Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Plans for First Way – where has our love of beauty gone?

The Indian Pavilion and the  Lake

 Guest blog by Philip Grant. I wonder if any recent planning application has contained the word 'beauty'!
Martin’s recent blog LINK  about possible plans for another hotel, on the Latif House site in First Way, just to the east of Wembley Stadium, reminded me how beautiful this location has been in the past.
Two hundred years ago it was part of the landscaped grounds of the Wembley Park mansion, which from the 1890’s became pleasure grounds for days out from the crowded streets of London. After the First World War it provided a home for the British Empire Exhibition in 1924, and the Latif House site (in red on the 1924 plan below) was part of the India Pavilion. This was an exotic edifice, in white painted re-inforced concrete  and fibrous plaster on a steel frame, in the 17th century Moghul style.

The India Pavilion was divided into 27 sections, each for a separate Indian state, around a courtyard with a large expanse of water, surrounded by an open colonnade. The pavilion buildings took up three of the 4.9 acres allocated to the country, and the rest was laid out as gardens with palm trees and tropical flowers, and open spaces for visitors to enjoy.  

Each individual state’s “Court” had a display showcasing its particular skills and products, including (by coincidence, given the most recent use of the site) carpets from Bengal and Agra, which had a craftsman showing how these were made. Carvings in wood and ivory, jewellery, textiles and metalwork were all made in the pavilion and available to buy, and its restaurant introduced Indian dishes to the British public.

After the Exhibition ended, most of the building was demolished, although the concrete base it had been built on and some of the steel framework were re-used for commercial premises (see the address on the 1950’s advert!),  becoming the industrial estate we know today. The postcard view of the India Pavilion, at the eastern end of the BEE’s artificial lake, would today have a car park in the foreground, and ugly warehouses behind. Now there are proposals for a 16-storey hotel and 11-storey “apart-hotel”, more tall soulless boxes, rather than family homes, gardens and public green space, where once there was beauty. I’m not asking for a return to the mock-minarets and fantasy buildings of the British Empire Exhibition, but surely the planners and developers can do better than what they are delivering on the former exhibition grounds at Wembley Park!


  1. I do so agree with you Philip.

  2. Don't abandon hope, Philip. When Butt declares himself Beloved Leader for Life just before the next elections I can see him being quite open to a few 'mock minarets and fantasy buildings' to tart up the peacock-infested grounds of his People's Palace.

    Mike Hine

  3. I too agree with you Philip, all these little boxes piled on top of one another, no art, aesthestics, or imagination on the part of the developers or planners. I would also like them to find another name for this urban conurbation, as Wembley Park it certainly isn't. In fact, much to my amusement a tourist asked me directions last friday, having given them, they then asked "Why do they call it Wembley Park? cos I couldn't find one, I only saw the childrens play area". I explained that less than 100 years ago the whole of this area was parkland which the Victorian's enjoyed at their leisure. Their answer was "Oh that's so SAD, and I have to agree. So Quintain, Lone Star Investments or whatever you now call yourselves should look for a new name, for this area of Wembley!, and while your at it stop calling these unattractive blocks of flats, Montana, and Dakota, names of trees etc. cos when I see those names in conjures up images of Wyoming wild beautiful countryside in the Mid West States of USA, not what I see in Wembley NOPARK.

  4. I forgot to say - most of the images used in my guest blog are from the Wembley History Society Collection at Brent Archives.

    You can search for local history images, and view them, from thousands of old photographs and postcards (including several hundred from the British Empire Exhibition) by visiting the Brent Archives website at:
    and clicking on the "online catalogue" link.


  5. Gazing at the Acropolis of Athens over the weekend I was thinking exactly the same thing. I still can't get over the changes previously posted on Wembley Matters by Phillip Grant in Wembley Park. The destruction of all that Greenery, for concrete monstrosity over the years is astonishing. If developers are unable/unwilling to up their game (even on basic things like mitigating climate impact or ensuring real affordable housing) it is surely up to council planners to ensure they do so. Yet we know the council planners are reliant on the councillors we select.

    1. What I find hard to grasp, it that safe from the odd one or two, many of the Councillors who sit on the planning committee have very little work/life/background experience or interest in planning or development. I find it hard to believe that it should not be compulsory to have a Councillor from the ward that is being discussed where these large planning applications are being discussed should be made to sit on the panel soley to represent the views of the residents who have elected them.

    2. Alison Hopkins2 June 2017 at 12:32

      Jaine, I do agree the members ought to have expertise: they used to! In law, you're not allowed to vote or take part in a committee discussion if you've an "interest", but you can of course, speak. Problem is, councillors don't always side with residents. We had one case here where the residents were just about unanimously opposed, but the ward councillor spoke in favour.