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Lesney Matchbox Factory Lives. Call for information.

Dear all,

I'm currently making some initial research into the history of the Lesney Matchbox factories in Hackney for a documentary I'm planning next year. I'm keen to speak with ex-workers, or those otherwise involved with the site.  Did you work there?  Did a family member, friend or colleague work there?  If anyone would like to contribute, or has any information that might put me on the right track please call me (David) on 07881751666, or alternatively email


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Paddy L

The Wick Curiosity shop has lots of old footage of Hackney Wick in the early days. I realize the Lesney factory is in Homerton, but it used to run the whole length of the Lee Conservancy Rd which is in Hackney Wick.

The Hackney Archive Museum in Dalston is also a good source of information. I will ask if anyone on my estate (Wick Village) worked there.

There is also a Pathe News film clip showing a visit by the Queen to the factory. it states that they produced 350 million units per year, that's over a million each day.

 Feel free to contact me on the project anytime 


Paddy Looney
David M
Thanks for that Paddy,

They're all good suggestions - much appreciated.  Sounds like you know a few things yourself!? I understand the factories in Hackney wick were a big part of Lesney - as were other those in other parts of London and beyond (Rochford etc)...
The sheer numbers, as you suggest, are almost unbelievable, a remarkable addition to the manufacturing output of this part of the world...

If you hear of anyone else who might be good to talk to, please do let me know.  It's a long project, so there's plenty of time to really get to grips with it...

Many thanks for your reply,

Peter R
London lost 500,000 manufacturing jobs over a 20 year period both before and after the 1979-83 recession.  This was a higher proportion of its job stock than northern cities.  Apart from Lesneys there were companies in Hackney like Metal Box as well as large numbers of furniture and clothing factories. It was mostly small scale production but some of it was quite high tech.
Patsy N
Museum of London  in docklands has a bit about the huge matchbox factory that was converted into flats - I think it was the Byant and May one so perhaps not relevant?
Neil O
A lot of the 500,000 manufacturing jobs lost over the last 20 years in Hackney and Haringey were lost due to some of the highest business rates in the country imposed by the local councils.
These two councils have also been rated as inefficient and not friendly to business by the CBI, the Audit Commission and the Taxpayers Alliance. 
Their residents still pay some of the highest rates in the UK.
Parking restrictions and the lack of parking for the workforce have also driven firms out of business or to more friendly areas.
Peter R
This is simply not true.  My quote is from a book by Fothergill and Gudgin, I was referring to jobs lost in the whole of inner London not just Hackney and Haringey.  There is no evidence that these jobs were lost as a result of high business rates.  (there is not a vast difference in business taxes between business rates in London inner city locations and other parts of the UK.  These jobs were lost between 1965 and 1985 and were lost because of large global forces - globalisation, lack of competitiveness of British Industry, growth of flatpack furniture, rise of China and Vietnam and other cheap labour locations for making textiles, toys etc.  Most of these inner city locations were also inappropriate for modern manufacturing (multi level buildings instead of ground floor etc).  

We all get irritated by things like parking restrictions but let's get real and use evidence to inform arguments.
Paddy L
Bryant & May in Bow made matchboxes, The boxes themselves were put together by families all abound Hackney. There's lots of info in the Hackney Museum in Mare St.
This, however, is different from the Lesney factory in Homerton who made matchbox toys.
What's it to be then. Matches or toy cars?
David M
Thanks for your comments Peter, Patsy, Neil.  As Paddy noted, my interest is in Lesney (of Matchbox toy car fame) and not the actual matchboxes...
Interestingly, the building that's now on the site formerly occupied by the Lesney no3 factory (North of Homerton road, overlooking the Lea River), is confusingly named "Matchmaker's Wharf".  This could on one hand be seen merely as slick pr - a suggestion of new flat-buying singles finding romance(?!), but it also reads as a serious misunderstanding - not at all in keeping with the developers insistence that they wanted to retain the memory of the site etc...

One further point of interest - and this really IS coincidental: Andrew Smith (son of Lesney founder Leslie Smith) told me his dad had run a little pleasure boat during his later years, its name?  - 'Matchmaker'.
Perhaps the 'Geezers' may be able to shed some light?
Stephanie B
I remember when all the women round here seemed to work for Lesney's, making matchbox toys. Every morning a bus used to arrive in Well St to collect the workers. Many of the mothers whose children went to my child's primary school would climb aboard after they had left their children the school gates.
Patsy N
Hi - durbrain - sorry I greated a red herring - all sounds VERY intersting
David M
Hi Stephanie.  Well if you do still cross paths with any of the women you mention please do let me know - or pass on my details.  Such an important part of Hackney social history - and British manufacturing history - that hasn't been much accounted for.  There were apparently quite flexible shifts for women - a kind of two-thirds time that would allow them to drop the kids off at school, and be at home again for when their kids arrived back...Not sure if this quite progressive system existed with other local employers too, perhaps it did as much of the careful, (if repetitive) hands-on work relied so much on the female workforce.

Regarding the buses, I heard that at their peak, Lesney had more buses running in Hackney than London Transport themselves(!). Naturally there were plenty of non-Lesney workers who, shall we say, took them up on the offer of a free ride!

Great stuff so far, please keep it coming!
Stephanie B
If I were you I would write to the Hackney Gazette and ask for memories. There must be loads of women out there longing to share those times. I know that it was a very companionable workforce.
And the other places to ask are clubs and residents committees
David M
Funnily enough, I am getting in touch with the Gazette, along with some of the other local papers in Hackney.  I hope you're right about people being willing to discuss their time at Lesney - the success of a project like this hinges significantly on the quality and diversity of those recollections.
Good advice too about getting in touch with the residents committees and local clubs - are there any you can think of that might be of specific interest?
I have a contact for someone at Hackney Homes that might be able to help as well...

Thanks again Stephanie.
Stephanie B
maybe the Moth club in Valette St. Other clubs you could get a list off Age Concern in Dalston Lane

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