Arlington Archway clock and Lexington WatertowerFrom the mid 19th century to more than three-quarters of the way through the 20th century the Bow Quarter was the site of the famous Bryant and May match-making operation. At one point, at the turn of the century, it was London's largest factory.

The seven acre site acquired by William Bryant and Francis May in 1861 had previously been used for the manufacture of candles, crinoline and rope, but had fallen into disrepair.

The factory saw many famous historical events: the Match Girls' Strike of 1888 started here, for example, culminating in the establishment of the first British trade union for women. A blue plaque outside the entrance commemorates the role of social pioneer and feminist Annie Besant in leading the demands for better pay and conditions.

Bryant & May were influential in fighting against the dreadful disease known as "phossy jaw", caused by the phosphorus used in the manufacture of matches. Some of the first welfare institutions in Britain for industrial workers began on this site.


The factory was only finally closed in 1979, when it still employed 275 people. At its height more than 3,000 women and girls worked here.

Once again the site fell into disrepair, until, in 1988, developers embarked upon one of East London's first urban renewal projects.

The majority of the apartments today are housed in former factory and office buildings. Arlington, for example, was built as offices in 1874; Lexington and Manhattan date from the factory site redevelopment in 1911. The Victorian cottages near the entrance provided accommodation for the company directors, whilst Staten was built as extra office accommodation in the late '50s. The Park Buildings were added in the mid 1990s, after development of the factory building had been completed.