The match girls and women of Bow in East London took strike action and marched into Trade Union History 125 years ago to the day. They were mainly Irish immigrants. The first Matchgirls Festival celebrates them. The provenance of this inspiring festival is the poem Spark Catchers (commissioned by Sara Weir of ODA) written on a transformer in The Olympic Park where it remains on a structurefor the next 100 years. In 2012 the writer contacted UNITE the union to inform them of the Olympic poem’s subject matter.
This is why The Matchgirl Festival was born, through two workers at UNITE – Catherine Whittaker and Stephen Rowlatt – who wre inspired to action. The Matchgirls factory is next to the olympic site. The call to write the poem was found by the writer in the research of The Matchgirls Factory. The writer found an article in support of the striking women written by Annie Besant over one hundred years ago. At the end of her impassioned piece she said
“Failing a poet to hold up their conduct to the execration of posterity, enshrined in deathless verse, let us strive to touch their consciences, i.e. their pockets, and let us at least avoid being “partakers of their sins”, by abstaining from using their commodities.”
The arts, the olympics, the union, the poetry, the community of past present and future, the workers are united in Spark Catchers. The writer attended Matchgirls The Musical and performed his poem there. The accompanying brochure is classy. It includes everything about the musical and the festival and the union and the matchgirls and the players and the theatre companies and even the poem (by permission) is printed in its entirety: Nothing is spared an explanation except this provenance which is why the writer asked me to record it here..