Wembley lies in the southeastern Brent.
The name Wembley comes from the Ango-Saxon 'Wembalea' which means 'Wemba's forest clearing'. The first settlement on a hill which later became the triangular Wembley Green. Throughout Middle Ages much of the surrounding area was covered by woods. Later the Harrow Road ran to the south of the hill.
Wembley manor was a submanor of Harrow. By 1536 it was leased to the Page family, the main landowners in Wembley after the Reformation. In the 16th century Wembley was a small village, but it was also one of the richest in Harrow. A mill decorated the top of Wembley Hill in 1673.
By the middle of the 18th century the village contained over 40 houses and an inn. The nearby farms shifted from arable to hay farming, which came to a decline in the 19th century and gave way to animal farming.
The Development of Transport
The Harrow Road was a major transport thoroughfare from London to the north. In 1801 a turnpike was set up on it at Wembley. By 1826 there were two coaches a day.
The first railway station was on the London & Birmingham Railway. It was opened in 1842 and called Sudbury (now Wembley Central). It was a halt - an unmanned request stop.
In the middle of the 19th century the Missed Copland made a large contribution towards the development of Wembley. They paid for the Church of St.John the Evangelist (which made Wembley a separate parish from Harrow),a school, the Workmen's Hall and a hospital. Trade began to develop - there were shops in Wembley by 1882. Soon suburban housing began to be built, together with improved transport, piped water and sewerage, roads were improved.
In 1894 Wembley Urban District was formed. It included Kingsbury, which gained independence in 1900 but was joined with Wembley again in 1934.
Wembley Stadium and the British Empire Exhibition
By the time of the British Empire Exhibition of 1924-4 Wembley was 'a beautiful and salubrious little suburb' with an important shopping centre on Wembley High Road and Wembley Park pleasure grounds.
Wembley Park used to belong to the Page family in the 16-17th century. In the 1870 it was landscaped. At the end of the 19th century the Wembley Park estate was purchased by the Metropolitan Railway to create pleasure grounds. Its chairman Edward Watkin planned to build a 1,200 foot steel tower to rival the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It was to complement a beautifully paid out part with leisure and sports facilities. The Park opened in 1894 and was only 12 minutes from Baker Street thanks to Metropolitan Railway. The tower, however, had to be abandoned, partly due to the unsuitability of the marshland and demolished in 1904.
A stadium was built on the site of the tower which held the 1923 Football Cup Final, which turned out to be huge affair with thousands of people overwhelming Wembley.
In 1924-5 the British Empire Exhibition was held in the grounds of Wembley Park. It facilitated suburban development in the area. Roads and sewerage were improved. Many visitors to the exhibition decided to settle in the area and a lot of houses were built to satisfy the demand. At the same time, many existing rich residents moved out of Wembley to avoid the Exhibition and its consequences.
After the Exhibition the buildings were sold and many demolished. The Stadium was saved and became the home of English football.
Before the Second World War Wembley became a major shopping centre, with constantly growing housing development, social facilities, churches and schools. Some large engineering and luxury goods manufacturers took over the empty buildings of the Empire Exhibition.
The Second World War
During the Second World War 9,000 bombs fell on Wembley, killing 149 people and damaging over half the houses in the Borough. Wembley citizens bought a Spitfire aircraft and later contributed to the cost of HMS Whelp. The present Duke of Edinburgh was an officer on Whelp when the ship witnessed the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on 2nd September 1945.
The 14th Olympic Games were held in Wembley in 1948, the second time in London. Olympic Way was built at a cost of £120,000.
In the 1950s many offices moved to Wembley from Central London. A property boom followed, many houses were reconstructed and flats replaced larger properties. At the same time the industry declined and was replaced by warehouses and DIY stores.
The Shopping Mecca
In 1950-70s Wembley High Street was perhaps the fastest growing shopping centre north of the Thames. Between 196 and 1965 a railway goods yard was converted into a large car park and an open shopping centre called Central Square. The market, however, never quite took off.
Since the 1980s the fame of Wembley as a shopping Mecca has declined. Recently it has become a popular place to live for immigrants from the Indian subcontinent who run many shops in the area.
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© Brent Heritage website 2002