|This is my contribution to ABC Wednesday and for Round Ten I am focusing on people from the past, some famous, others less so.|
When Gustav Eiffel unveiled his famous tower in 1889, Edward Watkin decided that London should go one better by building an even taller tower in Wembley.
Watkin was an MP and chairman of the Metropolitan Railway and his vision was to create the tower as the centre piece of a pleasure park just 12 minutes from Baker Street station.
He even invited Eiffel to design it, but the engineer declined, saying that his countrymen ‘would not think me so good a Frenchman as I hope I am.’
Instead, Watkin organised an architectural competition in 1890 and proposals included a £1m tower inspired by the Tower of Pisa, a structure with ‘a captive parachute to hold four persons’ and a tower with a spiral railway climbing its exterior.
Another design was for a 1/12-scale model of the Great Pyramid of Giza with ‘a colony of aerial vegetarians, who would grow their own food in hanging gardens’.
But the winning entry by Stewart, MacLaren and Dunn was more conservative in its construction, though still impressive. They proposed a metal tower on eight legs that would be 150 feet taller than its Parisian counterpart.
It was to have two observation decks, each with restaurants, theatres, dancing rooms, exhibitions and even Turkish baths. The design was ultimately modified so that it would have four legs instead of eight and the foundations were laid in 1892.
Construction had only reached 154 feet when the pleasure park opened to the public in 1896. Work was well behind schedule and reducing the number of legs to four caused the foundations to be unstable.
Watkin himself had retired through ill-health and he died in 1901, a year before the tower was finally declared unsafe and the demolition gangs moved in.
Watkin’s Tower was variously known as Watkin’s Folly, the Wembley Park Tower, the Wembley Tower, the Metropolitan Tower and the London Stump and was not a particularly splendid monument for the man whose idea it was.
The site was used for the original Wembley Stadium built in 1923 for the British Empire Exhibition and the foundations of Watkin’s Tower were rediscovered during the building of the new Wembley Stadium in 2000.