Apart from a few haunted houses, it’s not too often that buildings are the main protagonists of a mystery tale.
Buildings are big. They are not adept at chasing people with a chainsaw. They are generally static.
But in their bulky, inertial innocence, buildings can sometimes be… (insert screechy terror sound)… Deadly.
Until last week I had never heard about “The London Stump”.
In 1890, the Metropolitan Railway’s chairman, Sir Edward Watkin, launched a competition to design what at the time would be the next great English landmark: The Great Tower of London.
It wasn’t foreign to Sir Edward’s ambitions the fact that the Eiffel Tower, finished the year before, was such an never before seen success.
In the booklet that accompanied the public announcement of the design competition results we can read: “Taking into consideration the enormous popularity of the Eiffel Tower and the consequent pecuniary benefits conferred on those interested in that undertaking, it is not too much to anticipate that, in the course of a short time, every important country will possess its tall Tower. The project of erecting a great Tower in London soon found the willing support of many Capitalists, who felt convinced that if the scheme were properly laid before the public there would be no great difficulty in accomplishing the project.”
Little did he know at the time the great difficulties the Watkin’s Folly would endure.
From the aforementioned competition, the chosen design was the blandest, the one that better mimicked the original structure in Paris, entry no. 37 by Sir Benjamin Baker
Left behind were proposals like no. 17 with a spiraling train track leading visitors on a sort of nauseating round trip to the top, less practical but surely more inventive.
Eventually by 1892 the foundations were in place and the park on which the tower sat was opened in 1896 with the tower only still at 40m high, like a giant, elaborate table, awkwardly missing a vanishing point.
By then the design had lost it´s original 8 legs and was reduced to 4, the added load on each one making the whole structure sink in the unsure terrain.
Watkin The Visionary died in 1901. In 1902 The park was deemed unsafe and closed to the public. The Stump remained caged, a strange reminder of an epic failure.
The whole thing was eventually brought down in a dynamite blast in 1907.
Thus ended the story of The London Stump that was destined to be The Great Tower of London.
And the curse of the Eiffel Tower began.
Meanwhile, in 1896 began the construction of the New Brighton Tower prompted by the same desire to replicate the Paris Effect in this then booming costal resort.
6 workers died during construction. 1 person chose it as a platform for their suicide.
By 1919 it was rusty and unsafe and was taken down the year after with the locals and seasonal migrants as onlookers.
Even from hundreds of miles away, the Eiffel Tower was able to send mysterious “architecture rays” and eliminate the competition.
No, Sir Edward Watkin, not every important city has its own Tower. The slender and curvy French beauty is still queen of the skies. And of a billion dollar industry.