SIR LAURENCE MERRIAM
SIR LAURENCE MERRIAM
28 January 1894 - 27 July 1966
The White House, Dedham Road, 1933 - 1964
Laurence Pierce Brooke Merriam’s grandfather, Levi Parsons Merriam, came from
the United States to London, where Daniel Spill and he formed the British Xylonite
company to manufacture celluloid (xylonite) and other newly-developed plastics at
Hale End, Walthamstow. The company was the first in Britain to mass-produce
plastic articles such as brushes, combs and boxes, marketed under the brand-
names Halex and Bex. In 1887 land was acquired at Brantham, where plastics of
outstanding design were manufactured by British Xylonite and its successors until
An outstanding sportsman, Merriam represented Oxford University at swimming,
water polo and rugby before WW1. He was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade
early in the war, subsequently serving in the Machine Gun Corps. At the Battle of
Flers (1916) he won the Military Cross but was severely wounded. In 1918 he was
attached to the Tank Corps in the acting rank of Major. After the war he was Captain
of Blackheath RFC and capped twice for England.
On leaving the army, Merriam joined British Xylonite and Halex Ltd, in due course
becoming company chairman. He married Lady Marjory Kennedy, daughter of the
Marquess of Ailsa, and in 1933 the couple came to live at The White House (formerly
The Elms). Lady Marjory, Angela South (Old Mill House) and Jane Harter (Church
Farm) founded the Langham Women’s Institute in 1938.
During WW2, Merriam was seconded to the Ministry of Supply, his contribution to the
war effort being recognised by a knighthood. He returned to British Xylonite and its
associated companies and served on the councils of plastics and furniture industry
representative bodies. He was a member of two hospital boards, a magistrate and
county councillor and Deputy Lieutenant of Essex. But he still found time to play
tennis and squash (in the 1930s, he would run energetically round the village in
singlet and shorts, more than once being thought a stray from Severalls Hospital).
Exuding authority, as chairman of the County Council’s Finance Committee he
incurred the enmity of Harwich’s representative, who commented that ‘when Sir
Laurence was dubbed it was a pity the sword didn’t slip and cut his bloody head off’.
The Merriams left The White House for Loom House, Dedham, in 1964, Merriam
himself died in 1966 and Lady Marjory in 1988.