THE Southampton family of a women's rights pioneer are fighting to prevent a cemetery building extra plots on her grave and are searching for local descendants of another.

The Matchgirls Strike is regarded as a hugely significant event in labour history.

The Bryant and May Factory was opened in Bow in East London in 1861, where a dangerous white phosphorus was responsible for causing the industrial disease phossy jaw.

Many of the workers in the match factory - mostly young women - developed large abscesses in their mouths that often led to facial disfigurement and sometimes fatal brain damage.

Sarah Dearman, then known as Sarah Chapman, was one of the main organisers of a strike in which 1,400 workers walked out on July 2, 1888.

The action helped raise awareness of the disease and highlighted the poor working conditions the women faced each and every day.

Mrs Dearman became a key member of the Matchmakers Union, formed in the wake of the strike.

She died in 1945, aged 83, and was buried in an unmarked public grave. Members of her family, Graham and Samantha Johnson from Highfield, only found the grave in 2017 and find it now under threat 'mounding'.

This process involves the removal of all old graves, the addition of more soil on top, and the digging of new graves.

A petition with almost 9,000 supporters has been launched by the family and can be found at

Graham and Samantha are part of the charity The Matchgirls Memorial which promotes the history of the strike and helps secure memorials.

The organisation is eager to trace descendants of another one of the strike leaders, Kate Sclater who came from Southampton.

Graham Johnson, trustee at The Matchgirls Memorial said: “We are keen to find descendants of Kate Sclater.

“We are promoting memorials in the East End to all the Matchgirls, and hope we can get a plaque to Kate Sclater in Southampton.”

If you have any information to share, email the charity at or visit their website