Get Even More Visitors To Your Blog, Upgrade To A Business Listing >>

London’s Eiffel Tower (2)

Fired with enthusiasm for the project to build a Tower that would out do the Eiffel Tower, Sir Edward Watkin formed the International Tower Construction Company but investors did not match his zeal, a public subscription raised just £87,000, two-thirds of which came from his own railway company. Inevitably, this meant that the design had to be scaled back. One of consequences was that instead of being supported by eight legs, the revised design used just four, a decision that was to have ominous consequences for the structure’s viability.

Nevertheless, the foundations were laid in 1892 and construction work began in June 1893. At the same time a park was created, boasting boating lakes, waterfalls, ornamental gardens, cricket and football pitches, and various attractions and restaurants. A new station at Wembley Park was opened on the Metropolitan line, offering a journey of just twelve minutes from Baker Street, allowing visitors to reach it with ease and boosting the railway’s revenues. Opened in May 1894 the park quickly proved a success, attracting some 100,000 visitors that year.

The tower, however, was anything but. Watkin’s company soon ran into financial problems, resulting in further compromises on the design, and, because of the marshy conditions of the site, construction work fell dramatically behind schedule. Visitors to the park had to put up with the noise of construction making it anything but a haven of peace and tranquillity and numbers dropped with only 120,000 sampling its attractions in 1895. This in turn put further pressure on the project into which Sir Edward had ploughed £100,000 of his own money.

By September 1895, against all the odds, the first stage of the tower was completed, consisting of four enormous legs supporting a platform 155 feet in the air, which was accessible by lifts. Opened to the public in 1896, it was poorly patronised with only 18,500 of the 100,000 visitors to the park that year paying to go to the top. Part of the problem was that on the outer fringes of London the tower did not offer much of a view, certainly nothing to compare with the panoramic vistas seen from the Eiffel Tower.

Watkin’s recherché and far from altruistic choice of location had done nothing to ensure the ultimate success of his project. Indeed, what was envisaged as London’s tallest structure, ten times taller than the then tallest building, St Paul’s Cathedral and dwarfing even the Shard, quickly became an object of ridicule, dubbed variously as “Shareholders’ Dismay”, the “London Stump” and “Watkin’s Folly”.

Worse was to follow. The marshy soil on which the tower’s foundations were built coupled with the compromises in its design meant that the structure began to subside and lean dangerously. Watkin suffered a stroke and resigned his position as chairman of the Metropolitan Railway. Without his drive and vision, the project ran out of steam, the tower, still just a platform astride four legs, began to rust and deteriorate, and by 1899 the International Tower Construction Company had filed for voluntary liquidation.

In 1902, a year after Watkin’s death, the tower was declared unsafe and closed to the public and then was dismantled, the demolition team blasting the foundations to smithereens, an ignominious end to London’s rival to the Eiffel Tower. Watkin’s ambition was no stranger to failure, his vision of linking his railway with the French via a Channel tunnel collapsed when his Anglo-French Submarine Railway Company ran out of money in 1881 after drilling tunnels from Shakespeare Cliff and Sangatte 1.2 miles and one mile long respectively.

Nevertheless, the park still attracted visitors and had put the obscure hamlet of Wembley on the map. The Tower Construction Company, now reconfigured as the Wembley Park Construction Company in 1906, concentrated on building housing in the area and the British Empire Exhibition Stadium, opened in 1923 and better known as Wembley Stadium, was built on the spot Watkin had chosen for his tower.

In 2002, when the stadium was being redeveloped, workmen found four large concrete foundations underneath the pitch, the first and last vestiges of the tower. Once a nearby public house, The Watkin’s Folly, had closed in 2018, only Watkin Road, to the east of the stadium complex, remained as a reminder of London’s Eiffel Tower that never was.

This post first appeared on Windowthroughtime | A Wry View Of Life For The World-weary, please read the originial post: here

Share the post

London’s Eiffel Tower (2)


Subscribe to Windowthroughtime | A Wry View Of Life For The World-weary

Get updates delivered right to your inbox!

Thank you for your subscription