Guest blog by Philip Grant
A recent blog LINK told of the sad decline of Wembley’s King Edward VII Park, but this reminded me of some information and old photos that I could share with you from the park’s early years.
Wembley as a place has existed since Saxon times, with the first documentary record of “Wemba lea” (Wemba’s clearing in the forest) dating from AD825. My late Wembley History Society colleague, Len Snow LINK was fond of saying that football fans, singing their way to Wembley Stadium, had actually got the name right! But it was not until 1894 that Wembley became a separate local government area, splitting off from Harrow as Wembley Urban District, and although small in population (only around 4,500 people lived here in 1901), it had some big ideas.
One of the schemes to provide a better place to live for its residents was to open its own municipal public park, and in 1913 it bought 26 acres of farmland in Blind Lane (not far from its developing High Road) for £8,050. By the next summer the park was ready, and on 4 July 1914 it was officially opened by Queen Alexandra (by then the Queen Mother), and named King Edward VII Park in memory of her late husband.
These first two photos were taken on the day of the opening, with many of Wembley’s citizens there in their “Sunday best” clothes to enjoy the event. The musical entertainment from the bandstand was almost certainly provided by the Wembley Town Band, which had been set up in 1910, with its smart green and silver uniforms paid for by local benefactor, Titus Barham. The school next to the park had opened in 1911 as Blind Lane Council School (the first set up in the area by Wembley Urban District Council, rather than Middlesex County Council), and with the change in the name of the road to mark the opening, it became Park Lane Primary. Like every good park, King Eddie’s had a children’s playground!
Some WM readers may recognise these photographs from Geoffrey Hewlett’s “Images of London” book on Wembley (Tempus Publishing, 2002), and they are from a remarkable collection built up by Wembley History Society from the 1950’s onwards, including many donated by an important local photographer before he died in 1958, which is now held at Brent Museum and Archives.
These pictures were almost certainly taken by that photographer, Kuno Reitz, who was born in Munich in 1876, but moved to England in 1911, spending most of the rest of his life as a freelance photographer in Wembley. Just a month after King Edward VII Park opened, and these excellent photos were taken, England declared war on Germany, entering the “Great War” a week after it had first begun, because Germany had invaded neutral Belgium. Reitz was classed as an enemy alien, and spent at least part of the war years building roads, possibly for army camps and training grounds, in Northumberland.
Luckily, he returned to Wembley after the war, and the last photo is one he definitely took, for a “Wembley Guide” booklet published by the Urban District Council in 1930. The clothes may have changed a little by the inter-war years, but it was still a great place for children to play. Let’s hope that, despite the decline caused by cost-cutting and contracting out, the people of Wembley can still enjoy King Eddie’s Park for another century or more.