Match making was a big industry before the cigarette lighter became widespread. Two gentlemen, Francis May and William Bryant, began importing the new Swedish safety match in 1850 and started making their own matches at the Fairfield Works in 1861.
The Bryant & May site developed into a ‘model factory’ meaning that it was considered the best design for the work it carried out.
Bryant & May's were not considered model employers in 1888, however, when the reputation of the company was shaken by the 'Matchgirls Strike'. This action by the poorest and lowest paid members of London's workforce uncovered scandalous working conditions and unfair employment practices.
By the early 20th century the company had a better attitude, and was one of the first to introduce a staff pension plan. The Fairfield Works closed in 1979.