W is for Edward Watkin

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 centrepiece 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.

The Tower as planned

The Tower as it was planned

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's Folly

Watkin’s Folly

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.

You can read more about the Mancunian Edward Watkin and his tower on Wikipedia.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

9 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 20th June 2012

    A not-so-tall tale!
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • Arthur (AmeriNZ) 20th June 2012

    I love these tales you tell of people I’ve never heard of. History is filled with stories like this, and sometimes the failures are more interesting than the successes!

  • Reader Wil 20th June 2012

    And then came the Twin Towers! What is it with towers, that make humanity so competitive? It started with the Tower of Babel, which was according to the bible, never finished either.
    Good post, Ian!

  • Inferno Pudding 20th June 2012

    Fascinating. Shame Watkin was only a Mancunian. If he’d been a canny Yorkshireman the tower would most certainly have reached completion and we wouldn’t have had to endure all those painful England games from the old Wembley. Best of all, the frogs would have seethed with Gallic jealousy.

  • Mr Parrot 20th June 2012

    Had Watkin been a Yorkshireman, he would have built it in Yorkshire and no-one would ever have heard of it!

  • Chrissy Brand 20th June 2012

    Yes Watkins’ family were from south Manchester (Northenden) and I wrote a little about him in my book Wembley Stadium of Legends (Tomsett & Brand, Dewi Lewis Media 2007 😉

  • Mr Parrot 20th June 2012

    Thanks Chrissy. I probably should also have said something about him being behind the original channel tunnel idea in 1875!

  • Ann 20th June 2012

    I think is rather sad that he died and the tower was a folly. Sometimes our visions are just that.

  • zongrik 25th June 2012

    i never heard of this. i like the stump name.

    there are more people who had great plans that failed than there are Eiffels. and there are some who did not fail, but are recognized posthumously.

    i really like the quote you chose. some people are over-educated without a dash of wisdom, it’s too bad.

    when time races like a bullet


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