|Administrative / biographical background:
Bryant and May, the famous match manufacturers, became associated in business in 1839. Though both were Quakers, their partnership seems to have been born quite fortuitously, as one lived in Plymouth and the other in London.
William Bryant was born in 1804 in Plymouth, the son of James Bryant of Tiverton, a Wesleyan Methodist. William served in the excise service from 1819 to 1833 when he set up business in Plymouth in partnership with Edward James as soap makers, sugar refiners, and later also blacking manufacturers. In 1832 he had joined the Society of Friends and in the following year married Ann Jago Carkeet, a member of an old Quaker family.
Francis May (born 1803), was the fourth son of Samuel and Ann May, the family having connections with Ampthill, Beds. and Godmanchester, Hunts. Having served an apprenticeship, Francis was in business as a tea dealer and grocer at No. 20 Bishopsgate Without from 1825 to 1843, becoming London agent for Bryant & James' blacking, candles, sugar and lubricating grease.
In 1839 Bryant & May became associated in business as general merchants operating at Tooley Street, Southwark, and Philpot Lane, Fenchurch Street. Under a partnership agreement of 1851 (see below), Bryant stayed in Plymouth, while May managed the London business from Tooley Street. Involvement in the match business began with an arrangement with Carl and Johan Lundström, match manufacturers of Jönköping, Sweden. Bryant and May distributed Swedish matches and initially they sent ink and headless uncut wax vestas to the Lundströms.
Bryant and May involvement with match making seems to have been initiated by the inability of the Lundström's factory to meet a growing demand in Britain for safety matches. A British patent for these, based on J.E. Lundström's specification was taken out by Francis May in 1855. The Fairfield Works at Bow, formerly belonging to the British Sperm Candle Co., was leased to William Bryant in 1861. Initially this factory produced safety matches using Swedish splints, whilst Bryant & May continued to import Lundström strike anywhere matches and were still importing some as late as 1902.
William Bryant gave up personal management of his Plymouth affairs in 1862 and in the following year his son, Wilberforce Bryant, joined the partnership as manager of the Bow factory. Francis May withdrew from the business c. 1868 apparently objecting to the rigorous sales method which were being employed in an increasingly competitive British market.
Following the death of William Bryant in 1874 the general merchandising side of the business, which had for some years been based in Whitechapel, was given up. The business which his four sons inherited was henceforth based at the factory in Fairfield Road, where new machinery was installed which was to result in a considerable increase in match production.