Two terrible business ventures that shaped modern Middlesex


What Watkins’ Tower would have looked like

The most famous place to have Middx in its postal address must be Wembley,  the home since 1923 of England’s national stadium. Equally vital to the economy of west London are the 500 hectares of Park Royal, Europe’s largest area of industrial and business parks. Both were planted in the fields of Middlesex as a result of projects that failed to interest the public. Wembley was put on the map by what became known as Watkin’s Folly — more formally ‘The Great Tower of London’ — the brainchild of Sir Edward Watkin, the chairman of the Metropolitan Railway, who tried to outdo the Eiffel Tower on a site close to his trains. The foundations were laid in 1892 and the partially built tower was opened in 1896. But the structure was unsound, visitor numbers were disappointing, and it closed in 1900 being demolished between 1904-1907. However the project did succeed in raising Wembley’s profile and the ‘Empire Stadium’ built for the British Empire Exhibitions of 1924-25 cemented its place in history. Park Royal, which seems an odd name for a sprawling expanse of warehouses and light industry, is so called because of the decision of the Royal Agricultural Society to buy up 102 acres of land to create a permanent show ground. The society had run touring annual shows since 1839  to teach farmers about best current scientific practise but felt that, with modern transport, it would be more appropriate to bring audiences to the show then take the show out to the audiences. They were wrong. Despite patronage by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra audiences fell from 65,000 in 1903 — a figure which meant a substantial financial loss — to 24,000 in 1905, the lowest ever recorded. Londoners apparently were unwilling to jump on the train to the new Park Royal stations to survey prize livestock. The Royal Agricultural Society cut its losses and sold the land for industrial development.

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