Discover Wembley’s hidden and exotic history!
We know Wembley Park today for its football, concerts, restaurants and shops. But this famous area has some hidden and amazing secrets up its sleeve.
Our Wembley Parade development references the British Empire Exhibition, which put Wembley on the world map in the 1920s.
We naturally wanted to explore more of its rich history, so we had a chat with Philip Grant of Wembley History Society, to find out more.
Before the stadium, what was Wembley Park known for?
Wembley Park got its name when Humphry Repton landscaped the grounds of the local landowner’s mansion in 1793. A century later, the estate had been bought by the Metropolitan Railway Company, whose chairman, Sir Edward Watkin, opened pleasure grounds there in 1894, with a new station and a tower planned to be taller than Eiffel’s in Paris (he is remembered by Watkin Road, and a bar called Watkin’s Folly!).
You can find out more from an illustrated article on the Brent Archives website.
Why was Wembley Park chosen as the location for the British Empire Exhibition?
The pleasure grounds had closed before the First World War, so Wembley Park provided a large site, quite close to Central London, with good railway links. The Metropolitan Railway to Wembley Park, and Great Central (now Chiltern) Railway to Wembley Hill, were important for bringing millions of visitors, when the exhibition was open in 1924 and 1925.
Most of the main exhibition buildings were made of reinforced concrete, so the lines were also vital for transporting the gravel and cement needed for their construction.
The Exhibition’s Amusement Park stood where the modern Wembley Parade is and there is a whole section of information about the British Empire Exhibition on the Brent Archives website, and you can see some stunning associated images through their online catalogue.
After World War Two, what benefits did the 1948 Summer Olympics contribute to the area?
The Games of the XIVth Olympiad caused some brief excitement in Wembley in 1948, with local people hosting paying guests for a couple of weeks, and several local schools used as athletes’ accommodation.
The important long-term benefit was the building of Olympic Way in 1947/48, which provided better road access to the Stadium.
Are there still any lasting remains from the 1948 Olympics?
Around 1950, two large plaques were put up on walls by an entrance to the Stadium, listing all the gold medal winners from the 1948 Olympics. These were taken down and carefully preserved when the old stadium was demolished in 2002, and since the new Wembley Stadium opened in 2007 they have been put back on display near its shop and stadium tours entrance, at the top of Olympic Way.
How did you become interested in Wembley’s history?
I was born and raised in Hastings, so how could I not be interested in history? (If you’re puzzled by this statement, Google “1066”) When I moved to the Wembley area, I did buy a book of old local photographs, but didn’t have much time to follow my interest until I retired. Then, at a local “open day”, I discovered the fantastic Old St Andrew’s Church in Kingsbury, built in 1100AD, including rubble from a Roman building , and found out that there was a Wembley History Society.
Is there an interesting fact about Wembley Park, which many other people may not know?
As you walk around Wembley Park today, you may think there is no trace left of the British Empire Exhibition, apart from some of the road layout. But when the last part of the Palace of Industry was demolished in 2013, Wembley History Society worked with the developers and Brent Council, to get a lion head corbel (the lion was the Exhibition’s badge) from the building saved and put on public display.
It was unveiled in 2014, as part of celebrations for the British Empire Exhibition’s 90th anniversary, on the open space in Wembley Hill Road (near the London Designer Outlet), with a plaque giving a brief history of the Exhibition. Take a stroll to visit the “Wembley Lion”, and perhaps take a selfie with it!
What do you love most about Wembley?
Apart from the many fascinating local history stories the former Borough of Wembley area has to offer, the thing I love most is its open spaces and parks. These include nearby peaceful wild spaces, like Fryent Country Park and the Welsh Harp Open Space.
Within walking distance, you can discover King Edward VII Park, also known as “King Eddie’s”, in Park Lane. A little further afield, up the Harrow Road in Sudbury, Barham Park is the beautiful grounds of a mansion left to Wembley Council in 1937 by the Express Dairies magnate, Titus Barham. It’s definitely worth a visit!
What does the Wembley History Society do, and how can people get involved?
We hold ten meetings a year (nine talks and a “Christmas Social” event in December) at English Martyrs’ Hall, Chalkhill Road, Wembley, HA9 9EW. It’s just a ten-minute walk or short bus ride from Wembley Park Station. Meetings are usually on the third Friday of the month, from 7.30pm to 9pm.
Our next meeting is on 21st June 2019, then a summer break until 20th September. We welcome visitors, and anyone interested can email me for programme details [ firstname.lastname@example.org ].
A few members undertake research on a variety of local history subjects, write articles and give talks. We have also been involved in trying to get the Bobby Moore Bridge tile murals put back on permanent public display.
If you’re interested in a new home surrounded by rich history, then why not register your interest today to find out more about our new homes coming to Wembley Parade, or call 020 3308 9814 to speak to one of our Anthologists.