Site History

  • The Xylonite Factory in 19th Century

Site History

Highams Park has a varied and rich history, with the origins of the area starting in what is now the LSIS.

Beginnings

Until the late 19th century the area was in agricultural use, with Jack’s Farm first appearing on the 1865 OS map. Highams Park Station opened in 1873 on the Great Eastern Railway, though it was another 20 years before the area started its transformation when Jack’s Farm was sold in 1896 to the British Xylonite Company.

1865 Map
1897 Map
1919-1920 Map
1956-1966 Map

 

Industry

The British Xylonite Company developed a factory on the 50-acre farm site in 1898 to manufacture knife handles, imitation coral jewellery, tubes, and insulating materials for electric cables, with products produced by the factory going by the name of Halex.

Attracted by what was a relatively unpopulated area, which allowed them to employ manufacturing processes not conducive to residential areas, the company expanded from what was now the location of their Head Office. A further factory was opened by 1900, making washable collars and cuffs.

The company continued to grow, pioneering the manufacture of celluloid in Britain, and after the Distillers Company bought a 50% interest in the British Xylonite Company in 1939, Highams Park became a centre of production for plastic goods, including holding a virtual monopoly on the creation of table-tennis balls.

The growth of Highams Park

The industrial success stimulated a wave of development in the area, turning other agricultural lands into houses, shops, and schools in what now became Highams Park, a marketing ploy by the railway operators to attract day-trippers to Highams Park lake and Epping Forest.

By the mid-twentieth century, most of the network of streets that is Highams Park today had been built out, including the Ropers Avenue Estate, today a conservation area. The Avenue and Hale End Road near the railway station are the centre of Highams Park where a number of handsome shopfronts survive.

Beyond British Xylonite

In 1971, what was known as the Halex Factory, was closed and production moved to Brantham in Suffolk. The factory site is now occupied by the Highams Park Industrial Estate, the Tesco superstore and neighbouring residential development.