If you’ve ever wondered why England’s national stadium is located where it is, then you’d probably not be surprised that as with so many other things in our lives, its history is rooted in the Railways.
By the early 1900’s the Metropolitan Railway had conquered, neigh invented, suburbia. The metroland estates offered cheap, attractive and spacious living whilst still providing a link to the heart of the city where people worked. It was a shrewd bit of business. Sell land and houses to the newcomers moving out of the city and then ticket them as they commuted back to their jobs in town. It was win win.
However there was still one market the Metropolitan Railway hadn’t tapped into. How could they attract the inner city dwellers who didn’t move to Metroland and had no use for the railway in the centre of town?
The answer was dreamed up by the chairmen of the MR, Edward Watkin. He purchased a large chunk of land near a forgotten hamlet called Wembley and set about constructing pleasure gardens which he would charge people to enter. And these gardens were more than just a row of plant pots, Wembley Park would host boating lakes, ornamental landscaping, cricket and football pitches as well as a crowning foley at its centrepiece to rival the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
With the exception of the centrepiece monument, The Watkins Tower (a story worthy of its own blog another day), the park and the sizeable station that accompanied it was a huge success and by the end of the 1910’s over 100 sporting clubs were paying to use the facilities.
It’s this sporting pedigree that led the park to be selected for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition which brought about the construction of a twin-towered 125,000 seat stadium. After the exhibition the stadium’s size (and ease of public access created by the railway) continued to attract the punters. The England national football team moved in and the rest was history.
These days the pleasure gardens are long gone and the area is now an urban centre in its own right. Of course the stadium and arena, updated through time, still remain and though a number of other stations may be technically closer, it’s still Wembley Park that hosts the bulk of fan traffic on match days from its ample perch aloft Olympic Way.
Image copyright A Carter – CallingAllStations.co.uk