Marble Arch was designed by the Prince Regent’s favourite architect John Nash, who also designed the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. It was to serve as a gateway to Buckingham Palace and was conceived as a great way to celebrate British victories in the Napoleonic wars.Today’s Marble Arch isn’t as ornate and over the top as the version that Nash had originally planned and it’s in a different location.
There’s a model of Nash’s intended Marble Arch design in the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was to be approved by George IV, but the king died before work on the Arch was completed and then Nash was sacked by the Prime Minister, The Duke of Wellington, for going over budget.
A new architect called Edward Blore was then brought in to finish the Arch in a much more contained and economical manner. The Arch was a long way from completion and Blore had to sort through a selection of sculptures and panels that Nash had commissioned while consulting his predecessor’s scaled-down model to see where they were supposed to fit. He did ask Nash for some guidance, but he was so angry at having been fired, he wouldn’t comply.
The model has a military side, which celebrates the Duke of Wellington’s victories, such as the Battle of Waterloo plus a navel side for Nelson’s achievements. Both sides were supposed to feature friezes of battle scenes and story-telling panels along with other figures and embellishments.
The themes were to be repeated at each end of the Arch with one end featuring the word Waterloo and the other, Trafalgar with names of commanders and battles written under each of them.
Blore finished the Arch in 1833 without using many of the sculptures. The central gates were added in 1837 in time for Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1838. In 1850 it was moved to its present location in Hyde Park and there, the flanking gates were added in 1851.
Why was it moved? Well, Nash’s version may have blended in perfectly with the ornate palace, but Blore’s pared-down Marble Arch looked out of place. In its new home, it could serve as an entrance to the Great Exhibition in 1851. It was taken down stone by stone and reassembled within the space of three months.
Many of the sculptures originally intended for Nash’s Marble Arch were repurposed. Battle friezes ended up in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace and in 1835, the remaining works were given to William Wilkins to use in the building of the new National Gallery.
Because Wilkins wasn’t keen on using a lot of military symbols, he adapted some of the designs – if you look carefully, you can see a figure representing Asia sat on a camel and another as Europe on a horse with an empty frame between them above the main entrance of the gallery.
Wilkins also took the wings off some sculptures and took away their laurel wreaths – one now holds an easel and paintbrushes.
Bits that Wilkins didn’t want to use went elsewhere and a panel depicting the Battle of Vincent is situated at Regent’s Place next to Regents Park. Another remnant is the Equestrian Statue of George IV, which is now stood in the northeastern corner of Trafalgar Square.
Persiana has been the manager of our Marble Arch location for over a year
and is the one to ask when it comes to the best places to eat and drink around
the area. The team love a good team night out, so do not hesitate to ask for
activities to do.
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