Blue Plaques to tell stories of working class experience

  • English Heritage to mark the site of the Match Girls’ Strike of 1888
  • Hackney ‘sanctuary’ for stranded South and East Asian nannies and nursemaids to receive a blue plaque
  • Self-taught physicist among those commemorated in 2022

Collage of various blue plaques from around London

English Heritage will commemorate the Match Girls’ strike with a blue plaque later this year. The plaque will mark the place in Bow where around 1,400 women walked out of the Bryant and May match factory in 1888 in protest at the dismissal of three co-workers, low pay and dangerous working conditions. Working with white phosphorus, the employees were in danger of developing ‘Phossy jaw’, a disease that could cause catastrophic injuries, disfigurement and even death.
Other English Heritage London blue plaques in 2022 include the Ayahs’ Home for stranded South and East Asian nannies in Hackney; the mathematician Oliver Heaviside; and Dr. John Conolly and the former Hanwell Asylum.

Anna Eavis, Curatorial Director and Secretary of the English Heritage Blue Plaques Panel, said: “Many of the stories we are telling this year are those of London’s working class. Oliver Heaviside, is one example. He left school at 16 and was largely self taught but went on to be a ground-breaking physicist.

“I am particularly excited by the Match Girls’ plaque. This strike, organised by a group of impoverished young women, mostly between 15 and 20 years old, holds such an important place in the history of unionised labour and the women’s movement as a whole.”

In 2022 English Heritage Blue Plaques will be unveiled to, among others:

The Ayahs’ Home (1900-1921): The term ‘ayah’ was applied to the South and East Asian women who served the British as nannies and nursemaids in India and other colonies. The Ayahs’ Home in Hackney provided safety and shelter to the many women who arrived in London with British families only to find that their employers did not honour the promise of a return journey, or offer the means to survive in the interim. The Ayahs, thus abandoned, were often forced into common lodging houses or the workhouse.

Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997): The philosopher, political theorist and historian of ideas, Isaiah Berlin will be commemorated with a blue plaque at his childhood home in Holland Park. He later referred to the time spent in this house as his ‘golden childhood’. Berlin first made his mark with a ground-breaking biographical study of Karl Marx in 1939 and was much in demand as a broadcaster and lecturer around the world. His essay ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ remains one of the most influential and widely-discussed texts in that field: his distinction between positive and negative liberty continues to be a starting-point for theoretical discussions on the meaning and value of political freedom.

Dr. John Conolly and the former Hanwell Asylum (1794-1866), now St Bernard’s Hospital: The Middlesex County Pauper Lunatic Asylum at Hanwell and its resident physician Dr John Conolly will be commemorated with a blue plaque at the site of the former Hanwell Asylum. It was at the Hanwell Asylum that Conolly made his influential contribution to transforming the care of people who were mentally unwell. Conolly was a supporter of the asylum system as a means of care and cure. He was an influential advocate of a system of ‘non-restraint’, which dispensed with the handcuffs, leg irons, and strait jackets that were regularly used in most asylums at that time.

Oliver Heaviside (1850-1925): The physicist, mathematician and electrical engineer who discovered the existence an electrically conductive layer in the upper atmosphere that reflects radio waves (now called the Kennelly-Heaviside layer) is to be commemorated with a blue plaque at his former home in Camden. It was here that Oliver Heaviside continued his own education after leaving school at 16 and where he later worked on his ground-breaking interpretation of Maxwell’s Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. Almost entirely self-taught, his extraordinary achievements in the theory of wired and wireless telecommunciations technology were attained without the benefits of educational or social privilege, and in spite of being having been left almost entirely deaf by scarlet fever suffered in childhood.

Walter Maunder (1851-1928) and Annie Maunder (1868-1947): Astronomers Walter and Annie Maunder will be celebrated with a blue plaque at their former home in Brockley. They are particularly celebrated for their work on the periodic variation of Susnpots, as well as for their pioneering contributions to solar photography and the debunking of the myth that there were canals on Mars. The Maunders were very active in promoting amateur astronomy, and wrote a number of popular guides, including The Heavens and their Story (1908), which came out while they were living in Brockley. It was their avowed aim to make astronomy more accessible to amateur astronomers, and to women in particular.

Match Girls’ Strike (1888): English Heritage will commemorate the famous Match Girls’ Strike of 1888 at the site of the former Bryant and May factory in Bow. The strike, which changed the course of modern British labour history, saw around 1,400 of the predominantly female workforce walk out of the match factory. The women stayed out under considerable hardship and won a resounding victory after three weeks. Almost all of their demands were met. Bryant and May would also go on to recognise the Union of Women Match Makers formed on 27 July 1888, which by the end of the year became the Matchmakers’ Union and admitted both men and women.

National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (Formed in 1897): The NUWSS was the largest of any women’s suffrage campaigning organisation; at its peak, in 1913, it had nearly 500 affiliates and its total membership reached 50,000. The blue plaque will mark their headquarters in Westminster during the crucial eight years leading up to the Representation of the People Act 1918 – the legislation that gave some women the vote. Millicent Garrett Fawcett was congratulated on her role in bringing about the reform at the last NUWSS executive meeting held in these offices.

Fanny Wilkinson (1855-1951): English Heritage will commemorate Britain’s first professional female landscape gardener, Fanny Wilkinson, at her former home in Bloomsbury later this year. She was landscape gardener to the Metropolitan Public Boulevards, Gardens and Playgrounds Association (MPGA), an organisation whose mission was the formation of gardens and playgrounds that would create green ‘lungs’ in the capital. Her legacy is to be found not just in the landscaping of larger parks and many London squares, which she was also responsible for, but in the multitude of small open spaces that were – and still are – to be found throughout London.


The English Heritage London Blue Plaques scheme celebrates the link between significant figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked. All nominations received by English Heritage are judged by the same strict criteria:

• They should be of significant public standing in a London-wide, national or international context; and
• They should be understood to have made some important positive contribution to human welfare or happiness; and
• Their achievements should have made an exceptional impact in terms of public recognition; or
• There shall be strong grounds for believing that they are regarded as eminent and distinguished by a majority of members of their own profession or calling.
• They must have been dead for twenty years,
• They should have lived in London for a significant period, in time or importance, within their life and work,
• The London building in which they lived or worked should still survive and must not have a significantly altered exterior.

The English Heritage London Blue Plaques scheme is generously supported by David Pearl and members of the public.

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