Our next stop was the Borough of Brent, where we explored Kensal Green Cemetery, as well as the famous Wembley Stadium, home to England’s National Football Team…
Status: London Borough of Brent, Greater London (historically Middlesex), District, England
Travel: London Underground (Various)
Eating & Sleeping: Quality Hotel
Attractions: Kensal Green Cemetery, Brunel’s Grave, Wembley, Wembley Stadium, Bobby Moore Statue, Wembley Arena etc
Our journey began at Kensal Green Tube Station, when we arrived on a Bakerloo Line Train from Central London. The Station opened in 1916 as part of the London & North Western Railway (LNWR), on a new line that was built between London Euston and the town of Watford in Hertfordshire, alongside the existing mainline towards Glasgow. The line wouldn’t reach Watford until 1922, although services on the Bakerloo Line, which shares its track with the line, began in 1915, running as far as Willesden Junction, later stopping at Kensal Green when the station opened.
Today the Station is served by both the Bakerloo Line and London Overground services between Central London and Watford Junction.
Just a short walk up the road from the station brings you to Kensal Green Cemetery, which is where it gets slightly complicated. The Cemetery is actually split between Brent, Hammersmith & Fulham and the City of Westminster, but as we arrived at a Brent Tube Station I have included it all here. The entrance we used is on Harrow Road at the West End, and is also the entrance to St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, and the West London Crematorium, which along with Kensal Green all run contiguously with each other.
The Cemetery is an incredible place to explore, there are hundreds upon hundreds of different tombs, graves and small mausoleums for you to explore, some dating back centuries. Kensal Green was founded in 1833 by George Frederick Carden (1798 – 1874, English Barrister) who wanted to create a Cemetery in England similar to 1 called Pere-Lachaise in Paris. It took many years for his plans to go through, but eventually, with a large 54 acre site to work with, his plans were realised.
The stunning variety all around you means that you could spend literally hours here looking through the various tombs and graves. In fact, we were here to find 1 specific grave, that of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859) 1 of Britain’s most famous Engineers, who created the Great Western Railway (London – Bristol/Wales), the Bristol Clifton Suspension Bridge, SS Great Britain and much more.
Sadly, after a good 2 hours of exploration we couldn’t find it, as although his status as 1 of history’s greatest Engineers would suggest it, he doesn’t lie in a grand mausoleum that you can see from the other end of the Cemetery, but a normal, finely sculpted gravestone. It’s a shame we never found it, but we narrowed down at least half of the Cemetery, so maybe next time!
Moving away from the area around Kensal Green, we left for the outer Western edge of Brent, at Wembley, home to 1 of the most famous Football Stadiums in the world, Wembley Stadium, shown above.
This is of course the new incarnation of the Stadium, but rewinding a bit to 1922, the British Empire Exhibition was about to begin in the area known as Wembley. Back then, the British Empire encompassed almost 60 countries around the globe, almost all of which attended the exhibition which started in 1924, designed to showcase the achievements of Britain and its Empire, and strengthen the bonds that bound them all together. Consisting of 3 main buildings, termed “Palaces”, those of Arts, Engineering and Industry, preparation was soon underway, and the Palaces were built out of concrete during 1923, along with a number of smaller buildings. 1 of these was the Empire Exhibition Stadium, completed in early 1923, which would go on to be renamed Wembley Stadium after the Exhibition. The 1st ever football match at Wembley was held in April 1923, the FA Cup final between Bolton & West Ham, which Bolton won 2-0.
In 1966 it was also the venue where the English National Football Team won their 1st, and to date only World Cup, which ended 4-2 against (West) Germany in Extra Time.
The entrance to the Stadium was marked by twin rectangular towers topped by small domes. Sadly these iconic landmarks, along with the rest of the stadium, was demolished in 2003, and the new Stadium built in it’s place, opening in 2007, becoming the largest Stadium in the UK, and the 2nd largest in Europe. The new design was by HOK Sport (Which became Populous in 2009)/Foster & Partners, and interestingly the building contains the most toilets of any venue in the entire world!
Tours of the stadium are available, and takes you from the Trophy Room to the changing rooms of the England Team, and out into the stands where you can gaze out at the 90,000 seats around the interior diameter.
Wembley is officially a UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Category 4* Stadium, with the categories based around the size of the pitch, number of seats for fans, VIP seats, press boxes etc. Wembley has the 2nd highest capacity in Europe after only Barcelona’s Camp Nou, at just under 100,000 seats.
You can find out more, and book, the guided tours available around Wembley on their official website here.
Wembley Stadium doesn’t just look incredible during the day, but also in the evening, when the 440 ft tall Wembley Arch (which supports the roof) lights up both the Stadium and the surrounding area. I took this picture from 1 of the higher floors of the “Quality Hotel” when I stayed here with a friend in 2011, and it’s quite a view.
The area around the Stadium is constantly being developed, and much like Canary Wharf over in Tower Hamlets, it is very much an up and coming area.
The Wembley Arch also has the distinction of having the largest single span of any roof structure in the entire world. Completing the Stadium is a sliding roof, to allow the roof to retract during sunlight hours to help the grass grow, yet also able to shade fans during bad weather etc (although it doesn’t cover the entire Stadium).
Outside the main entrance to the Stadium stands a statue of 1 of English footballs most famous players, Sir Bobby Moore (1941 – 1993) who was the captain of the English National Team during the 1966 World Cup, assisting in 2 goals against Germany (1 in normal time, 1 in extra time – being England’s 4th and final goal of the game). He was also captain of London team West Ham United between 1958 – 1974.
To access Wembley from Central London, you have 3 options, you can either:
1) Jubilee/Metropolitan Lines
Both of these London Underground Lines serve Wembley Park station from Central London, located to the North of the Stadium.
2) London Overground
Take a London Overground route which meets up with the Bakerloo at Queen’s Park and Willesden Junction, taking you to Wembley Central (1842) or North Wembley (1912), to the South West of the Stadium. This route allows a direct train to/from London Euston, where you can connect for the West Coast Main Line towards Birmingham, Preston, Carlisle and Scotland etc.
3) National Rail
The Stadium is also served by another station called “Wembley Stadium” (1906), however this is a Network Rail station, on the Chiltern Main Line between London & Birmingham, although it is the closest Station to the Stadium itself, being just a few yards South of it.
As you can see we opted to use Wembley Park, and took the Jubilee Line from Westminster all the way here. Wembley Park opened in 1880 as part of the Metropolitan Railway (MR). An extension from Baker Street out to Stanmore via Wembley was eventually constructed in 1932, and became part of the Bakerloo Line in 1939. When the Jubilee Line was completed in 1979, the Northern sections of the Bakerloo Line out to Wembley/Stanmore were transferred to the new line.
The Station here was originally built to serve a grand carnival/funfair which Sir Edward Watkin (1819 – 1901, British MP born in Salford) had decided to build. Along with the various attractions he planned to build the “Watkins Tower”, similar in design to the Eiffel Tower, but taller. The idea began to take shape in the 1880’s, however he ran into financial difficulties at the start of the 20th century, and he was forced to cancel the project, and the Watkins Tower, which had only been partially built, was demolished.
Outside Wembley Park is a large metal sculpture of an Athlete, although I am unsure exactly which sport they are supposed to be participating in! Designed by Stanley Howe, it stands in Olympic Square, a pedestrianised square located directly outside the Station.
Not far from the Stadium, and worth a mention, is the Wembley Arena, shown above. Built by Arthur Elvin (1899 – 1957), the Arena opened in 1934 under the name “Empire Pool”, in time for the British Empire Games and as the name suggests it was home to a large swimming pool.
The Games had been inaugurated in 1930 in Ontario, Canada, and for the 2nd tournament London was chosen to host them. They were similar to the Olympics, however open only to members of the British Empire, aiming to bring the various nations together. The 1934 tournament was won by England with 73 total medals, with Canada (51) and Australia (14) coming 2nd and 3rd respectively. The Empire Games would eventually become the familiar Commonwealth Games, still held today, which incorporates the nations which have since gained their independence from, or are still associated with, the United Kingdom. The most recent Games were held in Glasgow in 2014, just 2 years after London hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The Arena continued in use for similar events until the 1948 Summer Olympics, also held in London, and today it is used for public events, and was renamed the Wembley Arena in 1978. In 2014 this was again changed, to the SSE Arena, after the SSE plc (Scottish & Southern Energy plc) who had just bought the building.
Outside the building stands a large square, designed as a Square of Fame, and featuring a large fountain at its centre. You can see on the picture above the fountain is lit up purple. This can be changed by standing on 1 of a number of buttons located around the edge of the fountain, for other colours such as red, blue and green etc. Also surrounding the fountain are plaques bearing the hand imprints of various celebrities, similar to the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, USA. When we visited, celebrities included: Kylie Minogue, Cliff Richard, Bryan Adams, Madonna, Lionel Richie, Status Quo, Paul Gaffney (Harlem Globetrotters), Westlife and others.
Brent is a fascinating area of London, and it’s history is largely associated with sporting activities, per the Empire Games, Wembley Stadium etc, but there are many other areas to explore as we showed at Kensal Green. The Wembley area is constantly expanding, and is 1 of the premier sport destinations in the UK, home to its largest stadium, and for the clubs that get a chance to play there when they advance through the various leagues, it is a proud moment to walk out onto the pitch to the cheering crowds. Wembley is well served by public transport as I showed you before, and as a whole the Borough of Brent has at least 13 different Tube Stations within its boundaries.
We moved on, this time using the London Overground from Central London through to the suburban London town of Richmond, in the Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames…