Wembley Park

Wembley Park, Brent

The north-eastern quadrant of Wembley

A small crowd watches the demolition of the iconic 'twin towers' of the old Wembley stadium
A small crowd watch­es the demo­li­tion of the icon­ic ‘twin tow­ers’ of the old Wem­b­ley Sta­di­um

From the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry Wem­b­ley Park was a coun­try estate with a man­sion at its cen­tre and grounds laid out by Humphry Rep­ton. The estate was sold in 1881 and part was acquired by the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Rail­way Com­pa­ny.

Wem­b­ley Park sta­tion opened in 1894, fol­lowed two years lat­er by adja­cent plea­sure gar­dens. The gar­dens were the brain­child of the rail­way company’s chair­man, Sir Edward Watkin, who aimed to cre­ate London’s great­est leisure attrac­tion, includ­ing a tow­er that would be taller than the Eif­fel Tow­er.

The project was a fail­ure in every respect. The gar­dens failed to draw suf­fi­cient vis­i­tors and the prop­er­ty was tak­en over by the Wem­b­ley Park Estate Com­pa­ny. The tow­er reached a height of 200 feet when prob­lems of finance and sub­si­dence caused its aban­don­ment. Watkin’s Fol­ly, as the tow­er was dubbed, was pulled down in 1907. The plea­sure grounds con­tin­ued to be used for var­i­ous events and were cho­sen as the site for the British Empire Exhi­bi­tion, which was held in 1924–5.

The exhi­bi­tion was a mam­moth affair that involved the con­struc­tion of new roads over a wide area, and the widen­ing of exist­ing ones, and the intro­duc­tion of mains drainage to the dis­trict. The improve­ments enabled the sub­ur­ban devel­op­ment of the sur­round­ing area at the same time.

The great­est of the exhi­bi­tion build­ings was the Empire (lat­er Wem­b­ley) Sta­di­um, which was com­plet­ed a year before the show, when it staged the FA Cup final between West Ham Unit­ed and Bolton Wan­der­ers. Thou­sands of fans spilled on to the pitch before the start of the game, and it required mount­ed police, and in par­tic­u­lar Con­sta­ble George Scorey on his 13-​​year-​​old white horse, Bil­ly, to clear it before the match could begin. Although Scorey was only one of sev­er­al mount­ed police­men on duty that day, his con­spic­u­ous horse gave the game the nick­name the White Horse Final.

Inside the cavernous Wembley Arena
Inside the cav­ernous Wem­b­ley Are­na

Many of the exhi­bi­tion build­ings were after­wards leased for light indus­tri­al use but the sta­di­um was retained as the home of Eng­lish foot­ball. The Empire Pool and Are­na (now Wem­b­ley Are­na) was built next to the sta­di­um in 1934.

Wem­b­ley town hall, lat­er used by the Lon­don Bor­ough of Brent, was built on Forty Lane in 1939. By this time the remain­der of Wem­b­ley Park had been ful­ly devel­oped as a mixed res­i­den­tial and indus­tri­al area and most of the wealthy inhab­i­tants had left. The coun­cil built the dis­as­trous Chalkhill estate south of Forty Lane in the late 1960s, and this has recent­ly been ful­ly rede­vel­oped.

In the lat­ter part of the 20th cen­tu­ry, parts of the exhi­bi­tion site were con­vert­ed to retail use, includ­ing ware­hous­es and a Sun­day mar­ket that is said to be the largest in Eng­land.

The sta­di­um closed in 2000 and was demol­ished and rebuilt on a dif­fer­ent axis over a pro­tract­ed peri­od, with a retractable roof and a land­mark lat­tice arch. In 2006 a new foot­bridge was con­struct­ed to con­nect Wem­b­ley Sta­di­um to Wem­b­ley town cen­tre. It was named the White Horse Bridge.

In addition to its sporting role, the old Wembley Stadium hosted many live music events, most famously the Live Aid concert of 1985. Wembley Arena continues to serve as a major concert venue.

Among the artists to have released ‘live at Wembley’ albums and/or DVDs – recorded either at the stadium or the arena – are Queen, Michael Jackson, Hawkwind, Beyoncé, Placido Domingo, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters and Alter Bridge.

Postcode area: Wembley HA9
Station: Jubilee and Metropolitan lines (zone 4) (also Wembley Stadium: Chiltern Railways, zone 4)