Call to save grave of women’s union pioneer from bulldozers

The family of a women’s rights pioneer are fighting to save her grave from bulldozers amid concerns her final resting place will be flattened.

Sarah Dearman – nee Chapman – wrote her name into the history books due to her role in leading the 1888 matchgirls’ strike over pay and conditions at the Bryant and May factory in Bow, east London.

But her family say her humble grave at nearby Manor Park Cemetery – which they only discovered existed in the last few years – 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.

Sarah Dearman, with husband Charles, a leader of the 1888 Matchgirls' strike over pay and conditions, at the Bryant and May factory in Bow, east London
Sarah Dearman, with husband Charles, a leader of the 1888 matchgirls’ strike over pay and conditions, at the Bryant and May factory in Bow, east London (Family handout/PA)

Sam Johnson, Ms Dearman’s great-granddaughter, has now launched a petition to have the grave preserved.

She told the PA news agency: “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.”

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.

Public grave at Manor Park Cemetery where Sarah Dearman was buried in 1945
Public grave at Manor Park Cemetery where Sarah Dearman was buried in 1945 (Family handout/PA)

A cemetery spokesman said: “The company has already offered Mrs Johnson an assurance that, on reclamation, she would be offered first refusal to purchase a lease of the new grave space above Sarah Dearman’s existing grave where a proposed newly commissioned headstone could be positioned enabling all who wish to visit to do so.

“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.

“Finally, we are delighted that the Civilian War Memorial has been renovated by Newham Council and now provides a historical memorial to the residents who lost their lives in the East Ham bombing.”

To sign the petition, visit www.change.org/p/minister-of-justice-save-sarah-chapman-s-grave-a-leader-of-the-1888-matchgirls-strike-trade-union-heroine

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