Victoria Visits the Wellington Arch

When we returned to London from our three-day trip — one each in Cambridge, at Houghton Hall, and at Holkham Hall, I had a busy agenda for the remaining few days of our trip.  Poor hubby Ed suffered every day from that very sore foot, aching now in addition to blisters, scrapes and — well, you get the picture.  I always gave him the option of staying put at the hotel, but he stoically limped onward.

Despite the fact that I had visited Apsley House several times, with Kristine, with Pat, my sister-in-law, and others, Ed had never been there.  So that was second on my list, just behind the Wellington Arch, which I’d never visited.  I’d walked past it plenty of times, but it had not been open before. A bit of web checking told me that the Arch recently opened exhibition space, at that time devoted to a study of the many past and current attempt to SAVE British heritage, particularly by protecting buildings and open spaces. 

The Wellington Arch website is here.

Soapbox alert!!!  It doesn’t take much beyond a glance at the London skyline to see how contemporary skyscrapers overpower and almost obliterate the beautiful early 20th century view of St. Paul’s Dome and the many graceful steeples and spires.  Okay, call me a traditionalist (Guilty!) but I wish the powers-that-be could have kept the tall buildings in groups away from the City, Mayfair and Westminster. Alas, it is far too late.

View from the Wellington Arch (including a few stray smudges)
I have nothing against tall buildings — I live in one.  But if they had been clustered in various neighborhoods away from the center of London, the beautiful skyline would have been preserved.  True of a few cities, Washington, D C for example.  No high rises downtown, all clustered in the surrounding communities to preserve the views of the Capitol and other monuments. End of soapbox. Please resume your usual activities.
At the height of the Roman Empire, triumphal arches were built to commemorate great events. Think of Rome’s Arch of Constantine, the Arch of Titus, and so on.  The French started building one in 1806 to mark Napoleon’s victory in the Battle of Austerlitz, but it remained unfinished for thirty years, now known as the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile in Paris.  Not to be outdone, the Prince Regent, later King George IV, wanted to memorialize British victory over France.

Wellington Arch; Apsley House at the far right
Both the Wellington Arch (aka the Green Park Arch and the Constitution Arch) and the Marble Arch were affected by political arguments over cost, design and placement in the 19th century.  Both were moved from their original positions and both stand relatively isolated in the middle of traffic circles surrounded by buses, autos, lorries and other noisy vehicles. Traffic too often trumps landscape. Whoops, soapbox again.
One of the gates, cast in iron by Joseph Bramah and Sons, restored recently
The Wellington Arch was designed by Architect Decimus Burton (1800-1881), as his name indicates, the tenth child in his family.  He worked with his father, also an architect and John Nash as well.  He also designed the Hyde Park screen next to Apsley House.
The Hyde Park Screen, 1825
This picture shows the screen in relation to Apsley House;
 the Wellington is Arch off the picture to the right
A few years ago, English Heritage took over the Wellington Arch and changed it from a small police into to a small gift shop with an exhibition space above.  There is access to the viewing balcony at the top as well, all by elevator.  Ed’s sore foot appreciated that particularly!
View down Constitution Hill towards Buckingham Palace
The Exhibition:  Pride and Prejudice: The Battle for Betjeman’s Britain
John Betjeman (1906-1984) was Britain’s Poet Laureate in addition to being a popular radio and tv commentator and an avid campaigner for the protection of architectural heritage.  Below, the maquette for his statue located in St. Pancras Station, one of the buildings he successfully fought to save.
John Betjeman (maquette) by sculptor Martin Jennings, 2006
Coade Stone Lion Mask
The rosette above came from the Classic Bridge at Chiswick, designed by James Wyatt in 1774;
Coade Stone is artificial, often used by leading architects for statues and ornaments.
Devonshire House, before and during demolition
For more information on this exhibition, click here
A group hoping to honor the Duke of Wellington erected a gigantic equestrian statue on top of the arch in 1846.  Being out of all proportion to the arch, the statue caused great criticism and even laughter.
view, about 1860
In 1882-83, The arch was dismantled and rebuilt in its present traffic-bound position. The Statue was moved to Aldershot (after much discussion) where it can be seen today.
A few years later, in 1899, Adrian Jones (1845-1938) designed the Quadriga, four horses driven by a boy and crowned by the Angel of Peace.  It was completed in 1912.

From the front and from the back
Wellington on Copenhagen holding his telescope

 Erected in 1888, the statue on the Arch grounds, across the road from Apsley House, was sculpted and cast in bronze by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834-1890).  Boehm was a favorite artist of the royal family and a teacher of sculptress Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (1848-1939), Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter.

The figures at the four corners of the red granite plinth are guardsmen from
Wellington’s troops: a Grenadier, a Welsh Fusilier, a Royal Highlander, and an Inniskilling Dragoon.
As I mentioned before, the Wellington Arch and the equestrian statue stand in the middle of a traffic circle, joined to the adjacent streets and the Hyde Park C
orner Tube stop by underground walkways.  The white tile walls are decorated with scenes of Wellington and his troops.  Below, a few examples as we walked — or I walked and Ed limped — to visit Apsley House.



 Next, Victoria and Ed visit Apsley House

3 thoughts on “Victoria Visits the Wellington Arch”

  1. I see Ed posed with his feet up for a silhouette! Thank you for another interesting post.

    Re tall buildings in the City of London – the problem is and was one of space. Almost invariably, the tall buildings in the City are office blocks and they needed to be right where they are because it was the business of the City which was booming and where there was a need for more offices. Quite apart from the fact that much of the business was conducted face-to-face, there was nowhere close by where they could build instead, since the rest of London had already grown up around the City.

    Nowadays, when because of email etc. many businesses could theoretically be based anywhere, there's still a strong feeling in certain businesses that to be taken seriously you still have to be based in the City (or possibly in Canary Wharf, at Greenwich, though it took a while for that to become viable). And there's a whole economy which depends on staff commuting into London via the several railway stations and the tube, with housing (and therefore communities) along the railway and tube lines also relying on it.

    I'm not in favour of the skyline being spoilt by tall buildings – far from it – just explaining how it was and is. Towns and cities in England have generally grown organically over centuries and with restricted land available (we're a small island and, quite apart from other needs for the land like farming, we want to preserve our green spaces) have tended to grow upwards rather than outwards in our commercial areas.

  2. Thanks for your explanation, Helena. I guess we all can understand the need for building UP — but we don't have to like it in the center of the beautiful architecture. Sigh. I remember being very shocked by the Lloyd's of London tower by Richard Rogers — and then finding out that the board room is a Robert Adam-designed dining room from Bowood! Well, why not? The board members probably see themselves more as Georgian gentlemen than as capitalist buccaneers.

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