15 Things You Never Knew About Wembley Park

By Sponsor Last edited 6 months ago

Last Updated 23 November 2023

15 Things You Never Knew About Wembley Park

Brought to you in partnership with Wembley Park.

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"

Humphrey Repton gave Wembley Park its name

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

Promotional poster for the new Metropolitan line to Wembley Park. Image © Retro Ad Archives, Alamy

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, as part of what they dubbed 'Metroland' — a collection of several new developments in north west London. These plans included the largest tower ever attempted in London...

4. London's answer to the Eiffel Tower was partly built here

Above 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, circa 1894. The Watkin Tower is shown as though completed, though it never was.

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

A map of the British Empire Exhibition

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 Stadium 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

Avengers at Brent Civic Centre

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!

In more recent years, Wembley Park has served as a film location for the likes of EastEnders, Ted Lasso, and the 2022 horror film, Choose Or Die. Wembley Stadium even has a brief cameo in Netflix's record smashing satire, Don't Look Up.

10. It's got a secret pool

The Empire Pool in Wembley Park

Wembley Stadium has famously played host to its fair share of world-class football matches, but did you know that OVO Arena Wembley (as it is currently known) has its own incredible sporting legacy? Originally called The Empire Pool, it opened for the 1934 British Empire Games, now the Commonwealth Games. The 61m pool featured Europe’s first wave machine and a diving pool – parts of the former remain, hidden under the Arena’s floor to this day!

As well as swimming, the venue hosted ice skating, horse shows, boxing, tennis, indoor speedway and wrestling events. Daily, the venue accommodated up to 5,000 visitors offering swimming, diving, cafés, restaurants, sunbathing on adjacent lawns — and a dance floor.

The 1948 Olympics also took place here. Both The Empire Pool and Wembley Stadium were offered free of charge by the venues' chair Sir Arthur Elvin, of Wembley Stadium and Arena, amid post-war austerity.

11. Making musical history

Live Aid at Wembley Stadium, 1985. Image © Pictorial Press Ltd, Alamy

Many legendary artists like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Cliff Richard, and Status Quo played their first Wembley shows at the Empire Pool. ABBA had six sold-out concerts there in 1979. Cliff Richard holds the record for most shows by a solo artist at the venue — 61! — while Status Quo's the band that’s set the stage ablaze the most times, with 45 performances.

Wembley Stadium, of course, boasts its own share of iconic moments in the history of music. Live Aid has got to be a particular highlight – welcoming 72,000 spectators, raising £150 million for famine relief, and becoming one of the largest ever live global satellite broadcasts of all time, with an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion across 150 nations. More recently, The Weeknd drew 87,000 fans — breaking the record for ticket sales with a traditional stage setup, as the Stadium celebrated its 100th birthday in 2023.

12. All sorts of cultural antics

Free weekend entertainment at the Wembley Park Sound Shell Stage

Building on this incredible history of entertainment, Wembley Park continues to put on a show. From light festivals to orchestral concerts in car parks, to seasonal events such as Diwali celebrations, there's always something going on — much of it totally free!

And that's before we even get started on those held at the neighbourhood's various world-class cultural venues. You've heard of the stadium and the arena, but did you know that Wembley Park is now also home to a West End-calibre theatre. The Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre, which first opened in 2019, has hosted acclaimed shows like War Horse, The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night Time, and Disney's Newsies. In 2024, the theatre will be transformed into the 'Starlight Auditorium' for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Starlight Express.

13. Wembley Park has one of London's biggest outdoor free art trails

Wembley Park's Spanish Steps host a rotating range of artworks

Wembley Park is gaining recognition for its art scene. The Wembley Park Art Trail offers a mix of permanent collections and seasonal exhibitions, turning public spaces into art galleries. Notable artists like Mr Doodle, Claire Luxton, and JR have left their mark on everything from buildings to steps, to pavements.

14. London's largest BOXPARK

BOXPARK Wembley is the largest one in London

Since 2018, Wembley Park has been home to the largest BOXPARK in London. It features a huge selection of street food traders — choose between gourmet vegan burgers, Brazilian BBQ, artisan doughnuts, London's best poké bowls (there was a vote and everything), plus many more.

BOXPARK Wembley also has a whole floor dedicated to gaming where you can play crazy golf inside a pop music video, play shuffleboard and roam through a range of virtual reality experiences.

15. Who needs the Hollywood Walk of Fame?!

Dame Shirley Bassey unveils her handprints on the Wembley Park Square of Fame

Next time you're at the OVO Arena, check out its Square of Fame, emblazoned with bronze plaques imprinted with notable performers' names and handprints. The first star to have a plaque was Madonna in 2006. Others include Kylie, George Michael, Dolly Parton and Dame Shirley Bassey, added in 2019 to celebrate the Arena's 60th anniversary as a music venue.

You can find out more about Wembley Park here.