Hale End in Walthamstow was British Xylonite Company's headquarters and main manufacturing site for finished goods from 1897 through to 1963.

British Xylonite company was the first manufacturer to move into this area, purchasing ‘Jack’s Farm’ to build its Hale End Works. The layout was modelled on an explosives factory, with small units separated by wide green spaces because Xylonite was so flammable.

Combs and collars were the leading products in the early 1900s, and combs remained a best seller throughout the factory’s lifetime – although the original pain-staking approach of cutting each tooth by saw was replaced by injection-moulding in the 1940s enabling mass production.

The brand name Halex (Hale combined with X for Xylonite) was coined early on, but became most recognised for toothbrushes and table tennis balls, of which the Hale End site had a virtual monopoly on production in Europe.

The extremely flammable nature of Xylonite – which can burn without air once ignited – meant that from its Homerton days onwards British Xylonite used a trained in-house fire brigade and maintained a team at each branch at the company grew. An annual competition saw the teams compete against each other in time trials for the honour of winning the C.F. Merriam Cup. Fire brigade staff expanded to include women during World War II.

The company encouraged longevity in service and, led by the Merriam family, prided itself on offering wider benefits to employees.

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  • As a child I attended the annual Halex children’s Christmas party from age 5 until 10 or 11. I have a couple of wonderful photographs which I treasure. My father worked there as a fitter and turner for most of his working life, for at least 30 years. He was made redundant when the factory closed down. I think that was in the mid 70’s.