Toynbee Hall and Trade Unions


In the late nineteenth-century two pioneering workers' strikes took place in London’s East End. In 1888 the “Match Stick Girls” at the Bryant and May factory in Bow went on strike. The Dockers Strike followed a year later. Toynbee Hall residents provided important support to both sets of strikers and the Hall quickly became a hub for union activities.

By Dan Scales

The “Matchstick Girls” worked long hours in dangerous conditions. They were also subject to a harsh system of fines for petty transgressions like lateness. Toynbee Hall residents backed up their calls for improved conditions. Led by Annie Besant, the determined strike leaders eventually won concessions from the factory owners. During the Dockers Strike the following year residents organised supplies for the Dockers. Toynbee Hall also became a base for the strike leaders. The strike established an enduring connection between the Dockers and the Settlement.  Toynbee Hall was, in theory, apolitical.  But one resident, Ernest Aves, became the President of the Dockers Union Trafalgar Branch. The Dockers Union and many other union bodies also met here. The connection with Toynbee Hall gave support and credibility to the developing union movement.

To find out more about our support for local strikes and wider union actvities read the full booklet here.



The Barnetts and Dockers at Oxford, circa 1890s