Marble Arch is one of London's iconic landmarks, but if you visited London in the early 19th century, you would have found it marking the ceremonial entrance to Buckingham Palace!
When extensions to Buckingham Palace were made and the East Wing was constructed in 1851, there was no longer room for this grand white marble edifice.
It was moved to its current position on the northeast corner of Hyde Park to act as an entrance to the park and to the Great Exhibition which was held there.
John Nash and Marble Arch
Marble Arch was designed by one of London’s most eminent architects, John Nash, in 1827. He is responsible for much of the layout of London during the late 18th and early 19th centuries including Regent Street, Regent’s Park and Canal, 15-17 Bloomsbury Square and 66-72 Great Russell Street, which led to him being declared bankrupt for a time!
Nash also built a series of castle-style country houses including Luscombe Castle in Devon, Caerhays Castle in Cornwall and Ravensworth Castle, Tyne and Wear.
Nash designed parts of Buckingham Palace as well as the Royal Pavilion at Brighton and the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London.
He modeled his design for Marble Arch with its three arched gateways on the famous Arch of Constantine in Rome and on Napoleon’s Arc du Carrousel in Paris.
Although Marble Arch still looks grand and impressive, when it was designed by Nash it was much more decorative.
The Arch has Corinthian columns and above each archway there were detailed carvings and sculptures which have since been removed and used elsewhere.
For example, the bronze equestrian statue of King George IV was intended to grace the top of Marble Arch, but it is now on one of the plinths in Trafalgar Square.
Marble Arch Sculptures
Marble Arch was relocated to the point opposite Speaker’s Corner which was once the site of executions at Tyburn Gallows and a plaque marks the site.
It served as the entrance to Hyde Park for a while, but later changes to the traffic system left it marooned on its own island, making it tricky to reach on foot.
However, it is worth the effort to see the detailed carvings close up.
The square panels on the north side of the ceremonial arch have three figures representing Wales, England and Scotland. Other sculptures represent Peace and Plenty.
The naval warrior holding the figure of justice on the opposite side was designed by Edward Hodges Baily.
Apparently there are three small rooms in the top of Marble Arch which were occasionally used as a police station and lookout.
This huge monument still has the original bronze gates in place in both the large central arch and the two side arches. They were designed by Samuel Parker.
Look for the Lion of England in the ornate metalwork, and the figure of St George and the Dragon, England’s patron saint.
If you visit London, make sure you walk through the arches of Marble Arch and know that you are treading in the footsteps of many members of the Royal family who have passed through those gates before!
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Nearest underground station: Marble Arch
Marble Arch Postcode for SatNav: W1R 1DD