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London's Almost Eiffel Tower

Somewhere beneath the pitch of England's national stadium in Wembley, London, lie the foundations of what could have been the city's tallest building.
Watkin's Tower
Watkin's Folly: In 1890s London, British politician and railway tycoon Edward Watkin had a vision to build a gigantic structure that would eclipse the Eiffel Tower. It would stand 1,200 feet above the northwestern suburb of Wembley.

"Somewhere beneath the pitch of England's national stadium in Wembley, London, lie the foundations of what could have been the city's tallest building. Inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Great Tower of London was poised to surpass it in height and reach almost 1,200 feet.

Instead, it never went past the first construction stage, which came to be known as the "London Stump." It was demolished almost 120 years ago, leaving behind an unfulfilled dream and large concrete foundations that were rediscovered in 2002, when the current stadium was built to replace an older one.

So what went wrong?

"Watkin was a born entrepreneur and he loved big ideas -- the bigger the better," says Christopher Costelloe, an expert on Victorian architecture and an inspector of historic buildings at public heritage organization Historic England. "I think he had a tendency to get so excited with his ideas that he often plowed ahead before thinking about how practical or financially viable they were."

At the same time, Watkin was looking for ways to attract more passengers onto his Metropolitan Railway -- which would later become the Metropolitan line on the London Underground.The railway passed through Wembley, then a rural hamlet northwest of central London, where Watkin had purchased land to create an amusement park: "It was meant to be the Disneyland of its day, or the successor to the early 19th-century leisure parks like Battersea Park in London or Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen," says Costelloe."

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