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BRITARCH  April 2002

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Subject:

Wembley locomotive

From:

Barbara Taylor <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 12 Apr 2002 09:27:55 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (184 lines)

From Peter Griffiths:-

My wife Barbara is the list member, but as a railway enthusiast, I have
followed with interest the discussion on this subject.  It it seems that
no-one on the list has read the article in the December 2000 issue of
'Heritage Railway' 2000 - published by CMS Publishing  - entitled
"Wembley's Secret 'soccer special'".  ISSN 1466-3562

You can confirm this by following the link below which will display the
contents of the issue in question. (HR=Heritage railway, 20 =issue number,
2000=year)

https://secure.mortonsmedia.net/hs/bdetail1.asp?ItemCode=Back_Issue_Orde
r:_HR-20-2000

Or perform a search  for Wembley on the Heritage Railway website at:-
www.heritagerailway.co.uk

I trust the editor will excuse me reproducing the text of the article:-
-----------------------------------------------------
Wembley's Secret 'soccer special'

We've just read about buried British locomotive treasures all over New
Zealand. Now Robin Jones focuses in on a decidedly British site where an
engine or rolling stock is believed to have been hidden for 77 years -
beneath the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium itself?

Few sporting occasions have given rise to so many myths and legends as the
FA Cup, which, despite the continuing demise of the England team, is still
rated as the most glamorous home competition in the world.
Yet each year when soccer specials pour into London termini crammed with
partisan supporters of the finalists, how many fans realise that a railway
locomotive or vehicle lies buried beneath the hallowed turf of Wembley
stadium itself?

Buried several feet beneath the surface, the 'train' has lain there
throughout the great stadium's finest moments.., perhaps a few yards from
where Geoff Hurst scored the fourth goal in England's 1966 World Cup Final
win over West Germany, or where Stanley Matthews performed his wizardry in
the legendary 1953 FA Cup Final, events where the referee's whistle rather
than that of the railway guard reign supreme.

And the 'train' will continue to sleep on it is resting place right through
the ?326m redevelopment programme which will see the fabled 126ft high twin
towers crash to the ground and replaced by a spectacular arch. For under
the brief for the redevelopment by Multiplex Constructions Ltd. the
existing pitch will be left in place, shielded from the elements by a giant
sliding roof.

Nobody today appears to know the specifications of the buried locomotive,
and many people who have heard the story about it have immediately
dismissed the tale out of hand as pure fiction. Yet believe it or not,
there is definitely something down below, and there have been reports that
the contractors have used metal detectors in a bid to relocate it in recent
weeks.

It is said that the buried train comprises contractor's vehicles which
ended up being dumped in a crater while the showpiece stadium was being
built in the early 1920s, or merely 'fell in' after being derailed. Wembley
spokesman Martin Corrie said that the buried artefact was "definitely" an
engine dating from the days when the stadium was built. But he said that
test drillings carried out in advance of the redevelopment work had not
encountered it.

Another version of the story claims that the train' is an old carriage
which was filled with rubble from a structure which previously existed on
the site and dumped in the hole which was subsequently filled in. The coach
may have been an old Victorian four-wheeler on its last legs, a
purpose-build contractors vehicle, or even, it is speculated by some, an
old horse-drawn tram. Nobody knows whether one or more vehicles were
buried. The stadium was built in just 300 days as a multi-purpose athletics
and entertainments centre, and was designed as one of several modules for
the site of the British Empire Exhibition of 1924-25. It was finished in
time for the 1923 cup final which saw Bolton Wanderers beat West Ham.

Sir Robert 'Concrete Bob' McAlpine was the contractor for the stadium,
which cost ?507,000 to build. It used 25,000 tons of concrete, 1,500 tons
of steel and 500,000 rivets. When finished, the 100,000-capacity stadium
was 'invaded' by an infantry battalion whose job was to fill the stands and
test their structural integrity simply by being there. It passed with
flying colours and the London suburb first recorded in Saxon times as
Wemba's Clearing was never the same again. Contractors' railways running on
temporary tracks were the state of the art of the period as far as such
large scale projects were concerned, during construction Wembley certainly
had more than its fair share. The pitch was criss-crossed by a network of
2ft, 3ft and standard gauge lines, according to Concrete Bob's descendant
and the current head of Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons. Sir William McAlpine.
No written records of the dumping of the train appear to survive and for
years it was thought that the story was a concoction by labourers after a
long night's drinking session.

However, when the prestigious stadium was chosen as the venue for the 14th
Olympic Games in 1948, much drainage work was carried out on the pitch -
and the top of the train' was reported to have been 'rediscovered.' Nobody
saw the need to re-excavate it or even take details of it as the rescue of
an abandoned vehicle or vehicles was nowhere near the stadium's priority
list in view of the imminent event, and the remains were covered up again.

Martin said that stadium officials once received a letter purporting to be
from one of the workmen involved the building of the stadium. He said that
he recalled an incident when a locomotive had left the rails and toppled
into a pit, and remembered its name as Stublick.

Sir William said that his firm would never have deliberately scrapped a
locomotive in this way, and had no knowledge of a buried engine at Wembley.
He said that if it exists, it would most likely have been a petrol-engined
Simplex, the type of locomotives used on the 2ft gauge contractor's line
there. Engaged on the standard gauge construction railway was the firm's
No. 31, Hunslet 0-6-OT No. 1026 of 1913- which not only has remained with
the company throughout the ensuing decades but happily steams on Sir
William's private Fawley Hill Railway in the grounds of his home near
Henley-on-Thames - another piece of British soccer history which has been
forgotten!

Sadly, the redevelopment of Wembley will not involve any restructuring of
the pitch which will allow access to the buried vehicle(s), either for an
identification to be made or, better still, for any items rediscovered to
be extracted and moved to a museum or heritage line for restoration and
display. That may have to wait for at least another century!

The site of the stadium had already been linked with railways, for it was
there that the latter-day railway entrepreneur Sir Edward Watkin, pioneer
of the Great Central Railway's London Extension, decided to build his own
version of the Eiffel Tower!

Seeing that the great engineering marvel of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel built
for the 1889 Paris Exhibition was taking ?2,800 per day in admission fees
and had repaid the ?280.000 cost of its construction in seven months,
Watkin, then chairman of the Metropolitan Railway, decided that he too
wanted a slice of the action.
In 1890 he announced that 280 acres of Wembley Park alongside one of his
railway lines had been acquired for the development of a leisure centre to
serve the north of London, and would include his planned tower as the
centrepiece. The tower would be in place for the time when hi dream of a
great intercontinental railway linking Paris to the industrial north of
England via the Channel Tunnel and the GCR would be realised. Designs for
the tower were invited and ultimately it was decided to build a tower 1,150
feet high as compared to the Paris original's 985ft.

The Metropolitan Railway built a special siding for the purpose of carrying
materials to the site for the construction. Work began in the early 1890s
but the Metropolitan Tower Construction Company failed to raise anything
like its authorised capital of ?300,000 to build the structure. Only the
first stage, the 150ft high base of the tower, was ever completed.

Opened to the public, only a handful of visitors paid to ascend it and the
cost of travelling to the site by train from central London put off many
ordinary members of the public. By 1906, five years after Watkins death, it
became obvious that the tower was at best a liability and would never be
completed. Nicknamed 'Watkins Folly', moves were set in place for the
company to rid itself of its white elephant and instead develop the
surrounding park-Great shades of the Greenwich Dome here!

Demolition swiftly followed, and September 7 1907 saw the last remaining
leg of London's Eiffel Tower blown up by explosives. But just as Watkins
vision of a great railway linking Britain to Europe and built to
continental loading gauge was decades ahead of his time, so too was his
choice of Wembley Park as the site for a venue of major international
importance. The idea for the British Empire Exhibition was made in 1913 by
Lord Strathcora, but plans were put on hold by World War One. They were
resurrected by Prime Minister Lloyd George in 1919, and the project's
general manager, Mr. U.P. Wintour, suggested using the parkland around what
remained of Watkin's Folly for the site. Was the mysterious buried train
loaded with rubble from the surviving foundations of the tower when it fell
into the hole, I wonder? As it is the train will remain as a time capsule
of railway heritage for the delight of a future generation to unearth.

By Robin Jones. (Editor, Heritage Railway Magazine)
------------------------------------------------------------

I hope this helps. (It seems for those who intended the April fools joke,
that perhaps the joke is on them!)

Peter

Peter Griffiths

British Archaeology Advertising
Craigfryn, Llangranog
Llandysul, Ceredigion
SA44 6SP
Tel 01239 654383 or 07985 323859
email:- [log in to unmask]
    or:-  [log in to unmask]

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