Walk 3: WEMBLEY CENTRAL walk to HARROW & WEALDSTONE
The train line opened in 1838 as part of a long-distance connection between London and Birmingham. Because of congestion issues, an additional set of tracks was built in 1879. When the line was electrified, the suburban tracks were provided with a specific system that was compatible with the Underground power supply and this enables both trains and Underground carriages to use the line since 1915. It is one of only two extended sections of track that is used by both types of services (the other one is between Gunnersbury and Richmond). On the section described here, the line is now served equally by London Underground Bakerloo line or by suburban trains from Euston.
Routing note: This walk connects in Wembley Central with Euston walk 2. It connects in Harrow & Wealdstone with Euston walk 4.
The station opened in 1842 as “Sudbury” and was one of the stops introduced when the train company who operated the line since 1837 decided to offer stopping services. At the time, Wembley was a minor hamlet and Sudbury a more important village. The name was changed to “Sudbury & Wembley” in 1882. By 1910, conditions had changed enough to warrant the new name “Wembley for Sudbury”. The final changeover was achieved in 1948 with “Wembley Central” with Sudbury disappearing completely from the name.
The station was an important interchange and still offers services on a little used line connecting directly Watford with Earl’s Court via Wembley. Unfortunately, the way the station is built causes long-distance trains to create a dangerous wind tunnel effect and it would therefore be unsafe to have many passengers waiting for trains on the long-distance platforms throughout the day, so that only few such services are allowed to stop.
The station buildings were replaced several times and the current version is a 2008 redevelopment. There is a huge and somewhat dismal concrete open space between towers and a minor steel and glass entrance in a corner, the station being more or less completely underground. It is surprising to see such a concept chosen so recently as it reminds much more of a council estate in the 1960s.
Exit the station and turn R on High Road
I don’t normally comment on pubs, but you will see that they are about the only interesting type of building on this particular walk. The “Bear” is nothing special in terms of pubs but is definitely very unusual in terms of façade. The dignified Edwardian combination of dark bricks and cream stone looks very official and there is an apparently empty upper storey with a neo-baroque cornice. The explanation is that it was originally a post office .
L Park Lane
The road passes an unusual church that might be mistaken for a sports or concert hall. It is the methodist church for Wembley and this particular denomination often builds rather grand churches because of the importance of preaching to large congregations. I have found no detailed information and I hesitate whether the church was built in the 1930s (more probably) or in the late 1950s. You can have a look inside and you will be surprised, the effect being reminiscent of the City of London churches and not at all of an Art Déco structure.
L into King Edward VII Park
The park was landscaped on former farmland in 1913 when the borough needed to replace the old Wembley Park that had been given over to construction. The park was named after the king who had passed away shortly before and is one of few amenities in London named after this particular king.
As usual at the start of the 20th century, the park included a “children’s gymnasium” (a playground), a paddling pond, flower beds, a refreshment pavilion and a bandstand. The planting did not impress on this former farmland and the architect compensated through flower beds arranged near imposing terraces.
The whole park was enclosed by “Jarrah fences”. All I found about “jarrah” is that it is timber from Australia; it is a type of eucalyptus very sought after because it has a colour similar to that of very precious Honduras mahogany.
The bandstand burnt down in 1963 but you can still enjoy the flowers near the entrance, the grand terraces and the unavoidable neo-Tudor lodge for the warden. The rest of the park is rather plain but you do get views towards Harrow hill and towards the stadium arch.
Exit the park at the NW corner near the tennis courts
Ahead The Dene
L Clarendon Gardens
This is obviously a commercial development from the 1930s like most of the roads you will use on this walk. The whole area between Harrow and Hendon was built at once on farmland when a train line made it accessible and it lacks a real identity. There are no old buildings, no pleasant footpaths, very few parks and not many pleasant shopping areas. The experience of this suburb called “metroland” had a significant influence on the garden suburb movement.
At the end R Llanover Road
The station is accessed from the road bridge over the tracks while my route continues without crossing the train line.
The station opened in 1912 like several other stations on the line in preparation of the new Underground services. New stations became possible because the Underground carriages use a power supply enabling faster braking and starting compared to trains.
The station building looks a little like a cottage with its pointed roof and was part of a small series of identical stations. It is typical for Edwardian buildings in that it uses a combination of red bricks and cream stone, here with a rather elaborate design for the windows. In my opinion, it is one of the best solutions found for minor suburban stations.
There is a very impressive pub building at the start of the road bridge. It is unusually massive, a bit like a fortress. You can safely ignore the atrocious lettering in black and pink; it was built in 1931, explaining the emphasis on vertical lines. Instead of building an oversize country cottage or a mock-Tudor fancy, the architect was allowed to keep up to date with his time because he was working for a powerful brewery (Truman’s).
Cross East Lane keeping along the train line
The access road leads around a business park
Continue on the road past the big white office building
The building is obviously a former factory now converted to offices for smaller companies. The south front is Art Déco (and it is painted in white as usual at the time) but it was not a major achievement in terms of architecture.
There is no vehicle exit at the end but there is a gate for pedestrians and this should be open
Ahead Strathcona Road
Ahead Windermere Avenue
L into the access to
The station was built on the existing line in 1933 in order to serve new suburban developments. This is the reason why it has a single platform between the tracks, the standard solution when adding a station in a place not planned for it. Originally, passengers had to climb a very long staircase to a footbridge and walk down steps to the platform, but engineers managed to build a more convenient subway later on.
Due to the lack of space, there is no real station building, just a shed integrated into the awning. The station was difficult to build to London Underground standards and indeed still has no ticket gates, a very rare situation.
The station subway merges into a small road called The Link
R Nathans Road leading into a large open space
This flat area is part of the very large expanse of Northwick Park. This is former farm land bought by Harrow school in 1905 in order to prevent development in close vicinity of this particularly exclusive institution. The borough bought additional land in 1936 to add to the original park. It is not really a park, more a wide open space used for sports.
Ahead towards a pavilion, then along the main track (Proyers Path)
At the end of the open space, cross under a train line using the Northwick Park station subway
R Northwick Avenue
directly L Rushout Avenue
R Kenton Road
The station opened in 1912 like North Wembley for the same reasons.
The station building is an exact copy of the North Wembley one.
L Carlton Avenue
Ahead into Kenton Recreation Ground
R within the green space towards a pavilion, then L along the edge of the green space
This recreation ground is touted by the borough of Harrow as one of its most important parks, showing that Harrow deals with parks in a manner very different from Brent. In Harrow, parks are wide grassy open spaces with a scattering of trees and many sports facilities. They are not catering much to Sunday afternoon digestive walks because most residents in Harrow, like in most boroughs located in zone 5, have their own gardens.
Ahead on a public footpath between gardens, then R on an other footpath
L Brampton Grove, continue towards the roundabout
Ahead Christchurch Avenue, take the right fork at the mini-roundabout (still called Christchurch Avenue)
R into the access road for a leisure centre
Walk past the building into Byron Recreation Ground
This park is smaller than the previous one but is still important as the main park for the suburb of Wealdstone. It is otherwise very similar with grass, sports facilities, a few avenues with trees and a children’s playground, but no flower beds, elaborate planting or picturesque amenities.
L within the green space towards the NW exit near the children’s playground
You exit into Stuart Road
Ahead Peel Road
Cross the main road (St George Grange Way) and walk R around the brick carpark
L Canning Road
Ahead Headstone Drive
L Ellen Webb Drive along the railway line
HARROW & WEALDSTONE
The station is one of the oldest in London as it was opened as early as 1837 together with the long-distance line between London and Birmingham. It was meant to serve Harrow, a village located on a hill about 1,5 miles away. The station was called plain “Harrow” until the end of the 19th century, when confusion with stations on other lines led to the present name.
The train company then opened a branch railway in 1890 serving Belmont and Stanmore from the junction that had been upgraded accordingly. The branch closed in 1964 as Stanmore is served by London Underground, leaving Belmont without rail connections.
The station was the location of the worst peacetime train crash in Britain when an express train crashed into a waiting local train in 1952 with a second express train crashing into the wreckage. 112 people died. The crash was caused by a driver ignoring signals and led to the installation of systems warning drivers when they do not acknowledge a signal. I wonder whether this qualifies as an “incident” as public authorities are fond to call such events nowadays.
There were two station buildings, one on the 1837 line and one used by the stopping trains. The first one has been partly demolished while the second one is now listed and is the one on my picture. The red and white colour scheme on the clock tower makes me think that it was built in the 1910s, which would be logical as this is the time when it would soon become the terminal for the Underground Bakerloo line.
The overall shape is very special, mixing elements from neo-classical garden pavilions with shapes from medieval castles. It actually does not really look like a train station.