When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, it signaled a new era of urban development and innovation for London, and Earls Court in particular. Counters Creek had been converted into the Kensington Canal in the 1820s, but after an outbreak of cholera, it was filled in to create the West London Extension Railway in 1863. The Metropolitan District Railway Company bought a patch of waste ground that now forms part of the Earls Court Project Area and built West Brompton Station on Lillie Road and Earls Court Station a decade later. New transport links made Earls Court part of the infrastructure that helped build the world’s first metropolis. Where Counter’s Creek once flowed, brick-makers, brewers and factories sprang up.
The wealthy local landowners moved further out of town, their mansions were pulled down and their estates bought up by entrepreneurial property developers. Streets and crescents of terraced houses were built for railway workers and the clerks who commuted into London’s financial district. In 1889 the London County Council was formed, the city limits expanded and Earls Court officially became part of London.
The Victorian middle classes expected landscaped parks, exhibition halls and pleasure gardens, and in 1887 an entrepreneur called John Robinson Whitley transformed two acres of derelict land into the Earls Court Exhibition Grounds. This spectacular covered space had gardens, rides, pavilions and a grand arena where he staged Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Millions of visitors flocked to Earls Court which became known for innovation and entertainment, and less than a decade later Whitley built the Earls Court Gigantic Wheel. Spanning an impressive 300 feet (the London Eye is around 450 feet), it had views across London that stretched as far as Windsor Castle.
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