Sunday 1 October 2017

OF – a little word makes a big difference.

Guest post by Philip Grant

A couple of months ago I was walking along Empire Way, for the first time in a while, when a new street name caught my eye: 

Palace Arts Way street name sign
Many people, new to the Wembley Park area, might wonder who or what “Palace Arts” is or was, and why a road should be called that. As someone with an interest in local history, I realised that the road is by the site of the former 1924 British Empire Exhibition Palace of Arts building, so why was the “OF” missing from its name?
I wrote a joint email to Quintain’s Wembley Park company and to Brent Council’s street names department, asking whether there was a mistake on the sign, and if not, why the “OF” was missing from the name. Brent replied promptly, saying that Quintain had submitted the naming application in 2015, and that all proposed names are subject to consultation with the emergency services (they sent me a copy of the London Fire Brigade guidelines on street names) before being approved. 
It was a couple of months before I received a full response from Quintain, but when I did it was clear that they had asked for the street to be called “Palace of Arts Way”. Brent had declined to accept that name, and they thought this was because “OF” was not permitted as a word in street names. Having checked the L.F.B. guidelines, there is no mention of “OF”, although it does say that new street names should not begin with “The”. It appears that the reason the name was shortened may be because the guidelines suggest that names of more than three syllables (before the suffix “Road”, “Street” or “Way” etc.) should be avoided.
Guidelines should be respected, but they are not strict rules. No doubt I am biased over this particular name, but surely common sense and respect for the heritage of Wembley Park should allow an extra, two-letter, syllable in this case? Just speak the names out loud. “Palace of Arts Way” has a soft flow to it, and would take no longer to say in a 999 call than “Palace Arts Way”, which has a hard sound between the first two words that forces you to take a short break in speaking them.
Why all this fuss over a little word? What is special about the Palace of Arts which means that it should be remembered in a street name? Let me share at bit more Wembley history with you.
As with much of Wembley Park’s story, it involves the British Empire Exhibition, which was held in 1924 and 1925. Like its larger neighbours, the Palaces of Industry and Engineering, the Palace of Arts (seen here in a postcard from the time) was one of the big reinforced concrete buildings showing off the best that Britain had to offer.

Palace of Arts 1924 postcard
A full range of arts and crafts were on show in the building’s many galleries, including paintings by leading British artists from the 18th century onwards, and furniture in room settings from the same period up to the 1920’s. There was a sculpture gallery, and rooms displaying works by artists from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and Burma. Other exhibits showed the development of architecture, pottery, paper-making, printing and bookbinding. One room sold works by current artists and craftspeople, with nothing costing more than half a guinea (now 52.5 pence, but worth rather more then), showing that art could be affordable to the general public.
One of the main attractions was Queen Mary’s Dolls House, which visitors had to pay an extra 6d (2.5 pence) to see - more than 1.6 million did so in 1924, with all the money going to charities nominated by the Queen. The project to make this was begun in 1921, with the 8ft 6in x 5ft x 5ft high mansion designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Hundreds of companies donated 1/12th scale working models of their products (including piano-makers Broadwoods, who had a works in Kingsbury at the time). Leading artists created miniature paintings to decorate the rooms, and top authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling hand-wrote short stories and poems in tiny books for the dolls house’s library.

Packing up Queen Mary's doll house 1920's
After the Exhibition, the Dolls House was moved to Windsor Castle (where it can be seen today), with money from visitors to see it still going to charity. Although some of the Exhibition’s buildings were demolished after it ended, the Palace of Arts survived. It was used mainly as storage space for Wembley Stadium, and especially for the Empire Pool / Wembley Arena after that was built across the road in 1934 (you need somewhere to put the sections of the banked timber track, that you use for your annual six-day cycle race, for the other 359 days!).

Palace of Arts as BBC Broadcasting Centre for 1948 Olympics
 The building got a new lease of life in 1948, when the facilities at Wembley were used to host the Olympic Games. The BBC took over the building to provide the broadcasting centre for radio presenters and journalists from around the world who came to cover the Games. It continued to be used as the main base for the BBC’s outside broadcast unit until the Television Centre in Shepherd’s Bush opened in the 1960’s. After that, the ageing structure began to fall into disrepair and, although it was a “listed building”, permission was given to demolish it in the early 2000’s. 

Palace of Arts awaiting demolition 2002
Basilica, Palace of Arts, November 2004
For a number of years the site remained derelict, and many local residents will remember the last, forlorn surviving part of the “Palace” alongside Empire Way. The Basilica had been a wing of the original building devoted to religious art. Before this part of the building was finally demolished, several beautiful mosaics were carefully removed, and one of these can now be seen in Brent Museum.

Cedar House, Emerald Gardens, on site of Palace of Arts
Quintain finally got round to developing this area of their Wembley Park estate around 2013. The blocks of apartments on the site are now called Emerald Gardens, fronting onto Engineers Way opposite the Arena. I admit that “Palace of Engineering Way” would have been too much of a mouthful, but I still think the little road along the back of Emerald Gardens should have been called “Palace OF Arts Way”.

Philip Grant


L Green said...

At least they didn't miss the t out of arts. I wouldn't rule out simple mistakes. I worked for another London borough where a square had three different spellings of its name in three corners.

Film London [A Bigger Picture project] and presumably Brent Archives have film of the Exhibition, with the King going round on the miniature train etc. We showed this at Preston Library, and could possibly show something similar again if you were able to come and talk?

claremounties said...

Perhaps some graffiti artist might just add it in anyway!

Anonymous said...

Society is meant to progress, but in Brent its regress. Such a sad loss.

Unknown said...

Your so right Philip, but I fear your command of the English language is wasted on Brent Council. As even their phone service does not recognise plain english.

Unknown said...

I so morn the demise of Wembley Park, in fact there is no park, just concrete faceless buildings, no artistic merit in design, no Park, or green space, just a concrete jungle, no personality, no community. In less than 20 years they have wiped off the memories of the British Empire Exhibition and all that it represented off the face of Wembley. So sad and desolate now. Twin towers and iconic stadium and surrounding area has been replaced with tower blocks which are neither iconic or outstanding and Arthur Elvin must be turning in his grave. The trees have gone no longer can you hear the birds sing. You can't even hear the sounds of football fans celebrating a goal, you can't hear the dulcette tones of bands ringing out from the stadium, it is all contained within the concrete jungle, which is expanding on epic proportions along the high road and into Wembley Central. It's just sad on every level.

Philip Grant said...

Dear Jaine,

I know it is only a small relic, but we do still have a BEE "Wembley Lion" on the green space in Wembley Hill Road, opposite York House.

In 2013/14 Wembley History Society and the Exhibition Study Group worked in partnership with Brent Council and Quintain to get at least one concrete lion head from the demolished Palace of Industry saved, and put on permanent public display. There is an illustrated panel on the side of its plinth, which helps to tell its story.

Following a campaign, including a blog on this site, earlier this year, Quintain have confirmed that the two BEE concrete lion head plaques outside the former Fountain Studios building will be retained and re-displayed as part of their Fulton Quarter development. Hopefully, they will also have panels nearby, telling the stories of Wembley Park, the BEE and the film and TV studios.

Yes, we have lost a lot in the redevelopment of Wembley Park since the start of this century, but there is still a chance to keep its memory alive, and to share its stories with those who were born too late to know it.


Unknown said...

It is nice to see them when I ride the bus, but I am still very sad but very appreciative of our local historian that keeps the memory alive. I was there today and can see tower blocks going up so we will not see the stadium from outside the civic centre when they are completed.

Unknown said...

I wonder why WNSL did not buy the surrounding area of the stadium. That would have prevented them (Quintain) from ruining the view, even at close quarters. I understood that WNSL owned 75 acres and they sold 45 acres. When and how did this change?

Philip Grant said...

Dear Jaine,

You will probably remember the fuss around the year 2000, about how much the new Wembley Stadium was going to cost, even before they demolished the old one. WNSL needed the money, so they sold the land that they didn't think they would need for the stadium project (including the Wembley Arena).

Quintain could see the opportunities for developing the "spare" land at a profit, while WNSL were too focused on the football side of things.


Unknown said...

Just to set the record straight, when the BBC outside broadcasting unit moved out of the palace of arts, they moved to a new purpose made building in Kendal avenue, Acton not television center shepherds Bush.
I used to visit both buildings as a kid, my father was Les Edwards, BBC engineering manager,outside broadcasts.