Leadenhall Market is one of London’s oldest markets, dating back further than the Victorian building you see today.
While the market dates back seven centuries, the site has actually been one of the city’s commercial hubs since the Roman invasion, when it was the location of the Basilica and Forum. Originally built in 70AD, it was expanded in 120AD, covering 2 hectares. The forum was a large open-air square and became a popular meeting place, with market stalls erected within the walls. However, the buildings were destroyed by Rome in 300AD as punishment for London supporting Carausius (d.293AD), who declared himself Emperor of Britain to the chagrin of Rome. It wasn’t until the early 5th century that the Romans finally left and Britain was independent from Rome.
In the early 14th century, the Manor of Leadenhall was owned by Sir Hugh Neville. Originally the local area was a meeting place for poulterers, then cheesemongers from 1397. The market sprung up in a series of courts beside Nevill House – known for its lead roof – on Leadenhall Street.
In 1411, the Corporation of London acquired the freehold of the land as a gift from former Mayor Richard ‘Dick’ Whittington (1354–1423). After the manor house was destroyed in a fire, it was replaced by a public granary, chapel and school as a gift to the public from Mayor at the time, Simon Eyre, Meanwhile, the market was expanded with traders selling poultry, grain, eggs, butter, cheese and herbs. Around this time, Leadenhall was considered the most important market in London and became quite the tourist attraction, with visitors coming to marvel over the bustling trade within the stalls. Over the 15th and 16th century, the market also offered wool, leather and cutlery for sale. The market was mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary in 1663 when he bought a leg of beef for six pence.
When the Great Fire ravaged London in 1666, the stone of Leadenhall Market actually prevented the flames from spreading north-east and escaped largely unscathed in comparison to most of the City. Leadenhall was subsequently rebuilt as a covered stone market with the stalls divided into sections; the Beef Market, The Green Yard and Herb Market. The Green Yard was listed as having 140 butchers stalls at one point, with fishmongers in the middle. Read the rest of this entry
The history of two Georgian terraces overlooking The Mall.
At Open House London this weekend (19-20 September 2015), The Royal Society are opening the doors to their headquarters for tours. The UK’s national science academy has been based at 6-9 Carlton House Terrace since 1967. However, their HQ was originally separate houses with an interesting history dating back nearly 200 years. I visited during Open House London last year and was charmed by the varied layers of history within the building.
Carlton House Terrace is a road comprising of two Regency terraces (Nos.1-9 on the west side, Nos 10-18 on the east) in a Roman classical style designed primarily by London-born architect John Nash (1752-1835), with input by Decimus Burton (1800-1881), among others. The road’s name refers to the site’s former royal residence Carlton House, which was demolished on order of its former resident King George IV (1762-1830) when he moved into nearby Buckingham Palace. The King wanted to give the site to the public on the condition new dwellings for the upper classes were erected on the site. Nash’s original idea was to link the two terraces with a large fountain, but the King vetoed his plans so the flight of stairs down to The Mall were built instead. The four-storey terraces were built between 1827 and 1832, with the Duke Of York column erected in between the blocks in 1834 in memory of the King’s younger brother Prince Frederick (1763-1827).
While the houses have changed and some have been merged over the years, only a small portion of Nash’s original interiors still exist. In what used to be No.7, Nash’s Staircase is still in situ, featuring white and blue wood panelling and wrought iron bannisters. It’s a small, but fine display of Nash’s regency interior style, of which hardly any examples exist these days due to it falling out of fashion.
The houses remained as homes for around 100 years, with Prime Ministers Lord Palmerston, Earl Grey and William Ewart Gladstone among the high-profile residents. American millionaire Charles Henry Sanford, who lived at No.6 in 1890-91, had the house madeover in an opulent Italianate style when he moved in. Today, his stunning marble staircase and ceiling – featuring carved timber and mother of pearl inlays – can still be seen. Upstairs, the Wolfson Library features gold leaf detailing and a painted ceiling and was formerly used as a ballroom for lavish parties at the turn of the 20th century, hosted by American Mrs John W Mackay, who lived at the residence between 1892 and 1920. The Milwaukee Journal wrote of her abode: ‘Her beautiful house in Carlton House Terrace is always open and her gracious hospitality is chronicled by foreigners and her own countrymen.’ Read the rest of this entry
With water taps now in every home and bottled waters on sale everywhere, there isn’t such a high demand for public drinking fountains these days. While public fountains are still found to be popular in places such as parks, leisure centres and museums, ones outside on the street… not so much.
Although these days we expect drinking fountains to be free and clean, back in the first half of the 19th century, it wasn’t so simple. Private companies had a monopoly on water so there wasn’t much regulation on quality, often providing contaminated water to the public. As a result, many people used to drink beer, which was considered a safer alternative to water. It was thanks to the work of physician John Snow (1813-1858), who traced the beginning of a cholera outbreak to a water pump in Soho, that authorities began to prioritise water quality. Following the passing of the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers Act 1848, it was made compulsory that water had to be filtrated. In 1859, MP Samuel Gurney (1816-1882) and barrister Edward Thomas Wakefield (1821-1896) joined forces to set up the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association, with the aim to provide free drinking water to the public. This later changed its name to Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association in 1867, to also include cattle troughs.
The first public drinking fountain was built into the railings of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate Church on Holborn Hill. It opened in April 1859 and was funded by Gurney. The fountain is made of marble and stone, with two cups on chains to drink out of. It features three inscriptions, the top reading: ‘The gift of Sam Gurney MP 1859’. The bottom reminds users to ‘replace the cup’, while inside under where the water used to flow reads: ‘The first Metropolitan drinking fountain erected on Holborn Hill 1859 and removed when the Viaduct was constructed in 1867.’ Just eight years later after being installed, the fountain was relocated while the Holburn Viaduct was built, before finally being reinstated in its original setting in 1913.
The fountain was incredibly popular with hundreds of people using it daily – which I’m sure caused quite a queue of thirsty Londoners! As a result, the society built 85 more fountains around the city over the next six years. Public drinking fountains were heavily supported by the church and Temperance movement, and as a result many were situated near churches and opposite public houses. Now, the fountain still exists, but the water appears to have been turned off.
- The drinking fountain is set in the southern gates around St Sepulchre’s Church on the eastern end of Holborn Viaduct (near the junction with Giltspur Street), City of London, EC1A 2DQ. Nearest stations: City Thameslink, St Paul’s or Farringdon.
To read about the Buxton Memorial Fountain in Westminster, click here.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
Many visitors to London these days may find they are not coming into contact with the ‘real London’. One of pitfalls of tourism – in many cities not just London – is you end up following the usual checklist of sights and sharing them with other non-Londoners.
However, one of the long-running places that has always attracted Londoners in the city is the traditional market. There’s something special about the capital’s markets that make them differ from those abroad. Now of course there are many markets I can highly recommend to visitors – Brick Lane, Portobello and Camden. However, this post is on my favourite, Borough Market. Known as the city’s foodies destination, it draws chefs, amateur cooks, restaurateurs… or just people (like me) with a healthy appetite.
Now located a stone’s throw from London Bridge train and tube station, Borough Market has existed in the area since as far back as the 11th century. The original market lay closer to the actual bridge – then the only river crossing in London – and sold fish, vegetables, grain and livestock. In the 13th century, the market then moved to Borough High Street, just south of St Margaret’s Church. Despite being located on the south of the River – and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the City of London – the boy King Edward VI (1537–1553) changed all this in 1550 when he extended the City’s power to Southwark’s markets.
The market thrived until 1755 when it was closed by an Act of Parliament, as politicians were unimpressed with the congestion in the area. However, some proactive locals in Southwark clubbed together to raise £6,000 to buy a patch of land, then known as The Triangle, in the hope of re-opening the market. In 1756, it reopened on the new site which still forms part of the market today (where Furness Fish & Game is located on Middle Road).
By the 19th century, the market was thriving – no doubt to its location close to the ‘Pool of London’, where most of the wharves were situated. The current building you see today was designed by architect Henry Rose and erected in the 1850s, with the Art Deco entrance at Southwark Street added in 1932. In 2004, the South Portico from Covent Garden’s Floral Hall was installed at the market’s Stoney Street entrance after the Royal Opera House was redeveloped. The market was further enhanced in 2013 with the opening of the Market Hall, a glass structure opening on to Borough High Street which provides a place for shoppers to relax and sample their purchases. Columns reaching up to the roof house pots with growing hops, fruits, flowers, herbs, olives and salad leaves. There also features a demonstration kitchen, with various events taking place throughout the week.
Today, there are over 100 stalls featuring most kinds of food from the UK and further afield. Weekends are particularly busy so it’s worth trying to get there early on a Saturday. As well as a wide range of stalls, the market also contains several restaurants and pubs, including Tapas Brindisa, The Globe, The Rake and Elliot’s Café. On Beadale Street in the market, there is also the old school-style Hobbs Barbers for men in need of a trim.
- Borough Market, 8 Southwark Street, Borough, SE1 1TL. Nearest station: London Bridge. Open for lunch from Monday-Tuesday 10am-5pm, or the full market is open Wednesday-Thursday 10am-5pm, Fridays 10am-6pm and Saturdays 8am-5pm. Closed on Sundays. For more information, visit the Borough Market website.
Welcome to part 2 of ‘Metro Girl’s Must Do’ series, a guide to my essential sights or activities to do during your visit to London. Many tourists may only spend a few days in the capital before escaping to the likes of Oxford or Bath or jumping over the English Channel to see the continent. So if time is of the essence and you’re torn between where to go, this is Metro Girl’s opinion on London’s top attractions.
For Part 1 of Metro Girl’s Must Do series on the London Eye, click here.
Or to read about Metro Girl’s trip up to the nearby View From The Shard, click here.
The Coade stone lion overlooks tourists passing over Westminster Bridge.
The South Bank is one of London’s most heavily tourist-populated areas, thanks to the London Eye, London Dungeon, Aquarium and view of the Houses of Parliament to name but a few. Those who have lived in London a long time, know this is a relatively recent phenomena, having really kicked off with the opening of the London Eye by the southern shores of the Thames in 2000. Prior to the 1950s – when the Royal Festival Hall was built for the Festival Of Britain – the South Bank was a place of industry, which has long since gone.
Standing on the south side of Westminster Bridge, just by the pedestrianised steps leading down to the front of County Hall, is a proud-looking stone lion. Tens of thousands of people – predominantly tourists – walk over Westminster Bridge every day to get a selfie of themselves with Big Ben behind or to board the London Eye for a 360 degree vista of the capital and many not even notice him. He stands tall at 12 feet at a width of 13 feet, weighing an impressive 13 tonnes.
While the grey-coloured lion looks very comfortable against the backdrop of the similarly coloured County Hall building, his origins weren’t quite so low-key. This sculpture was originally red and belonged to the Red Lion Brewery, an imposing great building on the site of the Royal Festival Hall. The brewery was designed by Francis Edwards and built between 1836–7 for owner James Goding. The site spread south of Belvedere Road after Goding acquired land for stables and warehouses as his beer empire expanded. Our current lion was one of two red ones which stood at the brewery – a great emblem for the beer brand. What makes these lions special is they are made of Coade stone – a type of stoneware made in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, named after its creator Eleanor Coade (1733-1821). Coade’s Artificial Stone Company stood not far away on Westminster Bridge Road.
The red lions stood on the site for nearly 100 years until the brewery was damaged in a fire in 1931. The semi-ruined building was briefly used as storage for waste paper before lying derelict for years before it was demolished in 1949 to make way for the Royal Festival Hall. Apparently King George VI (1895-1952) rather liked our lion and encouraged city planners to find a new home for him. The lion was then moved to Station Approach outside Waterloo railway station, but that home didn’t last long either when the station was later expanded.
Finally, in 1966, the lion was restored to his original Coade Stone grey colour and placed on a plinth outside County Hall, where he remains today. During his final move, the name of the noted sculptor William F Woodington (1806-1893) was found engraved on one of the paws, along with the date 24 May 1837. He is now Grade II-listed by English Heritage. As for his twin, the other lion is now painted gold and stands at the Rowland Hill Memorial Gate at Twickenham Stadium 12 miles away. (For a photo of the Twickenham lion, click here).
- The South Bank Lion stands on the south east corner of Westminster Bridge. Nearest station: Waterloo or Westminster.
For the history of the nearby 19th century swan benches and the Albert Embankment, click here.
For more of Metro Girl’s London history posts, click here.
The history behind this street furniture in St James.
The 1st Duke Of Wellington is one of the country’s most famous soldiers and statesmen, having defeated Napoleon at the Battle Of Waterloo and serving as Prime Minister twice. Although there has been seven subsequent Duke Of Wellingtons since his death, it is Arthur Wellesley most of us think of when we hear the title.
Around London there are many monuments to the late, great Duke Of Wellington (1769-1852), such as the Wellington Arch in Hyde Park Corner, his sarcophagus in St Paul’s Cathedral and an equestrian statue of him outside the Royal Exchange in the City of London to name but a few. There are also many buildings connected to the Duke, such as Apsley House on Hyde Park Corner and Walmer Castle in Kent, where he died at the age of 83.
While Wellington’s belongings can be seen in museums and stately homes, one piece of memorabilia remains on a busy London street, with thousands passing it each day unaware of the significance. Sitting on the pavement outside the Athenaeum Club, on Waterloo Place near the junction with Pall Mall is a pair of unassuming granite stones. To those walking by, they may not even be noticed at all or simply dismissed as a plain old piece of London street furniture.
However, to those who take a closer look, these stones are in fact a mounting step to get on and off a horse. During the Duke’s tenure as Prime Minister (January 1828 – November 1830), he was a regular at the Athenaeum Club, of which the original building still stands today. Designed by architect Decimus Burton (1800 – 1881), it is one of the country’s most famous gentlemen’s clubs, with Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy among its prestigious alumni of past members. As the transport of choice for many in the 1800s, the Duke used to arrive at the club on horseback. In 1830 – six years after the club was founded – Prime Minister Wellesley suggested the club should erect some mounting stones to assist in getting on and off horses. Then in his 60s, the Duke would not have been as amble as he once was so the stones would have encouraged a more graceful dismount.
Over 180 years later, the stones remain on the kerb, although these days unused. On the inward facing side, a rusty plaque reads: ‘This horseblock was erected by desire of the Duke Of Wellington 1830.’
- The mounting stones are on Waterloo Place, just south of Pall Mall and outside the Athenaeum Club, 107 Pall Mall, St James, SW1Y 5ER. Nearest stations: Charing Cross, Piccadilly Circus or Green Park.
For a post on the Wellington Arch in Hyde Park Corner, read A monument to victory, grand park entrance and an upset Duke: History behind the Wellington Arch.
For more Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
As Open House London took place this weekend (20-21 September 2014), I joined thousands of Londoners going through the doors of usually private or iconic buildings which are often off-limits to the public, or cost to visit. While some of the buildings I visited this year were more well-known, such as Westminster Hall and Lambeth Palace, I also stepped away from the Open House hotspots of Westminster and the City of London to visit the little-known Caroline Gardens Chapel in Peckham.
Now known as ‘Asylum’, the part-ruined Georgian chapel is now a flexible project space which hosts art exhibitions, concerts and is used for weddings and other functions. The chapel is sandwiched between the almshouses located in Caroline Gardens, on Asylum Road – named for the buildings’ original name Licenced Victuallers’ Benevolent Institution Asylum. Although named an asylum, which immediately makes you assume of a residence for the mentally ill, the site was actually a retirement home for former pub landlords.
The chapel was built in 1827 and 1833, with 10,000 people coming to the opening ceremony of the asylum site. As well as an organ by Messrs Bovington and Sons, the chapel featured stone and marble tablets honouring donors and supporters, most of which still exist today. The Asylum estate was visited by Prince Albert (1819-1861) in 1858 to open the Albert Wing, which added 31 further homes.
Sadly, like many homes and buildings in South East London during the war, the chapel was heavily damaged by a bomb in World War II, destroying the roof and west-facing back wall. Although the chapel was made water-tight by the addition of an asbestos-cement roof and filing the crypt with concrete, it soon fell into disuse. The Asylum relocated to Denham, Bucks in 1960 and the almshouses went into ownership of Southwark council. The chapel was briefly used over the decades, but was mostly left derelict. It was only in 2010 that Jo Dennis and Dido Hallett took over the chapel to be used as an arts and entertainment space.
A friend and I visited the chapel early in the morning on the Saturday of Open House. The gardens were a quiet, peaceful place and we were impressed by the chapel immediately upon entry. While I usually champion the restoration of old, historic buildings, the part-derelict state of Asylum is utterly charming. What remains of the altar contains several marble memorials and the lit candles sitting on the cracked and ravaged concrete floor certainly added to the romanticism. The stained glass windows are stunning and in varying states of condition, from good to decaying. Some of the original paintwork – blue and gold leaf still remains along the walls, as well as some inscriptions on the wall honouring some donors. The back wall includes stairs to nowhere… ghostly remnants of the stone steps heading up to where presumably a mezzanine where a choir or extra congregation may have sat. I loved the building and am looking forward to hopefully coming back one day for an exhibition, concert or wedding.
- Asylum @ Caroline Garden’s Chapel, Asylum Road, Peckham, SE15 2SQ. Nearest station: Queens Road Peckham. For more information, visit the Asylum website.
Here’s some links to Metro Girl’s other blog posts on Open House London:
- Middle Temple Hall: Legal life, Twelfth Night and a rare survivor of Elizabethan architecture.
- Knights, Shakespeare and lawyers: Visit the Medieval Temple Church at Open House London.
- Neo-classicism, masques and an execution site: The history and beauty of Banqueting House.
- Open House London 2015: Royal residences, Roman baths and more.
- Regency London, John Nash and the Third Reich: Visiting The Royal Society’s Carlton House Terrace with Open House.
- Highlights gallery from Royal Courts of Justice, Foreign Office & City Hall.
- Visit the ruins of an old Roman bath house with Open House London.
- Inside out: A rare chance to step inside the Lloyd’s Building at Open House.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
A rare walk through Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe.
The Thames Tunnel, once one of Victorian London’s greatest attractions, hasn’t been open to the public for nearly 150 years. While thousands pass through it every day on a London Overground train, many wouldn’t be aware they are travelling through an impressive feat of engineering. In May 2014, the London Transport Museum hosted special Hidden London tours for people to follow in the footsteps of Victorian Londoners by walking the tunnel as it was originally used for.
As you may have noticed, after Tower Bridge going east there is no bridge crossing the River Thames until you reach the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at Dartford, Kent. In Victorian London, with the industrial revolution in full swing, the docks and factories east of the city were booming and it became apparent of a growing need for a river connection between docks on north and south of the river. Various ideas were considered over the years, but it wasn’t until 1823, Anglo-French engineer Marc Isambard Brunel (1769-1849) produced a plan for an underwater tunnel between Rotherhithe and Wapping using his and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s (1806-1859) new tunnelling shield patent, which revolutionised tunnel building.
With the tunnel originally planned for use by horse-drawn carriages, Marc found funding from the Duke Of Wellington, among others, and construction began in February 1825. Brunel’s team started building a shaft at Rotherhithe – which is still there today and forms part of the Brunel Museum – which is where pedestrians and (ideally) horse and carriages would enter the tunnel. In November 1825, the shaft was complete so the tunnelling could begin. Using the Brunels’ tunnelling shield, work progressed slowly, with only about 8-12 foot of tunnel being built a week. Conditions were horrible, with many workers falling ill from the sewage strewn water seeping into the tunnel. Marc’s son Isambard ended up taking over the project at just 20 years old when resident engineer William Armstrong fell ill in 1826. At one point, they started allowing visitors in to see the shield in action, charging a shilling each, to boost the spiralling budget.
In November 1827 – while the tunnel was still being built – the Brunels hosted a banquet in the tunnel for 50 guests with music provided by the Coldstream Guards. In May 1827 and January 1828, the tunnel flooded, with the later incident resulting in the loss of six men and Isambard himself narrowly escaping death. Following this, there was loss of confidence in the project and it was put on hold for seven years. However, by December 1834, Marc managed to raise enough money – including a loan from the Treasury – to resume the project. Despite more floods, fires and gas leaks, construction was finally completed in November 1841. It measured 35 feet wide, by 20 feet high and 1,300 feet long, at 75 feet below the Thames surface. It was swiftly fitted out with lighting, staircases and roadways. An engine house was built next to the shaft for machinery used to drain the tunnel, which can now be visited as the Brunel Museum. The tunnel had taken so long to build, there was no money left to construct two further shafts to transport the horse and carriages down to tunnel level. So with the original design brief unfulfilled, it was opened to pedestrians in March 1843, who entered via the Grand Entrance Halls in the shafts using spiral staircases.
After hearing so long about the delays and dramas of the tunnel construction, unsurprisingly Londoners and those from further afield were curious to see the engineering wonder. It was initially hugely popular with tourists, with 50,000 people visiting on opening day, with a total of 1 million visiting in the first three months – equivalent to half the population of London at the time. Billed as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’, visitors paid a penny to pass through the tunnel and soon found plenty of occupy them as stalls were erected in the arches between the adjoining east and west tunnels. Among the products on sale included snuff boxes, paper weights and gin flasks. In 1852, organisers hosted the Fancy Fair, the world’s first underwater fair, featuring entertainment such as tightrope artists, fire-eaters, sword swallowers and magicians. Despite the initial popularity, the novelty soon wore off and 10 years after opening, the tunnel was home to some very unsavoury characters, including thieves and prostitutes.
Investors were relieved when the East London Railway Company purchased the tunnel in 1865, with trains eventually running through it four years later after they had extended it further south. In 1884, a disused shaft was used to create Wapping station. Eventually the line came into ownership of London Underground for the East London Line and then in 2010, became a line used by London Overground.
- The London Transport Museum very rarely conducts tours to the Thames Tunnel, but keep an eye out on their events page for further openings. The Brunel Museum is open all year round, with regular tours to visit the Grand Entrance Hall. Brunel Museum, Railway Ave, Rotherhithe, SE16 4LF. Nearest Overground: Rotherhithe. For more information, visit the Brunel Museum website.
Metro Girl Likes: When you’re in the area, check out the nearby 17th century Mayflower pub with a deck overlooking the River Thames.
To read about Metro Girl’s visit to the disused Aldwych tube station, click here.
For more of Metro Girl’s London history posts, click here.
The story behind these curious Egyptian benches by the Thames.
Anyone who has strolled along the Victoria Embankment may have noticed the ornate benches alongside the river. Dotted along the north of the Thames between Battersea and Blackfriars Bridges, the cast iron and wooden benches provide more than just a place to rest your weary bones. Unlike the pedestrian-friendly South Bank, the north bank of the Thames isn’t as pleasurable to walk along due to the busy traffic churning out fumes. As a result, all the benches face the river so you can sit with your back to the traffic and enjoy the view.
The benches are one of the many ornamental details created for the Embankment by English architect George John Vulliamy (1817-1886). As well as the benches, he is also responsible for the sphinxes and pedestal for Cleopatra’s Needle and the ‘dolphin’ lamps on both sides of the river. In the centre of London, the Thames used to be a lot wider until the 19th century, city bosses needed a new sewage system to cope with the rapidly expanding population. Sir Joseph Bazelgette (1819-1891) came up with a scheme to reclaim some 22 acres of marshland, creating a new sewage system and a new road, taking the pressure off The Strand. In the typically Victorian way, the new Embankment needed to have suitable ‘street furniture’ to give London – heart of the British Empire – a look of prestige and style.
Hired as the Superintending Architect of the Metropolitan Board of Works, Vulliamy created the ‘Dolphin’ (actually, sturgeon fish!) street lamps along the retaining river wall in 1870. Several years later, he decided to look to Egypt for inspiration when it came to designing the benches, a place he had visited in the early 1840s. Pre-empting the arrival of Cleopatra’s Needle – a gift from Egypt – in 1878, Vulliamy opted for a design which would complement the ancient monument when it eventually arrived. Near the site of the Needle itself, the benches in the City of Westminster feature armrests of Sphinxes, before camel armrests appear in the City of London section of the Victoria Embankment. The benches were made by Z.D. Berry & Son of Regent Street and placed on the Embankment in 1877 – a year before Cleopatra’s Needle was erected. Of course, weather and pollution have damaged the benches over the years, with Westminster and the City of London councils restoring and faithfully reproducing them when needed.
To read Metro Girl’s other blog posts on London history, click here.
The Victorian monument is not to be confused with Marble Arch.
The Wellington Arch is one of London’s famous landmarks, being beamed to televisions around the world during ceremonial, historical events. However, to many Londoners, it is often dismissed as an ornament on a traffic island in the middle of one of the city’s busiest and stressful traffic junctions. Being one of a few ornate arches in the capital, it is often confused by tourists with Marble Arch just up the road. Although upon first look, you would assume the Wellington Arch has stood in its spot for centuries as the world changed around it. However, the structure has in fact gone through two major changes over the years – with its Quadriga statue on the top not actually being the original and the location in a different spot from where it used to stand.
In the early 19th century, Hyde Park Corner – where Kensington Road met Piccadilly – was widely thought of as the entrance to London. A tollgate stood in front of Hyde Park, to the west of Apsley House (the London residence of the Dukes of Wellington). Apsley House’s location just inside the tollgate lead to its nickname as being No.1 London, when in actual fact it is 149 Piccadilly. Following Britain’s success in the Napoleonic Wars, King George IV was keen to commemorate the victories with the Wellington Arch and Marble Arch. Young architect Decimus Burton (1800-1881) was commissioned to create a grand entrance to Green Park and the longer screen entrance to Hyde Park Corner. His initial design was considered too modest, so he submitted a second design with an arch that was deemed more triumphal featuring a more ornamental exterior and would be christened with a Quadriga – a car or chariot driven by four horses.
Building on the arch started in 1826 in the architecture style of the Corinthian Order, featuring elaborate capitals at the top of the columns. However, in 1828, the Government was unhappy when construction costs exceeded Burton’s original budget, along with the fact the rebuilding of Buckingham Palace at the same time was also hugely over budget. The Treasury declined to fund the rest of the project so Burton had to scale back his exterior ornamental features and the Quadriga never materialised.
After years of standing as an arch, the Wellington Memorial Committee thought it would be fitting to have an equestrian statue of the Duke Of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, 1769-1852) atop the arch. As well as commemorating his victory at the Battle of Waterloo, it was deemed a perfect location as it was outside his London residence. Eight years after it was commissioned, Matthew Cotes Wyatt’s bronze statue of Wellington was erected in 1846. At the time, it was the largest equestrian statue in the country, standing at 30 foot high and weighing 40 tons. While Britain was incredibly proud of the Duke of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo, his bronze likeness was not so popular. Many thought the statue was disproportionate to the arch, Burton hated it and even Queen Victoria wasn’t a fan, believing it disturbed the view from Buckingham Palace. Despite its lack of popularity, it would have been seen as a huge insult to the Duke if it was moved, so it remained during his lifetime. The Duke actually said he would feel obliged to step down from all his public posts if it was removed, so the Government and Queen decided it should remain in situ.
By the 1870s, the traffic around Hyde Park Corner had reached chaotic proportions. In the 1880s, the Government proposed moving the arch 20 metres away so the road could be widened. From 1883 until 1885, the arch was dismantled and bit by bit, moved to its current location, facing south-east down Constitution Hill. Its new location meant the original relationship between the arch and the Hyde Park Corner screen was lost. After a brief stay in Green Park during the relocation, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) suggested Wyatt’s sculpture of Wellington should be moved to Aldershot, Berkshire, as a gift to the British Army, where it remains today.
At its new site, the arch was marooned on a traffic island on land which used to be the western part of Green Park. The southern pier of the arch was used as a residence for the park-keeper, while the northern pier was used as a police station (said to be the smallest in Britain) until the 1950s. After decades without a crowning glory, the Prince of Wales suggested sculptor Adrian Jones’s Quadriga, (of which he had seen a smaller version during a Royal Academy exhibition), would be a fitting topper. Although no funds were available at the time, thanks to a donation from banker Sir Herbert Stern, Jones’s full-size bronze ‘Triumph’ was finally created and placed upon the arch in 1912 – when the Prince was King Edward VII. The Angel of Peace riding the chariot was said to be modelled on Beatrice Stewart. The statue is the largest bronze sculpture in Europe.
After being acquired by English Heritage in 1999 and restored, the arch is now open to the public. As well as presenting a history of the arch and an exhibition area, visitors can also check out the vistas from the two balconies.
- Wellington Arch, Apsley Way, Hyde Park Corner, W1J 7JZ. Nearest station: Hyde Park Corner. Tickets: Adults: £4, Children: £2.40. Opening times vary depending on the season. Check the English Heritage website for further details.
To find out about the Duke Of Wellington’s old mounting stone, click here.
For the history of another London ‘traffic island’, read the history behind Parliament Square
For more of Metro Girl’s London history blog posts, click here.