09 December 2016 | 13 °C

12 Massive Towers That Might Have Been Built At Wembley

M@
By M@
12 Massive Towers That Might Have Been Built At Wembley

Imagine a building in London almost twice the height of the Shard. Imagine it had towered over the capital for more than a century. Instead of lifts, a steam train spirals round the outside. Somewhere in a parallel universe, such a wonder now stands in place of Wembley Stadium.

Towards the close of the 19th century, rail magnate Sir Edward Watkin was intent on all manner of ambitious schemes, including a tunnel under the Channel (it'll never work). He also dreamt of a gigantic tower, to rival the wonder of Paris and draw tourists to his rail network. Gustave Eiffel was himself unsuccessfully approached to design the behemoth, before the commission was eventually opened out to competition. Some of the entries are presented below.

The winning design, which was partially built. 366 metres tall, with a hotel at first floor level.
The winning design, which was partially built. 366 metres tall, with a hotel at first floor level.
This stout fellow looks like the Tower of Babel and has a steam locomotive line running all the way to the top, some 610 metres high.
This stout fellow looks like the Tower of Babel and has a steam locomotive line running all the way to the top, some 610 metres high.
Eiffel Tower, but bigger, bolder and with bingo wings. 555 metres.
Eiffel Tower, but bigger, bolder and with bingo wings. 555 metres.
Screw you, France. 579 metres.
Screw you, France. 579 metres.
Our favourite. So Victorian - let's build a massive obelisk, let's build it to 612 metres high, and let's plonk a 1/10 model of the Great Pyramid on top. We're Victorians and we can do anything.
Our favourite. So Victorian - let's build a massive obelisk, let's build it to 612 metres high, and let's plonk a 1/10 model of the Great Pyramid on top. We're Victorians and we can do anything.
This concrete will remind space geeks of a Russian N1 Rocket...only much taller at 366 metres.
This concrete will remind space geeks of a Russian N1 Rocket... only much taller at 366 metres.
This one looks like the bastard offspring of the Shard and Tower Bridge. At 396 metres tall, it would have been loftier than either parent.
This one looks like the bastard offspring of the Shard and Tower Bridge. At 396 metres tall, it would have been loftier than either parent.
Proper Victorian gothic, and designed to swing a pendulum within the open interior for scientific experiment. 395 metres tall.
Proper Victorian gothic, and designed to swing a pendulum within the open interior for scientific experiment. 395 metres tall.
Imagine this next to Wembley Stadium, a giant football standing 442 metres in the air.
Imagine this next to Wembley Stadium, a giant football standing 442 metres in the air.
This one pre-empts communication towers of half a century later. 377 metres tall.
This one pre-empts communication towers of half a century later. 377 metres tall.
These guys totally just got the Victorian version of Photoshop and clicked the 'warp' tool on a drawing of the Eiffel Tower.
These guys totally just got the Victorian version of Photoshop and clicked the 'warp' tool on a drawing of the Eiffel Tower.
That spiral around the outside...it's a tram line. Madness. Madness at 366 metres.
That spiral around the outside...it's a tram line. Madness. Madness at 366 metres.

The winning design, by Stewart, MacLaren and Dunn, was a slender version of the Eiffel Tower, but with eight legs and a height of 366 metres (beating Paris by 42m) was indeed partly constructed, and photographs exist. But lack of funding stalled the project. The abandoned structure was eventually demolished in 1907, and later replaced as local focus by Wembley Stadium. The deleted tower is now usually known as 'Watkin's Folly', and we featured it in a Time Travel London article.

Thanks to the wonderful Public Domain Review, it's possible to pore over the various alternative proposals, and dream about what might have been at Wembley. Many are rip-offs of the Eiffel Tower, but others are truly novel. In nearly every case, the design would have resulted in by far the tallest structure in the world. One or two would still make it into the top 5.

Check through the Public Domain Review scans to see all 68 of them, with accompanying notes. The campaign starts here for a steam-powered funicular up the side of the Shard.

See also:

Unbuilt London: Tall Towers and Strange Skyscrapers

Last Updated 10 October 2016