Meanwhile, Edward Watkin was industriously creating new branch lines of his railway, going west and north. Since they used the same trains, his intention was to link his underground section in London to the other railways he owned in the North of England. Alas, this project ran out of funds, and ground to a halt 50 miles outside of the capital. Though not stretching out quite that far today, this is why the Metropolitan Line reaches further than any other London Underground line.
Another failed project of Watkin was to have tourist attractions along his route, to attract more passengers to his trains. As part of this scheme, he decided to build his own version of the Eiffel Tower, on a hill overlooking the capital, in Wembley.
It was to be bigger, taller, and better than the one in Paris, containing a 90 bedroom hotel, a theatre and restaurants. Eiffel was asked to design the landmark, but unsurprisingly declined to outdo his masterpiece in his own country. Undeterred, Watkin began construction in 1891.
When this project also ran out of money, he opened it to the public anyway in 1896, despite having only completed the first stage of the tower. Circus tents were erected on top, hoping to draw people up for some elevated entertainment. However, while the park around it proved popular, few people wanted to ascend the giant monstrosity, which soon came to be known as “Watkin’s Folly” and “The London Stump.”
The whole thing was dynamited in the early years of the 20th Century, and Wembley Stadium built there instead, opening in 1907
But Watkin had even bigger ambitions. He wasn’t only attempting to expand his railway north; he was also hoping to go south; further south than any British railway had gone before — to Paris. In the 1880s he submitted a plan for building a Channel Tunnel to Parliament. He even began tunneling in Kent.
The government, however, was having none of it. For one thing, politicians were worried that the technology of the time wasn’t up to the task, but their biggest concern was that France might invade from under the sea. No, that would not do at all.
That same fear was again raised when talk of the modern Channel Tunnel began in the 1970s. By then, it was the Soviet Union that was the concern. As was common during the Cold War, the solution was clear: if the Soviets invaded using the Channel Tunnel, there could only be one thing for it — nukes. The idea was to wait until a sizeable portion of the Red Army was in the tunnel, then blow it up. The only problem was this would convert the tunnel into a gigantic cannon, shooting nuclear material out at great velocity and destroying half of Kent.
Continue to Part 3