In the late nineteenth century the enormous British company of Bryant and May started production of matches in Australia, with a factory opened in Richmond, Melbourne. They quickly became the largest manufacturer of matches in the country and would continue producing until the late twentieth century when production moved to Sweden. Millions of boxes of matches were produced in the Second World War for use by both the civilian population and the military and the company added a special by-line to their wartime produced boxes to reflect the country’s war footing:
The standard box design has had the phrase ‘The fighting line depends on the production line’ added to the general design.
The factory that produced these matches still stands, happily, and has been converted to other uses. A tourist guide to Melbourne gives this history of Bryant and May’s production on the site:
The Bryant and May Factory is one of Melbourne’s iconic landmarks recalling the era when Melbourne was one of the world’s leading industrial cities. Located at 560 Church Street in the suburb of Cremorne near Richmond, the factory was constructed in 1909 as the Empire Works to a design by prolific Melbourne architect William Pitt. It was purchased soon after by British safety match manufacturer Bryant and May, who significantly expanded the building, adding another level and the landmark clock tower.
The factory complex is one of the finest remnants of Richmond’s industrial heyday and its substantial intactness provides an excellent indication of industrial organisation and design of the early 20th century. The important Melbourne architect, William Pitt, designed the complex towards the end of an eminent career that was innovative, prolific and wide ranging. Other significant industrial buildings for which he was responsible were the Denton Hat Mills in Abbotsford and the Foy and Gibson complex in Collingwood.
The English firm Bryant and May began manufacturing matches in Australia in 1885. It occupied two sites in Richmond and amalgamated with another British match manufacturer operating in the suburb before the growing size of its operations and workforce necessitated the construction of the existing complex. With 280 employees, Bryant and May had become a major employer, and in 1909, as a result of the merger and to accommodate new processes and increased production, a new factory was built adjacent to its old factory, a former brewery. These initial years show the importance of British capital in the development of Victoria’s industry. The various changes in the buildings over the years can be directly related to the introduction of protective tariffs, their removal and the dumping of matches from overseas, and technological innovations. Machinery was regularly updated to cope with new processes and the declining use of wax matches. The consumption of matches generally had declined and together with strong overseas competition forced the firm to diversify and merge yet again. By the late-1980s, the company had vacated the factory, reinforcing the pattern of de-industrialisation of Melbourne’s inner suburbs.
Bryant and May’s iconic Redheads matches are now imported from Sweden. The complex has since been converted for use as offices and showrooms but is extremely well preserved. It is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.
The machinery for the factory was made in the USA, but none of it survives. A further building programme in 1921-22 included the western extension of the factory, a new chimney stack and boiler house, and offices and Brymay Hall, all designed by Klingender and Hamilton. The builder for the extension was T. Donald and Co. The 1909 offices were extended in 1934 by Arthur and Hugh Peck, architects. The former Bryant and May Industrial Complex is a rare surviving example of model factory conditions and amenities. The complex was run as a model factory and reflected the Quaker principles of the original English founders, providing workers with conditions and amenities which even today seem generous. These included a dining hall and sports facilities such as a tennis court and bowling green which were constructed in the 1920s. One of the first industrial nurses in Australia was employed at the factory from 1922.