Grave of matchgirls' pioneer at risk of vanishing under plans for new burial space, family claim

Telegraph reporters
Sarah Dearman played a leading role in the 1888 matchgirls' strike - PA

The grave of a women's rights campaigner who played a leading role in the Victorian matchgirls' strike is at risk of being flattened to make way for new burial plots, her family has claimed.

Sarah Dearman, nee Chapman, has been described as a "trade union heroine" for her involvement in a move to spearhead industrial action on behalf of women and teenage girls more than 130 years ago.

On July 5 1888 around 1,400 workers marched out of the Bryant and May factory in Bow, east London, due to growing unrest over wages and working conditions.

Twelve days later a series of demands including for the women to be reinstated were agreed by the directors.

Ms Dearman was elected as one of 12 women to make up the Union of Women Match Makers, which was set up following the strike.

She has gone down in history as a women's rights pioneer, but her descendants now say her legacy has come under threat amid concerns her final resting place faces being flattened by bulldozers.

The grave was rediscovered by family members in 2017 - PA

Ms Dearman's great-granddaughter Sam Johnson said her ancestor's grave at Manor Park Cemetery is under threat of being levelled to make way for other plots.

This is despite the plans of Ms Dearman's family to create a proper headstone for the grave, which is currently marked by a simple wooden cross.

Ms Dearman was buried in a public grave in 1945, and it was not marked by the family until 2017 when her family carried out research.

Ms Johnson said: "On a personal level, it is obviously very important to me because of what she did, I'm so proud of what she stood for.

"But on a social level, it is important we do not forget what the matchgirls achieved, their bravery and their courage, things that resonate today.

"If we just lose the grave, we are losing part of our history and our heritage."

A cemetery spokesman said: "Sarah's grave will not disappear.

"An entry has been placed in the book of remembrance by the family, the company is currently maintaining the grave until the area is reclaimed.

"We feel Manor Park Cemetery, its directors and management have acted in a wholly reasonable and sensitive fashion to Mrs Johnson's situation.

An online petition to justice secretary Robert Buckland to preserve Ms Dearman's grave has attracted more than 7,000 signatures in support.