Wellington Arch

Monument in/near Hyde Park Corner, existing between the 1830s and now

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MAPPING YEAR:1750180018301860190019302019Fullscreen map
Monument · Hyde Park Corner · W1J ·
July
14
2018

Wellington Arch is located to the south of Hyde Park at the western corner of Green Park.

The Wellington Statue on the Arch in the 1850s
Credit: Unknown


Both the Wellington Arch and Marble Arch (originally sited in front of Buckingham Palace) were planned in 1825 by George IV to commemorate Britain’s victories in the Napoleonic Wars. The Wellington Arch was also conceived as an outer gateway to Constitution Hill and therefore a grand entrance into central London from the west.

The presence of a turnpike gate at this point had led, in the 18th century, to a strong perception that this was the beginning of London (reflected in the nickname for Apsley House as "No 1, London") and the arch was intended to reflect the importance of the position.

The arch was built between 1826 and 1830 to a design by Decimus Burton. It was planned as part of a single composition with Burton’s screen that forms the Hyde Park Corner entrance to Hyde Park. The arch was originally positioned directly to the south of the screen, with the end of Constitution Hill re-aligned to meet it squarely, to form a corresponding entrance to a grand ceremonial route towards Buckingham Palace.

The arch has a single opening, and uses the Corinthian order. Much of the intended exterior ornamentation was omitted as a cost-saving exercise necessitated by the King’s overspending on the refurbishment of Buckingham Palace, which was underway at the same time. A contemporary account, written in anticipation of its completion to its original plan, describes what was intended.

The entabulature is loft and elegant with a richly sculptured frieze, and a row of boldly projecting lions’ heads on the cymatium, marking the centres of columns and other sub-divisions of the order. Above the entablature, on a lofty blocking course, is raised an attic, the body of which is embellished with a sculptural representation of an ancient triumph. On each of the columns is a statue of a warrior, and on the summit of the acroterium which surmounts the attic is a figure in a quadriga or ancient four horse chariot.

In 1846 the arch was selected as a location for a statue of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, soldier and Prime Minister. The bronze Wellington Statue by Matthew Cotes Wyatt which eventually crowned the arch was at 40 tons and 28 feet high, the largest equestrian figure ever made.

It generated considerable controversy and ridicule at the time. Motions were put in place to move it to a different location but as this could have been seen as insulting to Wellington it was left in place on the orders of the Queen and remained there throughout the remainder of the Duke’s lifetime.

In 1882-3 the arch was moved a short distance to its present location on Hyde Park Corner to facilitate a road widening scheme. In the new location it lost its original relationship to the entrance of Hyde Park, but was now on axis with the main part of Constitution Hill, to which it continued to form a grand entrance. It is now in the centre of a large traffic island, taken from what was the western tip of Green Park.

When the arch was rebuilt in its new position, the Wellington statue was not replaced. It was removed to Aldershot, and a smaller equestrian statue of the duke was commissioned from Joseph Edgar Boehm to stand on a plinth nearby. Decimus Burton had originally envisaged a sculpture of a quadriga on top of the arch. His intentions were finally realised in 1912, with the installation of a bronze designed by Adrian Jones. It is based on a smaller original which caught the eye of Edward VII at a Royal Academy exhibition. The sculpture depicts Nike, the Winged Goddess of Victory, descending on the chariot of war. The face of the charioteer leading the quadriga is that of a small boy (actually the son of Lord Michelham,, who funded the sculpture). The angel of peace was modelled on Beatrice Stewart. The statue is the largest bronze sculpture in Europe.

The arch is hollow inside, and until 1992 housed the smallest police station in London.

Main source

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Citations and sources

Gillian Bebbington's 1972 work on street name derivations

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VIEW THE HYDE PARK CORNER AREA IN THE 1750s
The 1750 Rocque map is bounded by Sudbury (NW), Snaresbrook (NE), Eltham (SE) and Hampton Court (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1750 map does not display.

VIEW THE HYDE PARK CORNER AREA IN THE 1800s
The 1800 mapping is bounded by Stanmore (NW), Woodford (NE), Bromley (SE) and Hampton Court (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1800 map does not display.

VIEW THE HYDE PARK CORNER AREA IN THE 1830s
The 1830 mapping is bounded by West Hampstead (NW), Hackney (NE), Greenwich (SE) and Chelsea (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1830 map does not display.

VIEW THE HYDE PARK CORNER AREA IN THE 1860s
The 1860 mapping is bounded by Brent Cross (NW), Stratford (NE), Greenwich (SE) and Hammermith (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1860 map does not display.

VIEW THE HYDE PARK CORNER AREA IN THE 1900s
The 1900 mapping covers all of the London area.

 

Hyde Park Corner

At the other end of Park Lane from Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner has struck terror into many a learner driver.

In the centre of the roundabout stands Constitution Arch (or Wellington Arch), designed by Decimus Burton as a memorial to the Duke of Wellington and originally providing a grand entrance to London. It was built as a northern gate to the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Originally the arch was topped with an equestrian statue of the Duke by Matthew Cotes Wyatt, but it was replaced with the current work, The Angel of Peace descending on the Quadriga of Victory (1912) by Adrian Jones.

Other monuments at Hyde Park Corner include Jones’s Monument to the Cavalry of the Empire (off the west side of Park Lane), Alexander Munro’s Boy and Dolphin statue (in a rose garden parallel to Rotten Row, going west from Hyde Park Corner), the Wellington Monument (off the west side of Park Lane) and a statue of Byron (on a traffic island opposite the Wellington Monument).

To the north of the roundabout is Apsley House, the home of the first Duke of Wellington. Such was Wellington’s ego, that he insisted that his letters were addressed to Number 1, London.

Hyde Park Corner was used as a code to announce to the Government the death of King George VI in 1952.

Hyde Park Corner tube station was opened by the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway on 15 December 1906. It is one of the few stations which have no associated buildings above ground, the station being fully underground.

The original, Leslie Green-designed station building still remains to the south of the road junction, notable by its ox-blood coloured tiles; it was until June 2010 used as a pizza restaurant, and since January 2013 it is the Wellesley Hotel. The building was taken out of use in the early 1930s when the station was provided with escalators in place of lifts although an emergency stairway provides a connection to the platforms. The lift shafts are now used to provide ventilation.

After the station was rebuilt with escalators the adjacent little-used station at Down Street to the east (towards Green Park) was taken out of use.
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