Lost London – The Great Wheel at Earl’s Court…

Built for the Empire of India Exhibition at Earls Court, this 308 foot (94 metre) high wheel opened to the public on 17th July, 1895.

Measuring 270 foot (82 metres) in diameter, the wheel – which had 40 cars each apparently carrying up to 40 passengers – had a design based on that of the famous original Ferris wheel which had been built for the Chicago Exhibition of 1893.

Weighing 1,100 tons (including its eight column supports), it had taken a year to build with much of the work carried out at Maudslay, Son and Field in Greenwich before assembly on the site at the Earls Court Exhibition Ground (located on surplus railway lands).

The wheel, which took around 20 minutes to make a full rotation and was powered by two 50 horse power steam engines, remained in service for just more than a decade (there was at least one report of it getting stuck and stranding passengers for several hours).

Having carried more than 2.5 million passengers over its life, it closed in 1906 after last being used at the Imperial Austrian Exhibition. It was demolished just a year later.

What’s in a name?…Earls Court

A residential district in inner west London, the origins of the name Earls Court apparently go back almost to the time of the Norman Conquest when the area was granted to the de Vere family as part of the Manor of Kensington. 

The de Veres, who held a court at the manor, were named the Earls of Oxford in 1141 and hence, according to Cyril M. Harris, author of What’s in a Name?: Origins of Station Names on the London Underground, came about the name Earl’s Court. The courthouse, which was demolished in the late 1800s, apparently stood on a site by Old Manor Lane now occupied by gardens.

Originally fertile farmland, Earl’s Court’s development took place in the mid to late 1800s after the arrival of the railway line (the station was built in 1869). The area officially became part of London in 1889 when the London County Council was formed and the city’s boundaries extended.

The area became famous for the Earls Court Exhibition Grounds – established by John Robinson Whitley in 1887 –  which featured rides and an arena which hosted Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. A giant wheel was added 10 years later.

After the Second World War, the area attracted large numbers of Polish immigrants leading to Earl’s Court Road being named ‘The Danzig Corridor’. The arrival of large numbers of Australian and New Zealander travellers in the late Sixties saw it earning a new nickname – this time ‘Kangaroo Valley’. The area is now undergoing gentrifcation.

Notable buildings include the art deco Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre, former home of the Royal Tournament and site of the volleyball competition during this year’s Olympic Games, while notable residents have included the Egyptian archaeologist Howard Carter, film director Alfred Hitchcock, and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.