Many thanks to local historian Philip Grant for this guest post:
A comment on a recent item about “ A Tour of Wembley Park’s Green and Open Spaces” LINK said:
‘I would love to see where the “lake” is going to appear. Just thought, with all the building work there will only be space for a large puddle in one of the many potholes in Wembley...Lake Water Butt.’
What better opportunity for me to share with you the story of two previous lakes at Wembley Park, and one which is promised for the near future.In May 1894 the Metropolitan Railway Company opened Wembley Park Station, to serve the new pleasure grounds which were brainchild of its chairman, Sir Edward Watkin. The gardens were designed to entice people from crowded inner London (travelling by train, of course) to spend their leisure time in this beautiful setting. Apart from the promise of a tower, taller than Eiffel’s in Paris, the attractions included a man-made lake, fed by the Wealdstone Brook, where visitors could hire rowing boats.
|Lake 1 OS map with Wealdstone Brook and lake|
Wembley Park’s pleasure grounds were very popular at first, but the tower (which became known as Watkin’s Folly) never got above its first stage, and was demolished in 1906/07. Before 1914, part of the grounds were being used as a golf course, and there were plans that the site would become Wembley’s next “garden village” suburb. Then the Great War came.
In 1921, the vacant pleasure grounds (with their excellent rail access) were chosen as the site for the British Empire Exhibition. When the layout for this vast enterprise was designed, the existing lake was filled in, providing a garden which welcomed visitors entering from the station, and a new lake was constructed.
|Lake 2, BEE plan with lake and rivers|
The new artificial lake, across the east-west axis of the site, was not just an attractive feature for recreational use. It was designed to collect and store water running off of the exhibition’s huge concrete buildings, so that the Wealdstone Brook would not flood after heavy rain.
|The BEE lake looking towards the Indian Pavilion, 1924|
After the exhibition closed in 1925, most of the pavilions of Empire nations were demolished. A vast swimming pool / sports arena was constructed at the western end of the lake, in time for the British Empire Games in 1934 (the road along one side of Wembley Arena is still called Lakeside Way). The remains of the rest of the lake survived for many years, but were eventually filled in to provide car parks for the old Wembley Stadium.
|Wembhey Stadium, reflected in the BEE lake, after demolition of tge Australia and Canada pavilions, c1930|
There is no lake at Wembley Park now, but in the latest version of Quintain’s masterplan for the redevelopment of the ex-Wembley Stadium land they bought in 2002, there will be a new lake, as part of a seven acre (not seven hectare, as sometimes claimed by Brent Council) park. As the lake might be difficult to spot on the coloured plan below, I have marked it with a yellow arrow.
|Lake 3 (arrowed) on Quintain's master plan for Wembley, 202|
This plan, and the image below, were part of a talk given to Wembley History Society in January 2018 by Julian Tollast, Quintain’s Head of Masterplanning and Design. Plans can, of course, be changed as developments progress, but if Julian’s vision for the new lake (in more or less the same place as the eastern end of the 1924 BEE lake) goes ahead, this is what it would look like in around 2027:-
|Quintain's vision of the new park and lake|
An existing road, Engineers Way, will cut across the lake and park. The park is a much smaller feature for the number of local residents than the parks which local Councils provided for their ratepayers in the past, although the “lake” would be bigger than a ‘Water Butt’. To his credit, Mr Tollast is conscious of history, and of the part played by the landscape architect Humphry Repton in shaping this area, which was named Wembley Park because of his work here in the 1790’s. He plans to use a landscaping feature favoured by Repton to reduce the view of the road from the park; a ha-ha (don’t laugh!).