The Corruganza Boxmakers (2023)
In 1908, forty-four women workers from The Corruganza Boxmakers factory in
Garratt Lane, Summerstown in South West London went on strike in response to
having their pay cut in some cases, by up to 50 per cent. ‘Piece work’ was carried
out by women and girls, some as young as 12 and 13 years old.
Conditions were hard and often dangerous.
A mass march to Trafalgar Square was arranged, supported by Trade Unionist
and Secretary of The National Federation of Women Workers, Mary Macarthur
who spoke to the assembled crowds and provided the women with strike pay.
Discussions took place and resulted in the striking women being reinstated in their
jobs and pay was returned to the original rates in most cases.
On May 20, 2023 local historian Geoff Simmons conducted a guided walk and a
Blue Plaque was unveiled to commemorate the achievements of these inspiring
women and highlight a significant event in the history of women’s empowerment
in the workplace.
I made a textile banner to illustrate and commemorate events surrounding the
women's strike. After attending one of Geoff’s walks during Wandle Fortnight 2022
I was inspired to respond to this context and several aspects of the Corruganza
Boxmakers’ story resonated with me: It was shocking to discover that as recently
as1908, twelve and thirteen old girls were employed in piece work, using materials
and processes that were hazardous to health and wellbeing. Wages were already
low, but the strike came about after the company cut wages for certain jobs, as it
was assumed that the younger girls would work for less money.
Some women lost their jobs as a result of the strike but the determination and resolve of the
women and the support they received resulted in offers to reinstate those sacked and for
pay to be reinstated at previous rates. I feel that it is important to highlight this victory for
women workers in the context of the campaigns for Womens’ Suffrage in that era.
Corruganza, along with other Wandle Industries, had a significant influence on the local
community, employing in some cases entire families from the neighbouring streets.
Poverty and a lack of education meant that there was little prospect of finding alternative employment.
I wanted to commemorate their actipons and to show my admiration for their determination in trying to achieve their
I gathered my research using museum archives, libraries and by talking to historians and other interested parties,
I hen commenced the design process. Sourcing materials is always a great source of inspiration to me and feeds back in to the design process. The majority of fabrics used were recycled and obtained from a local community scrap scheme. The banner uses images and text, and corporates applique, printing/painting and machine and hand-stitching. I start by making sketches and collages then use digital software to develop the design.
The importance of the River Wandle in supporting the Textile Industry is well documented and it is interesting that The Garrett Print works pre-dated the Corruganza factory on that site. As well as telling the story of the working conditions and the boxes that the women and girls helped to produce and the subsequent strike, the work makes reference to calico bleaching, scarlet and indigo dyeing and printing through the use of fabric, colour and print.
It is now installed at the Wandsworth Heritage Service, (1st floor Battersea Library)
Previously at The Hunter Wing, St. Georges University Medical School (22 May-20 November 2023)