2010, MoDiP was donated a large archive of images relating to a single
company. Bakelite Xylonite Ltd, also known as British Xylonite Ltd or
BXL, was possibly one of the first British firms to successfully
manufacture a plastics material in commercial quantities. The company
was established in 1875 and after a long history went into liquidation
in the late 2000s. The images we have in the collection are concentrated
around the 1960s through to the 1980s and show us glimpses of the
manufacturing process, products and the company’s employees during this
time. We plan to share an image each week to give a flavour of the
archive. If you want to see more you can view the whole collection on
This week’s image shows a set of protective sports clothing.
We are still
working on the documentation of the archive, some of the images we know
more about than others. It would be fantastic if we could fill in some
of the gaps in our knowledge, if you know anything about the company or
specific images it would be good to hear from you.
Louise Dennis (Assistant Curator)
Phil Blume then took up the trail and found a Canadian website - www.quillsquotesandnotes.com/bite-bread.htm - written by Rosemary Phillips in which she tells of her grandfather, Ernest Harrison, inventing a bread slicer in 1927 and this being the "beginning of an inventors creative career". He emailed her asking if she knew of any connection between her grandfather Ernest Harrison and the Ernest Harrison of Bury, Lancashire and this is how she replied:
'Thank you so much for your e-mail – this really means a lot to me.
Yes, Ernest Harrison, my grandfather, was the designer of those plastic stair treads, through his company Byson, in Bury, Lancashire. Byson also produced plastic buttons, and helmets for the war, and toilet seats.
Ernest’s biggest contribution to the design world (besides creating one of the first automatic bread slicers) was the introduction of foam rubber (then only used as an insulation) to replace horsehair in upholstery. My attempts at finding the source of this in 1981 were at Dunlopillo in Wales, where they were unable to provide that information, but did give me a formal luncheon that left the Dunlopillo scientists and staff wondering about why I was there – that my visit was evidently very important. (See the attached Finding Ernest)
So in effect, you could say, that Ernest Harrison was also the initiator of the foam revolution... this will not be shown in the historic documentation of the industry... but I know about it because I lived with the chairs that Ernest used to demonstrate to Dunlop how to use their foam insulation for upholstery. They were not comfortable to sit on, because the foam they had at the time, that was used in those chairs, was in open squares, not a whole slab.
I spent a fair bit of time trying to research this information, but without much success... and when Ernest died, all I was able to rescue from his belongings was a few drawings of items he was still trying to patent in the 1950’s...'
Thanks to Lewis Orchard we know also that the clips were in production by 1934 as he found out that Byson Appliance are listed at the White City Industries Fair, as producers of "Stair-Carpet-Holders (non-metal_ Made from Bysonite in Oak, Walnut, Mahogany, Black, Green and Orange Colours. I suspect from the patterning on those in the MoDiP collection: www.modip.ac.uk/artefact/aibdc-00552, they are walnut examples. It would be wonderful to have some in different colourways.
Head of MoDiP