Marble Arch

Marble Arch is at the western end of Oxford Street, by Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park. The tube station is on the Central Line.

Marble Arch, 1880

Marble Arch was designed by Nash, like much else of elegance in London. He was largely inspired by the Constantine Arch in Rome. The Arch was built in 1828 as the chief entrance to Buckingham Palace, but when the Palace was extended in 1851, the Arch was moved to its current site as an entrance to Hyde Park (see picture above). Various road changes, most recently in the 1960s, have left the Arch on a traffic island, surrounded by cars and concrete. The metal gates within the Arch (by Samuel Parker) were the largest in Europe, and unfortunately were damaged in the move from Buckingham Palace, so that the semicircle at the top had to be removed. On top of the Arch was meant to be a bronze equestrian statue of George IV by Chantrey; this sculpture ended up in Trafalgar Square.

The Marble Arch is of white Carrara Marble (cost 80,000 when built), which looks rather splendid since cleaning in 1997. It has three archways, with Corinthian columns between, sculptural reliefs in the spandrels and in panels above the subsidiary arches, and wreaths at the ends completing the scheme. Keystone bearded heads form the keystones of each arch.

The south side (park side) spandrels contain winged Victories with wreaths, and the main reliefs show a Roman-looking naval warrior with Justice on one panel, and Peace and Plenty on the other. They are by Edward Hodges Baily. On the north side, the reliefs include three female figures representing England, Ireland and Scotland; these are by Richard Westmacott. A 19th Century source attributes the wreaths to Flaxman, but I have not verified this.

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