Game, Set & Match


Spot the irony in this picture… answers on a postcard

Another one of life’s essential is no longer made in the UK. We were recently surprised to find out that the humble household match is no longer produced on these shores. This is a particular tragedy as the the manufacture of this simple product has arguably been one of the most influential in shaping the society in which we now live.

Like many of the best things in life the friction match was invented in Britain by English chemist John Walker, from Stockton-on-Tees in 1827. However, these early products were prone to turning into fireballs and considered so dangerous that they were eventually banned in some countries. It took a Scot, Sir Issac Holden, to go some way to making them somewhat safer. In around 1829 he created the Lucifer match, which went on to be first mass manufactured in the USA but was later produced in the UK.

By the mid- nineteenth century match manufacture became common place in the Britian, most famously by the Bryant and May factory based in Bow, East London. Bryant and May now only exists as a brand name and is currently owned by a Swedish match maker (along with most of the old British brands). However, Bryant and May will always have it’s place in British history due to the London matchgirls strike of 1888. Details of this story are rather grisly – the women working at the factory were prone to developing severe health complications due to their contact with the ingredient white phosphorous. The resulting condition, known as phossy jaw caused disfiguring and painful facial abscesses that literally rotted their lower jaw away (hope you are not eating dinner while reading this).


An artists impression of how we will look this winter.

1,400 went on strike and their success resulted in a enhanced workers rights and was a significant boon for the burgeoning women’s rights movement. Indeed, Massers Bryant and May were, by all accounts, rather unsavoury and despicable employers but the story does emphasise the role that manufacturing, good or bad, has had in shaping Britain.

Forward 150 years and a normal British family no longer has a simple means to produce fire and will be scrabbling around their back garden for two bits of flint to knock together to light their fire this winter.

The last bastion of British match manufacture, and our potential saviour from 50,000 years of regression, is Octavius Hunt from Britsol, founded in 1870, who still make a wind and waterproof matches suitable for camping and other outdoor pursuits.


  1. Rosa Garrett says

    So where can you buy them?

  2. Lizzie Baker says

    In camping and outdoor shops Rosa.

  3. Another sell out of England’s Glory!!! How sad 🙁
    Buy Octavius Hunt… if you can find them!

  4. Cecilia says

    An alternative to matches is a fire steel or fire piston. Pricier than matches but longer lasting & safer around kids. You can even make your own if you’ve got a piece of old high-carbon steel lying around.

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