15. The poor residents of the slum were by no means idle and they tried everything to try and earn some money.
Throughout the Victorian era, puritan middle and upper-class men and women would routinely dismiss the people living in London’s slums and lazy and feckless. This could not have been further from the truth. While there certainly were many work-shy people living in poverty, there were also plenty of people working hard, just trying to get by. In the slums of the 19th century, children were expected to start work as early as the age of 7. And when a girl turned 13, she would be abler to try and find work at one of the East End’s biggest employers – the Bryant & May matchworks.
In the late-19th century, thousands of women and young girls worked in match factories, most of them travelling to work everyday from the slums. Most worked 14-hour shifts, with their pay docked for breaks, including toilet trips. The work was hard and, due to the presence of toxic white phosphorous, dangerous. What’s more, the pay was terrible, with the factory owners imposing almost slave-like conditions on their workforce. Finally, in July 1888, the Bryant & May workers had had enough. Girls as young as 13 went on strike, without any proper support. The tactic eventually worked and the matchgirls are credited as pioneers in workers’ rights in Britain.