academic, Alan Cock, then living at 2d Moreland Cottages, located near the main entrance. In January 1997, with the support of “several local residents”, he started a campaign for a “fitting memorial to the Match Girl’s Strike”, and he adds “Annie’s crucial role in it”. No doubt he had the forthcoming 110th anniversary in mind.

Alan Cock

The East London Advertiser carried an article on 2nd January.