Saturday 7 November 2015

Bow Quarter, Fairfield Road E3

Noah's Ark was the symbol of Bryant and May's safety matches, for a hundred years the best-selling match in Britain. Their factory in Bow started production in the 1850s and was soon producing more than two million matches a year.
The aim of the Quaker founders and the Swedish engineers who advised on production was to build a model factory with good working conditions and proper precautions to mitigate the effects of phosphorus on the workers (the infamous 'phossy jaw'). Eventually, however, simply being better than the alternative (making matches at home on piece work rates with no safety precautions at all) was no longer acceptable and in 1888 Annie Besant organised the famous match girls' strike, the success of which led to better conditions for all workers.
The factory closed in 1979 and was converted into a gated community.
Noah's Ark is above the gate of a charming redbrick cottage built as an office for the company directors.
A bay window overlooks the entrance gates so the management could keep an eye on latecomers. Below the windows are terracotta high reliefs of a tiger burning bright and a torch remaining alight despite being inverted. The slogan is Ex Luce Lucellum - A Profit from Light. The reference is to a a couple of lines from a poem in Latin that I have been unable to source: "Lucifer aggrediens ex luce haurire lucellum/ Incidit in tenebras; lex nova fumus erat.” (Lucifer approaches to draw a glint of light/ Falls into darkness; The new law was smoke).
The tag was originally applied to the 18th century window tax and was revived in a parliamentary debate about a proposed tax on the old Lucifer matches that Bryant and May hoped to make obsolete.
On the other side of the gate, the clock is flanked by coats of arms in stone, one displaying a lighthouse and a ship, another Bryant and May trade mark. It is repeated in the spandrel of the window above.

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