Leave Some History Standing!
PALACE OF INDUSTRY, Wembley. And Britain's first ever commemorative stamps.
ONE of the places where I worked when I first came to London was a factory at the back of the Wembley stadium and the old Exhibition Grounds. Coming out of Wembley Park tube station on the way to work you could cross Empire Way and pass a variety of buildings which, including the famous Twin-Towered stadium, were remnants of the 1924-5 British Empire Exhibition.
In front of the stadium were the remains of a Chinese-style bridge which had stood over an ornamental pond in a garden. I knew this because I'd been able to pick up a set of sepia postcards of the Exhibition from a second hand bookshop in Harlesden.
Other parts of the exhibition had been built to last, and were in use. Her Majesty's Stationery Office had a warehouse in one vast hall on Olympic Way, but across the road an even bigger and more imposing building was in use by GEC, who also had laboratories and a bigger factory at North Wembley, and a smaller place near Hanger Lane. I believe their place on the Exhibition grounds was the Palace of Industry. This was half a century ago. Later, during the post-Thatcher years of industrial decline it became a warehouse for imported rugs and carpets I believe. Then that too went.
You could recognise some of these buildings by the recurrent lion motif, and some country's pavilions had their name engraved in stone, but others were very distinctive in their architecture. I remember one charming little half-domed building near Wembley Hill, I think it was the Cyprus (or Malta) pavilion, and I was pleased to recognise it again from the top of a bus passing by, about ten years ago. Behind it a young fox was crossing a patch of waste ground. Since then that ground has been built on, though with nothing as memorable as the pavilion
Nowadays the former Exhibition Grounds estate is owned by a company called Quintains, Wembley stadium's highly visible arch has replaced the twin towers as its landmark, and Brent council's new civic centre is among the latest additions to the area. We've commented before on whether this multi-million pound development was what people wanted their money spent on, but we're stuck with it now, and the extras.
Which brings us to a guest posting by Philip Grant of the Wembley History Society, in Martin Francis' Wembley Matters blog:
Your recent item on Quintain’s planning application for a 1,350 space temporary car park near the new Civic Centre attracted my attention. When I looked at the details online, I found in the “small print” that it also involved demolishing the remaining part of the Palace of Industry, Wembley’s last remaining building from the 1924/25 British Empire Exhibition (“BEE”). As its “Listed Building” status was removed about ten years ago, this is no longer regarded as a “heritage asset” which requires special consent before it can be demolished, but I believe its external walls should be allowed to remain in place for a little longer.
My reason for this is that 2014 will see the 90th anniversary of the exhibition, for which the Palace of Industry was built as part of the world’s “First City of Concrete”. The BEE was one of the most important events in Wembley’s history, giving us the stadium and bringing millions of visitors to the area, which promoted its rapid suburban growth over the following ten years. One of the main aims of the exhibition was ‘... to enable all who owe allegiance to the British flag to meet on common ground and learn to know each other’, and on an international level the BEE was an important stepping stone on the path from the old Empire to the modern Commonwealth of independent nations. To discover more about the BEE, and many other local history subjects, visit the Brent Archives online Learning and Resources collection at LINK
Since 2010 I have been involved, as a volunteer, in discussions with Brent Museum and Archives about an exhibition and other events in 2014 to mark the BEE’s 90th anniversary. More recently the Arts team for the new Civic Centre (currently nearing completion at the southern end of the Palace of Industry site) have become involved, and although no final plans have yet been drawn up it is likely that these events will take place. It would be a great pity if these walls, which illustrate the scale and architecture of this great exhibition, were to be lost unnecessarily just before that anniversary, when they could be enjoyed by visitors to Wembley during the summer of 2014, probably for the final time.
Looking at the plans, it would not be necessary to demolish the remaining outside walls on the north and east sides of the Palace of Industry building to facilitate the access, lighting and all of the car parking spaces which Quintain are seeking. Only a small part of the outside walls at the north-west corner would need to be demolished, to allow access from Fulton Road. I have therefore written to Quintain and their planning agent, asking them to amend their plans so that these historic walls remain standing to their full height until they are ready to construct the proposed shopping centre which is planned for a later phase of the Wembley City redevelopment.
You may think I am getting sentimental in my old age, but much as I've been happy to see the back of the British Empire, I would regret seeing the erasure of any trace of the British Empire Exhibition. It represented something in terms of wide world horizons, trade and the development of industry. Apparently the Palace of Industry even housed a working bread factory, showing off mass production and industrialised baking when it seemed the "greatest thing since sliced bread" was er...more sliced bread,If you would like to add your support for the walls (not physically, as their ferro-concrete construction means that they can stand up by themselves!) please go to the Brent Planning website at: LINK then use the "Comment on this Planning Application" link. Alternatively, please send an email, quoting the reference number 12/3361, to David Glover, the Brent Case Officer dealing with the application, at: firstname.lastname@example.org . Thank you.
For young people growing up in Brent those ferro-concrete walls are a history lesson of an empire that seemed designed to last, and of the wealth their ancestors produced, whether here in London, in Britain, or the far corners of that empire. That's heritage.
Besides, the council planning documents I have seen speak optimistically of making Wembley a centre for cultural events and tourism. And I can't see tourist buses pulling up just so visitors can look at the car park.