London - Wembley Park

Fulton Road : HA9 0FR London - Wembley Park : Map credit National Library of Scotland London - Wembley Park : Image credit University of Westminster Records and Archives
The Metropolitan Railway leased 124 acres of Wembley Park in 1889 to build a pleasure ground after the railway line was extended to Harrow. This pleasure park was to attract people to use their railway and a new station at Wembley Park was built.

Work started on the pleasure grounds in 1892 with extensive gardens, a boating lake, bandstand, tea pagodas, a golf course, a variety theatre, cricket and football grounds, a cinder track and a trotting ring. In 1894, the grounds were opened to the public. A tower, higher than the Eiffel Tower, was started and the first 155 foot stage of the tower was opened to the public in 1896.

The un-banked cinder track was nearly half a mile in circumference with a 350 yards straight but the corners were very sharp. There was a grandstand at the track. Very few bicycle races took place on the cinder track as it was considered dangerous. In the opening year 1894, it was advertised that the bicycle races would be held on a grass track 4 laps to the mile and the cinder track was not used after this for bicycle races.

There were many athletics and bicycle race meetings at Wembley Park following the opening in 1894. The Polytechnic Harriers had events on Whit Monday and August Bank Holiday, which included bicycle races. There were meetings organised by Finchley Harriers, Clarence Athletic Club (Maples furniture), the News Vendors group and the Metropolitan Railway Provident Society.

The Polytechnic Harriers held regular, well supported events at Wembley until around 1900. Finchley Harriers held regular athletics and cycling events until the Park closed. The attendance at bicycle races was varied, crowds of over 8,000 were reported for the June 1895 Polytechnic event, but only 300 spectators were at their May 1895 meeting. The attendance figures are misleading because people would visit the Park but not necessarily watch the bicycle races.

Attendance at the pleasure grounds themselves was also disappointing, there were 120,000 visitors in 1895 and 100,000 the following year. After financial problems, the major attraction of the tower was never completed.

Bicycle racing at Wembley continued to be popular in the late 1890's but by the end of the century, the venue was in decline. The popular sports promoter Jolly Jumbo*, held charity sports meetings at Wembley from 1901 to 1904 in aid of the Cottage Hospital, Willesden. A five miles bicycle scratch race was included in the sports.

Wembley Park pleasure grounds closed in 1906, but some sports meetings continued into the late 1900's. The last bicycle racing at Wembley Park was probably the Magpie AAA sports meeting on June 22nd 1907, which included a one mile bicycle handicap.

The Metropolitan Railway Company started to sell off parts of Wembley Park for house building, the so-called Metro-land. The Wembley Park 18 hole golf club was opened in 1912.

The British Empire Exhibition was held at Wembley Park in 1924 and the Empire Stadium (later Wembley stadium) was built, which hosted the FA cup finals. The British Empire Exhibition closed in 1925 and the assets were sold off. The Empire stadium survived and was used for speedway and greyhound racing.

The Empire Games were held in London in 1934, track cycling events were held at Fallowfield, Manchester. The Empire Pool was built at Wembley for the Games and swimming and diving events took place there. The 1948 Olympic Games were hosted at Wembley, track cycling events were held at Herne Hill.

Film and tv studios were built at Wembley Park in the 1950's and 60's. The site of the original Wembley Park has been extensively built on over the decades and the site now contains Wembley Stadium, the Stadium Industrial Estate and retail, housing and education developments. The old Wembley stadium was demolished and the new Wembley Stadium opened in 2007.

*Jolly Jumbo was the nickname of William Eccleston, a trainer of world class prize fighters. Ecclestone's claim to fame was his size, he "Possessed a Falstaffian girth of 6 feet 1½ inches, he had 30 inch thighs and his heaviest recorded weight was an impressive 38 stone." He was referred to as the King's heaviest subject and his sunny disposition earned him his nickname Jolly Jumbo.

London - Wembley Park : Image credit Brent Archives London - Wembley Park : Image credit Wiki Commons
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Photos : University of Westminster Records and Archives, Brent Archives, Wiki Commons
Maps    : National Library of Scotland