Watkin's Tower

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Watkin's Tower
Prototype 3D Watkin's Tower Low Res.png
Artist's impression of Watkin's Tower
General information
StatusNever completed
Type Observation tower
Location Wembley Park, London, England
Coordinates 51°33′20″N0°16′46″W / 51.55556°N 0.27944°W / 51.55556; -0.27944 Coordinates: 51°33′20″N0°16′46″W / 51.55556°N 0.27944°W / 51.55556; -0.27944
Construction started1891
OpeningMay 1896
Antenna spireOriginal: 358 m (1,175 ft)
Finally: ~47 m (154 ft)
Design and construction
Architect Sir Benjamin Baker
DeveloperStewart, MacLaren and Dunn
Main contractorMetropolitan Tower Construction Company

Watkin's Tower was a partially completed iron lattice tower in Wembley Park, London, England (then in Middlesex). Its construction was an ambitious project to create a 358-metre (1,175 ft)-high visitor attraction in Wembley Park to the north of the city, led by the railway entrepreneur Sir Edward Watkin. Marketed as the "Great Tower of London", it was designed to surpass the height of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and it was part of Wembley Park's emergence as a recreational place. The tower was never completed and it was demolished in 1907. The site of the tower is now occupied by the English national football ground, Wembley Stadium.

Iron Chemical element with atomic number 26

Iron is a chemical element with symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal that belongs to the first transition series and group 8 of the periodic table. It is by mass the most common element on Earth, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust.

Lattice tower freestanding framework tower

A lattice tower or truss tower is a freestanding framework tower. They can be used as electricity transmission towers especially for voltages above 100 kilovolts, as a radio tower or as an observation tower.

Wembley Park district

Wembley Park is a district of the London Borough of Brent, England. It is roughly centred on Bridge Road, a mile northeast of Wembley town centre and 7.6 miles (12 km) northwest from Charing Cross.



Numerous names and nicknames were given to the tower during its planning, construction and legacy. These include Watkin's Tower, [2] Watkin's Folly, [3] the Wembley Park Tower, [4] the Wembley Tower, [1] the Metropolitan Tower, [4] and the London Stump. [5]


A caricature of Watkin by "Ape", published in Vanity Fair in 1875. Edward William Watkin, Vanity Fair, 1875-11-06.jpg
A caricature of Watkin by "Ape", published in Vanity Fair in 1875.

Sir Edward Watkin (1819–1901) was a British Member of Parliament and railway entrepreneur, noted for being chairman of nine different British railway companies. He was an ambitious visionary, and presided over large-scale railway engineering projects to fulfil his business aspirations. He began work on the construction of a channel tunnel under the English Channel, with the aim of connecting his lines to the railway network in France, and successfully opened the Great Central Main Line, which was designed to accommodate the larger continental European trains which would cross into Britain from France. Although the channel tunnel project failed in 1881, Watkin remained a driven innovator, inspired by grand schemes which could augment his railway empire. [6]

Edward Watkin English MP and railway entrepreneur

Sir Edward William Watkin, 1st Baronet was a British Member of Parliament and railway entrepreneur. He was an ambitious visionary, and presided over large-scale railway engineering projects to fulfil his business aspirations, eventually rising to become chairman of nine different British railway companies.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north­western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north­eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea separates Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Parliament of the United Kingdom Supreme legislative body of the United Kingdom

The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known internationally as the UK Parliament, British Parliament, or Westminster Parliament, and domestically simply as Parliament or Westminster, is the supreme legislative body of the United Kingdom, the Crown dependencies and the British Overseas Territories. It alone possesses legislative supremacy and thereby ultimate power over all other political bodies in the UK and the overseas territories. Parliament is bicameral but has three parts, consisting of the Sovereign (Queen-in-Parliament), the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. The two houses meet in the Palace of Westminster in the City of Westminster, one of the inner boroughs of the capital city, London.

Among his numerous railway executive appointments, Watkin was chairman of the Metropolitan Railway (MR), an expanding London transport company which was later to become the Metropolitan line of the present-day London Underground system. Watkin was keen to attract more passengers onto his trains and was aggressively extending his railway into Buckinghamshire. He also considered transporting Londoners out into the countryside as a business opportunity and needed a major attraction to lure the crowds out of the city and onto his trains. To this end, Watkin purchased a tract of land near a rural Middlesex hamlet called Wembley, adjacent to the route of the Metropolitan Railway, with the goal of building an amusement park laid out with boating lakes, a waterfall, ornamental gardens (the park land had previously been landscaped by Humphry Repton and known as Wembley Park) in the 18th century), and cricket and football pitches. The crowning glory of Watkin's amusement park was to be a soaring metal tower which would be centrepiece of the pleasure park and would offer panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, just 12 minutes from Baker Street station. [6] [7]

Metropolitan Railway underground railway in London

The Metropolitan Railway was a passenger and goods railway that served London from 1863 to 1933, its main line heading north-west from the capital's financial heart in the City to what were to become the Middlesex suburbs. Its first line connected the main-line railway termini at Paddington, Euston, and King's Cross to the City. The first section was built beneath the New Road using the "cut-and-cover" method between Paddington and King's Cross and in tunnel and cuttings beside Farringdon Road from King's Cross to near Smithfield, near the City. It opened to the public on 10 January 1863 with gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives, the world's first passenger-carrying designated underground railway.

Metropolitan line London Underground line

The Metropolitan line, colloquially known as the Met, is a London Underground line that runs between Aldgate in the City of London and Amersham and Chesham in Buckinghamshire, with branches to Watford in Hertfordshire and Uxbridge in the western London Borough of Hillingdon. Coloured magenta on the tube map, the line is 41.4 miles (66.7 km) in length and serves 34 stations. Unlike the deep-tube railways, its tunnels are just below the surface and are of a similar size to those on main lines. Just under 67 million passenger journeys were made on the line in 2011/12.

London Underground rapid transit system in London, United Kingdom

The London Underground is a public rapid transit system serving London, England and some parts of the adjacent counties of Buckinghamshire, Essex and Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom.

The paying public was to gain access to Wembley Park and its tower by train, arriving at the new Wembley Park station which the Metropolitan Railway constructed specially for the attraction, incorporating additional platforms to handle the large crowds which Watkin confidently anticipated would flock to the park. The station opened in 1893-4. [8]

Wembley Park tube station London Underground station

Wembley Park is a London Underground station in Wembley Park, north west London. The station is served by the Underground's Metropolitan and Jubilee Lines and is in Travelcard Zone 4. It is located on Bridge Road (A4089) and is the nearest Underground station to the Wembley Stadium and Wembley Arena complex. This is where the Jubilee line from Stanmore diverges from the Metropolitan line which was formerly a branch of the Metropolitan Railway and was taken over by the Bakerloo line and today part of the Jubilee line.

Design and construction

Watkin Tower winning design.jpg
The winning design of Watkin's Tower (proposal n°37), later scrapped and replaced by a four-legged design
Watkin's Tower and Eiffel Tower.jpg
The final four-legged design of Watkin's Tower (shown with the Eiffel Tower for comparison purposes)

Inspired by the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, Watkin invited Gustave Eiffel himself to design the tower, but the Frenchman declined replying that if he designed the tower, the French people "would not think me so good a Frenchman as I hope I am." [5]

Eiffel Tower Tower located on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France

The Eiffel Tower is a wrought-iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts. The City of Paris is the centre and seat of government of the Île-de-France, or Paris Region, which has an estimated official 2019 population of 12,213,364, or about 18 percent of the population of France. The Paris Region had a GDP of €709 billion in 2017. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit Worldwide Cost of Living Survey in 2018, Paris was the second most expensive city in the world, after Singapore, and ahead of Zürich, Hong Kong, Oslo and Geneva. Another source ranked Paris as most expensive, on a par with Singapore and Hong Kong, in 2018.

France Republic in Europe with several non-European regions

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.02 million. France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

An architectural design competition was held in 1890, and a total of 68 designs were submitted. Some of the more exotic 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. One design included a 1/12-scale model of the Great Pyramid of Giza, envisioned as a "colony of aerial vegetarians, who would grow their own food in hanging gardens". [5]

The winning entry, number 37, was submitted by Stewart, MacLaren and Dunn of London. They proposed an eight-legged 1,200-foot (366 m) metal tower 45.8 metres (150 ft) taller than the Eiffel Tower, which was 312.2 metres (1,024 ft) at the time. [9] [10] It was to have two observation decks each with restaurants, theatres, dancing rooms and exhibitions winter gardens, Turkish baths [3] and a 90-bedroom hotel. The top of the tower, reached by a system of lifts, was to provide a fresh-air sanatorium and an astronomical observatory, taking advantage of the clearer air offered by the altitude. The entire structure was to be illuminated by electric light. [6] [11]

Watkin formed a company to manage the project, the International Tower Construction Company and to oversee construction he appointed Benjamin Baker, a civil engineer who was involved in the design of the Forth Bridge and the Aswan Dam. After an unsuccessful appeal for public subscription, the company could only proceed with the project with its own funds; Watkin commissioned a redesign and the octagonal design was scaled back to a cheaper, four-legged design that bore much more resemblance to the Eiffel Tower. The foundations were laid in 1892 and construction work commenced in June 1893. At the same time, the surrounding park began to be laid out with a cricket pitch and a boating lake, in readiness for the first visitors. [1] [7]

Opening and demolition

The first and only completed stage of Watkin's Wembley Tower (c.1900) Watkin tower first stage.jpg
The first and only completed stage of Watkin's Wembley Tower (c.1900)

Wembley Park officially opened to the public in May 1894, although construction of the tower was still underway and the first stage had not yet been completed. Nevertheless, the park attracted 12,000 visitors during 1895 and was proving to be a popular attraction for Londoners. In September 1895 the first stage of the tower was completed, standing at approximately 47 metres (154 ft) high. [7] At this time, work was behind schedule as Watkin retired through ill health. It was soon discovered that the structure's foundations were unsteady — the reduction in the number of the tower's legs, carried out to reduce costs, had resulted in increased pressure on each leg and this was causing subsidence. [1] [4]

Over the next few years, the construction company experienced problems financing the project and went into voluntary liquidation in 1899. Work stopped, and the tower was never completed. Watkin died in 1901, and with halted construction, the "unsafe" site was closed to the public the following year. [3] The completed section of the tower was demolished using dynamite in 1904 to 1907. [3] [12]

Despite the failure and destruction of Watkin's star attraction, Wembley Park continued to flourish as a popular recreation venue, offering football, cricket, cycling, rowing, athletics and in winter, ice skating on the frozen lake. By the end of World War I, over a hundred sports clubs used the Wembley facilities. In order to recoup its losses, the tower construction company turned to house building and was re-incorporated as the Wembley Park Estate Company in 1906, laying out the Wembley suburb with exclusive homes and a golf course. [7]

After the war, Wembley was selected as the site for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition and the park land was purchased from the Metropolitan Railway company. Among the pavilions and halls designed for the exhibition by John William Simpson, Maxwell Ayrton and Owen Williams was a grand sports arena, the 125,000-capacity British Empire Exhibition Stadium, later to be known as Wembley Stadium. It was built on the site of Watkin's Tower, covering its foundations, and opened in 1923, and later became the home ground of the England national football team. When the original stadium was rebuilt in 2000–2003, the lowering of the level of the pitch resulted in the concrete foundations of the tower being rediscovered on the stadium site underneath the Twin Towers. [5]

A comparative diagram of Watkin's Tower with the Eiffel tower and London buildings Watkin's Tower comparative.png
A comparative diagram of Watkin's Tower with the Eiffel tower and London buildings


Blackpool Tower (erected 1894) View of Blackpool Tower - geograph.org.uk - 76167.jpg
Blackpool Tower (erected 1894)
Wembley Park station, originally opened to bring visitors to Watkin's Tower Wembley Park platform3.JPG
Wembley Park station, originally opened to bring visitors to Watkin's Tower

Watkin's Folly was not the last attempt to build a notable British tower. In the north west of England, the Blackpool Tower (1894), New Brighton Tower (1896) and Morecambe Tower (1898) were also built, although only the Blackpool Tower remains standing.

Although Watkin's tower has gone, Wembley Park continues to attract large crowds to sporting and musical events at Wembley Stadium, and it served as a venue for both the 1948 and 2012 Summer Olympics. The station built by the Metropolitan Railway remains in service to this day, providing a major transport link for Wembley crowds via the London Underground Metropolitan and Jubilee lines.

A large Irish pub and restaurant in the area is called Watkin's Folly.

The story of Watkin's Tower was recounted briefly in the 1973 BBC documentary by the then Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, Metro-land . In the programme, Betjeman described Watkin's vision of creating an engineering wonder in a little-known rural area north of London:

The programme also showed some of the unsuccessful designs for the tower. The script for Metro-land can be found in Betjeman's England, a collection of writings by John Betjeman published in 2009. [13]

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