In the middle of all that case-solving, women took a really important strike for women.
Enola Holmes, little sister of Sherlock, returns in Enola Holmes 2 with a new case to solve. However, the fictitious mystery of Netflix's detective drama is rooted in historical events, with a true period in the history of women's and labour rights at its centre.
Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) takes on the case of a missing working-class lady whose disappearance may not have reached 221B Baker Street while Sherlock (Henry Cavill) investigates a case of high-flying financial wrongdoing. The disappearance of the working-class lady may not have reached 221B Baker Street. Bessie Chapman, played by Serrana Su-Ling Bliss, enlists her assistance in locating her sister Sarah, played by Hannah Dodd, who is employed at the same match factory as she is on London's South Bank.
In the screenplay by director Harry Bradbeer and writer Jack Thorne, Enola's hunt for answers takes her through the aristocratic classes of Victorian London. Moreover, the case is entwined with a fatal plot afoot in London's ruthless industries, where working-class women were defenceless against selfish male supervisors more concerned with profit than worker safety. Thorne and Bradbeer incorporate a historical figure into their tale at this point; thus, proceed with care if you know anything about this character's past.
Sarah Chapman, who was she?
According to the film, the "first ever industrial action taken by women for women" occurred on July 5, 1888 at the Bryant and May match factory in Bow, London. Sarah Chapman, the missing woman at the centre of the plot of Enola Holmes 2, was a real person and a key organiser of the historic Matchgirls Strike at the factory. The strike occurred on the same day as the film.
According to an article that Chapman's great granddaughter Sam Johnson wrote for the People's History Museum, Chapman was born in East London's Mile End in 1862, and at the age of 19, she started working as a matchmaking machine operator. (Johnson also makes a reference to Dr. Anna Robinson's Master of Arts thesis, which is titled Neither Hidden Nor Condescended To: Overlooking Sarah Chapman.)
unions in England; she created the Matchgirls Strike Committee together with Alice Francis, Mary Cummings, Kate Sclater, Mary Driscoll, Eliza Martin, and Jane Wakeling. Mary Naulls was also a founding member of the committee (more on the actual strike below). An incredible photograph of Chapman with the Union Committee that she was ultimately elected to can be found on the website of the PHM. This picture was taken when she was one of just 10 women out of 500 people who attended the 1888 International Trades Union Congress.
What did the Matchgirl Strike involve?
According to the BBC, women and girls who worked at the Bryant and May match factory in Bow, which is located in East London, were subjected to deplorable working circumstances. This was also the case for a great number of other women and girls who worked at factories that were comparable.These included very long working hours and meagre remuneration, which was further diminished by hefty fines for minor infractions such as tardiness or using the restroom, as well as the requirement to provide their own equipment.
The great disclosure in Enola Holmes 2 reveals, however, that the employees were also exposed to the serious health risks of working with white phosphorus, since it was used to dip the wooden matches. A painful kind of necrosis known as "phossy jaw" was the most notable advancement. The foreman in Enola Holmes 2 incorrectly diagnoses the disease as typhus, which results in the character being turned down for work due to the ailment. According to newspaper articles from the National Archives, plant owners William Bryant and Francis May neglected to disclose many cases of phosphorous poisoning and "deliberately and methodically covered and suppressed" them.
In the meanwhile, Bryant and May were raking in cash. The Matchgirls Memorial, a non-profit organisation working to raise awareness about the strike, claims that on June 15, a meeting was held by the British socialist organisation Fabian Society. During this meeting, a member named Henry Hyde Champion revealed the staggering profits Bryant and May were making while their workers were paid pitifully low wages. Henry Hyde Champion also successfully proposed a boycott of the matches.
Annie Besant, a women's rights campaigner, spoke with employees outside their job to learn about their experiences, and on June 23, 1888, she published an article about factory conditions in The Link newspaper. According to the British Library, Bryant and May attempted to have employees dispute the story, but their request was denied.
The true spark that ignited the campaign, however, was the firing of a manufacturing worker. On July 5, 1888, 1,400 women and girls walked out of their workplaces to protest their firing and general treatment.
What transpired following the strike?
The Matchgirls Strike aroused debate throughout England and led to the expansion of workers' rights and the labour movement. At the conclusion of the video, on-screen text states that the strike "permanently improved their working circumstances."
The Matchgirls Memorial asserts that immediately following the walkout, around two hundred women and girls marched to Annie Besant's office, where they found three ladies: Mary Naulls, Mary Cummings, and Sarah Chapman — talked to her about organising the Matchgirls Strike Committee, which was created on July 8. (three days after the strike). On July 10, Besant led a group of 56 girls and women to the House of Commons to speak with members of parliament.
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A week later, the Strike Committee and London Trades Council met with Bryant and May to negotiate terms, which included the abolition of all fines for workers, the rehiring of all women who had walked out, the company supply of key tools such as paintbrushes and brushes (which had previously been supplied by the workers themselves), and, most importantly, the formation of a union. Since then, the use of white phosphorous in matches has been prohibited, although it took Bryant and May until 1901 to accomplish this.
The event had a profound effect on the British labour movement. Sarah Chapman, Alice Francis, Mary Cummings, Kate Sclater, Mary Driscoll, Eliza Martin, Jane Wakeling, and Mary Naulls from the Matchgirls Strike Committee, Louisa Beck, Julia Gamelton, Ellen Johnson, Eliza Price, and Jane Staines were elected to the Union of Women Matchmakers. (The union would eventually incorporate male employees.) The London Dock Strike occurred a year later after the foundation of a docker's union, which resulted in a wage increase for employees. The strength of these protest activities and the emergence of trade union organisations in Britain contributed to the establishment of the Labour Party in 1900.
On commemorate the strike, a London Heritage blue plaque was affixed to the old Bryant and May match factory on July 5, 2022.
So there you have it. Remember, when you watch Enola Holmes 2, that working women like Sarah Chapman had the fortitude to walk out in protest of their abhorrent working conditions and launch a workers' rights movement that would benefit people in the workplace for centuries.
Enola Holmes 2 is now available to view on Netflix. (opens a new window)