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Sheer Folly

Last week I posted about the debacle of the Marble Arch Mount, which got me thinking of a similar instance of abject failure over 125 years earlier.

Computer generated Watkin’s Tower

Sir Edward Watkin

Watkin’s Tower was a partially completed viewing tower in Wembley Park. Its construction was the vision of Sir Edward Watkin the railway entrepreneur and was an ambitious project to create a 358 metre (1,175 ft) high visitor attraction in the newly constructed Wembley Park to the north of the city. It was marketed as the “Great Tower of London, and was designed to surpass the height of the Eiffel Tower by 24 metres.

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 proved to be a popular attraction, but not many visitors decided to climb to the top of the partly constructed tower. In September 1895 the first stage of the tower was completed, standing at approximately 47 metres (154 ft) high, but it seems that the initial public interest had already waned.

First (and only) Stage

The original design called for a six legged structure, but to save costs this was modified to four legs, however this resulted on extra pressure on the foundations and the structure started to subside. Over the next few years, the construction company experienced problems financing the project and due to poor visitor numbers went into voluntary liquidation in 1899. Work ceased, 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. It stood forlornly for another three years until in 1904 demolition work started. It took three years to demolish and as if to the testament of it’s construction the demolition company had to resort to using dynamite to blow it up. Wembley Park however flourished as a leisure facility until 1924 when the site was redeveloped for the British Empire Exhibition, part of which was a sports arena today known as Wembley Stadium, the playing surface of which is laid over the foundations of what was known as “Watkin’s Folly”.

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