Wembley Park has emerged as one of London's brightest new creative districts, but it is also steeped in history. From its deep past to the sparkling present, here are 12 things you might not know about the area.
1. Wembley is one of London's most historic names
Wembley's world-famous name can be traced back to the early middle ages. Wemba was the name of the local landholder, about whom nothing is known. The second part is from the Old English word ley, meaning a clearing or meadow. Football fans, who traditionally add an extra syllable in the chant of 'Wemba-ley, Wemba-ley, Wemba-ley', are actually being faithful to history.
2. "...a most beautiful spot near Harrow"
While Wembley is ancient, Wembley Park was created in the late 18th century. Landscape architect Humphry Repton restyled the grounds of Wellers, the largest house in what was still a rural area. It was from this time that the lands became known as Wembley Park, a name probably coined by Repton himself. The results were very attractive. Repton described the site as "...a most beautiful spot near Harrow".
3. Wembley Park was once owned by an Underground line
In 1880, the Metropolitan Railway (now the Met line) was extended out to Harrow, cutting through Wembley Park in the process. The railway company bought much of the land at Wembley Park, and drew up plans to develop it. These included the largest tower ever attempted in London...
4. London's answer to the Eiffel Tower was partly built here
This is the base of the Watkin Tower, constructed at Wembley Park in 1899. The megastructure was the idea of the Metropolitan Railway's Sir Edward Watkin. The plan was to build an observation tower to rival the similar structure in Paris. Had it been completed, the tower would have dwarfed its rival. At 358 metres (1,175 feet), it would also have stood taller than the modern-day Shard. Unfortunately, the tower only reached first base before funds dried up. It was demolished a few years later, and the original Wembley Stadium was built in its place.
5. Drawing visitors for 125 years
Wembley Park would eventually become famous for its football stadium. But the area was an attractive destination long before. From 1893, the restyled gardens were opened to the public. The following year, 100,000 people visited in just three months — and this in an age when leisure time was rare for the majority. Attractions included sports grounds, tea pagodas, bandstands, a lake, a nine-hole golf course and a variety theatre. In the winter, the lake was used as a skating ring. The Metropolitan Railway could whisk visitors from Baker Street to Wembley Park in just 12 minutes — as it still does today.
6. A royal statue made of butter
The park was transformed in 1922-23 to prepare for the colossal British Empire Exhibition. This remarkable spectacle showcased the wonders of empire. Numerous pavilions were built in exotic styles, like the Malaya Pavilion with its dome and minarets, and the pagoda-topped pavilion of Burma. The exhibition was filled with head-turners, including electric shuttle buses, a (then rare) Indian restaurant, and a statue of the future Edward VIII made out of butter.
7. Wembley Park had its own ghost station
To help visitors reach the British Empire Exhibition, Wembley Park station was enlarged. But an entirely new station was also set up, known as Exhibition Station (Wembley), for trains running out of Marylebone. It opened on 23 April 1923 to bring supporters to the first FA Cup Final held at Wembley. It closed in 1969. The remains of this ghost station have long since been covered by industrial buildings, but the curve of the rail route can still be seen in satellite views, to the east of Wembley stadium.
8. Old Wembley was recycled
Fans of the old Wembley Stadium can still pay homage to the demolished landmark. In a remarkable act of recycling, much of the rubble was transported to nearby Northolt and sculpted into four artificial hills. Northala Fields has won awards for its landscaping. You can see the modern Wembley Stadium — and Wembley Park — from the summit.
9. Wembley Park attracts superheroes
Such is the pulling power of the area that it's even visited by superheroes. In the film Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Iron Man and the Hulk duke it out in Johannesburg. The scenes were actually filmed inside Brent Civic Centre in Wembley Park. Fortunately, the damage was only digital!
10. Wembley Park now hosts over 100 events a year
Building on this incredible history of entertainment, Wembley Park continues to put on a show... and not just at the stadium. From the OVO Energy Tour Series cycle race, to book swaps to open mic comedy to urban gardening, there really is something for everybody. Look out for the free community activities at the Yellow Pavilion.
11. Wembley Park has one of London's largest works of street art
The incredible Mr Doodle has brought his unique brand of street art to Wembley Park, big time. The black-and-white pensmith has covered seven pillars and 12 cinder blocks, adding up to around 43 million square inches (28,000 square metres) of doodle — the equivalent of three football pitches.
12. London's only designer outlet centre to feature a HARIBO store
We all have fond memories of HARIBO sweets, from Starmix to Tangfastics to Super Mix!. The childhood favourite has its own store within the outlet centre. Alongside the familiar treats, select from seasonal exclusives as well as vegetarian and halal options.
Visit the Wembley Park website to find out what's coming up.