7 Things You Didn’t Know About Marble Arch

7 Things You Didn’t Know About Marble Arch

For guests staying in hotels near London Paddington, there are a few things that are certain. One, that they can enjoy the fare of restaurants near Paddington Station at all hours of the day. Two, that they will have access to the whole of London on account of the many train lines Paddington Station and underground station services. Three, that they remain on the doorstep of some of London’s most iconic landmarks. One of those landmarks include Marble Arch, located in the north-east corner of Hyde Park near Speaker’s Corner.

Regular visitors to this part of London would struggle to miss this 19th-century white marble-faced triumphal arch, but not everyone knows all the unbelievable facts about Marble Arch which make it special. Here are ten of the best. 

John Nash designed Marble Arch

In 1827, John Nash got to work designing the three-arch structure, which he based on the Arch of Constantine in Rome and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris. Nash was one of the most famous architects in Britain during the Georgian and Regency eras – the Georgian era is the period in British history from 1714 to around 1830–37, and the Regency era overlapped from 1811 to 1820. 

Though historical architects are not necessarily the sort of “celebrities” you might find yourself taking a selfie with at Madame Tussauds, their work speaks for itself. If you have heard of or seen the Marble Arch, Park Crescent, Carlton House, Regent Street, Trafalgar Square (before it was completely redesigned by Sir Charles Barry), the King’s Opera House, the landscaping of King’s Road or 430–449 Strand, then you have heard of Nash. 

Marble Arch’s sculpted reliefs are symbolic

A relief is a sculpture which is carved into – and therefore appearing attached to – a surface or wall. In the case of the Marble Arch, these are the classical designs which are sculpted into the Ravaccione, a type of Carrara marble from Italy. 

On the north side, you will find reliefs of three female figures who represent England, Ireland and Scotland, which were sculpted by Richard Westmacott, who also produced the statue of Achilles at Hyde Park Corner. This representation is depicted as follows: the woman in the center is England, wearing Britannia’s helmet. On the left, Ireland holds a harp. On the right, Scotland holds the shield of St Andrew.

On this south side, you will find “Peace with Trophies of War”, two female figures, or angels, sculpted by E.H. Baily, who sculpted Nelson in Trafalgar Square. The angel on the left is the angel of peace and plenty; the angel on the right is virtue and valor. The flame which flickers between them is a symbol of freedom. 

The original Marble Arch was relocated 

The Marble Arch was commissioned to be the state entrance to the cour d’honneur of Buckingham Palace which, as guests staying in accommodation in Paddington London will know, is not where it currently stands. Anyone who has kept up to date with the royal public appearances over the years will be familiar with the three-bayed, projected balcony from which Queen Elizabeth can be seen waving alongside her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren at royal events – this is where the Marble Arch originally stood. 

It was in 1851 when architect and urban planner Decimus Burton, a pupil of John Nash, had the idea to relocate to its current site. But it still hadn’t had its full evolution, as it was not isolated at the junction of Oxford Street, Park Lane and Edgware Road. It was only in the 1960s that Park Lane was widened and the site on which the Marble Arch sits became a traffic junction.

There are myths around why Marble Arch was moved

The myth that the rooms in Marble Arch served as a police station is not the only myth surrounding this beacon of history. Another is that the reason the Marble Arch was moved to Park Lane from Buckingham Palace was because Queen Victoria’s State Coach was too wide to fit through the arch. This was disproved, however, at Queen Victoria’s coronation procession where it glided through the arch en route to Westminster Abbey in 1838, and Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation procession had no problems in 1953. 

Marble Arch was used by the Metropolitan police

There are three small rooms inside the rebuilt arch, but that does not mean that hotel deals in London will get you a room there. Instead, from 1851 until at least 1968, these rooms primarily housed the royal constables of the Park and later the Metropolitan Police. This has led people to speculate that Marble Arch was therefore a “Police Station”, but that is not quite the case. For somewhere to be considered a “working police station”, it would need to be a place where crimes can be reported which has holding cells or interview rooms. For example, Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner was a working police station until the late 1950s – which may be the cause of some of the confusion!

Visiting Marble Arch isn’t as simple as turning up 

There are a few formalities when it comes to visiting Marble Arch – you can’t just cycle through it, for instance, as only members of the Royal Family and the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery are allowed to pass through the arch. The interior rooms are not open to the public, either. That said, visitors can walk alongside the Arch in the daytime. 

Money was a problem with Marble Arch 

King George IV, who commissioned the design and building of Marble Arch, had a reputation for being a bit of a big spender – a “spendthrift”, as historians say. So he did not hold back when getting John Nash involved with the design, maintaining a “the bigger the better” attitude. This meant that when William IV became King, he had the architect who replaced Nash, Edward Blore, scrap a lot of the decorations and the entire attic in an attempt to reduce costs. Once he had got the costs down to the budget he saw fit, construction began.