ebonitefi - London's forgotten Ebonite tower

The famous 150 foot high Ebonite tower was a huge landmark to the north of King’s Cross at Vale Royal in Belle Isle, even overshadowing the Metropolitan Cattle Market tower in Caledonian Park a little further north. The Vale Royal tower was outrageously demolished thirty five years ago this month.

kx1950s - London's forgotten Ebonite tower

Quick glimpse of the Ebonite tower on a You Tube video of King’s Cross in 1953.

The tower itself has variously been described as being in Camden or King’s Cross whilst maps denoted it as being within the parish of St Pancras. These days its Islington. Belle Isle itself is a name that has retracted considerably nowadays but is still at least for the junctions on the nearby East Coast main line.

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Broad Street bound EMU with the Ebonite Tower in view. Source: Flickr

Tylor & Sons built their 150-ft. tower during 1870 at Belle Isle on a spare plot of land right next to the St Pancras Carpet Beating Works. The height of what was then known as the Watermeter testing tower enabled a constant water pressure to be sustained and one with which Tylors could test their instruments in a building which formerly belonged to Adams Tile Kilns, sited alongside the railway line.

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Most sources suggest the Ebonite tower was in Tileyard Road. The actual site was however at the far end of Vale Royal.

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Tylors were a company of long standing, having originally been established in 1778. They were at Belle Isle from 1870 when the tower was built until 1956 when the company moved to Burgess Hill.

Ebonite was a sort of bakelite, a hard rubber, the most common use being for bowling balls, but also electrical plugs. The Ebonite company itself had been in existence for many years, it seems from research the name was in residence here from the 1950s when Tylors had departed. By 1967 it had become the Ebonite Container Co and they were using the tower for testing plastic accumulator boxes.

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Belle Isle junction with the Caledonian Park tower. Until 1980 the Ebonite tower too stood here.

Its uncertain when the name ‘Ebonite’ was put up around the top of the tower, this was probably done sometime after 1956 when the premises were taken over from Tylors. The four identical panels were made on the ground and then lifted into place. However they didnt exactly fit because the top of the tower wasn’t perfectly square!

I have never found any maps depicting the actual building, probably due to the ever changing nature of the buildings around its base. It was however significant enough to warrant being a survey point for OS mapping and thus marked on maps as a triangulation symbol!

osmap1953 - London's forgotten Ebonite tower

OS map 1953 showing location of the Ebonite tower as a triangulation point. Source: NLS

What happened to the tower? It was blown up with explosives in June 1983 much to the anger of locals. The demolition was clearly undertaken against their wishes. The actual date of the demolition is not known despite searches of the newspapers published at the time.

tylors - London's forgotten Ebonite tower

The Ebonite tower’s address was always given as Tileyard Road, which is just off York Way. Certainly the tower was without a doubt accessed from that road however those wishing to find the location should go to Vale Royal as this is where the tower was actually found.

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The view down Vale Royal towards the site of the Ebonite tower – February 2018.

Abbott House was built in the 1970s. This and the older building on the left confirm the site in Vale Royal. The following picture taken in February 2018, which includes a snap of the tower as seen in 1977, is proof of the location (source: Flickr.)

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The modern structure of Abbot House on the right can be seen in both pictures so this is the same viewpoint.

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The tower stood on the right where the modern building is. View looking towards York Way.

Pictures of the Ebonite Tower from other sites:
Belle Isle Junction signal box with the Ebonite Tower in background
Vale Royal looking towards the Ebonite Tower in 1977

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Christopher Fowler

A terrific article – many thanks for posting. I live near here and am always shocked by the failure to keep any original sense of place in the redevelopment of London. I’m no nostalgist by every city has a look of its own, and piece by piece ours is being erased.

Richard Wilson

The Model Railway Club has a 2mm scale model of the approaches to Kings Cross, modelled one exquisite detail. It includes the Tylor Tower and the Cattle Market clock tower too. Just google ‘ Copenhagen Fields’ and you will find Many images and videos of this iconic model.

Derrick Martin

In the 1950s I worked for an electrical contractor in Tylor’s works where the petrol gauge meters were tested and calibrated with water from the tower and pumped back to the tower. I also worked at the British Ebernite Co that was manufacturing car battery cases. Both these manufacturers were on this site at the same time, but the tower carried the name of Tylor