Blog Archives

A wall of colour amongst the green: The London Mastaba on the Serpentine

A monument to victory, grand park entrance and an upset Duke: History behind the Wellington Arch

The Victorian monument is not to be confused with Marble Arch.

Wellington Arch © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The Wellington Arch in Hyde Park Corner

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The neo-classical details of the arch entrance’s ceiling

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.

Wellington Arch view from the top © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The white taxi cab is roughly the spot where the Wellington Arch used to stand – facing the Hyde Park screen (right)

Wellington Arch © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Looking up at the Arch’s classical detailing and Corinthian columns

Wellington Arch crown Queen's Jubilee 2012 © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The Wellington Arch featured an illuminated crown during 2012 to mark Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee

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.

Wellington Arch view from the top © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Vista: The view from the south east balcony, looking down Constitution Hill with the London Eye, Big Ben and The Shard visible

Duke of Wellington arch 1850s from Wikimedia Commons

The Arch in its original setting, with the Duke Of Wellington sculpture in the 1850s.
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

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.
Wellington Arch quadriga © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Adrian Jones’s Quadriga sculpture, erected on the arch in 1912

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.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Walking in a Winter Wonderland: Festive fun and frolics in Hyde Park

No ticket, no problem! Guide to enjoying the Olympics in London for free

Olympic rings © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Like a majority of Londoners I have spoken to, I’ve been surprised by the sudden onset of Olympic fever. After months, if not years, of negative press about the spiralling costs, the difficulty in getting (affordable!) tickets, engineering and road works and… sorry have mentioned this in a previous blog post, but those horrific Boris ‘it’s the big one’ announcements at stations, it’s finally here.

Since going to watch the Olympic torch relay last Monday, I have been growing more and more excited about the games. Many people like me, who don’t usually have an interest in sports and haven’t watched previous Olympics, are stunned to find a newfound enthusiasm for the Games, which have come out of nowhere. During Friday night’s Opening Ceremony, my Twitter and Facebook feeds were awash with pride (from the Brits) and admiration (from my foreign pals) and it appears the country has finally embraced the games.

So although I have been lucky enough to win tickets to the hockey (of which I know nothing about…), most of my friends haven’t got tickets so we’ve been trying to find ways of soaking up the atmosphere and even catch a game without spending a penny. On Saturday, I went to watch the Men’s Cycle Road Race on Constitution Hill and it was great fun. So here’s a guide to enjoying the Games and the other events on in London over the summer.

Free Olympic and Paralympic Events (click links for detailed maps and schedules)

  • Wednesday 1st AugustCycling Road – Women’s and Men’s Individual Time Trials.

The Women’s Individual Time Trial starts at 12:30 and ends (estimated) 13:45 at Hampton Court Palace, goes through Esher, Hersham, Cobham and Thames Ditton.

The Men’s Individual Time Trial starts at 14:15 and ends (estimated) 16:10 at Hampton Court Palace, going through similar route to Women’s, but also including Teddington and Hampton Wick.

serpentine olympics © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The Women’s Triathlon includes ticketed seating on the north bank of the Serpentine in Hyde Park, but the remainder of the course is free for spectators. The swimming part (1.5km) will start in the Serpentine at 9am, then the cycling (43km in 7 laps of 6.1km), which will go along South Carriage Drive in the park, down Constitution Hill and back to the park, then there’s a 10km run (4 laps of 2.5km), ending at approx 10:30am. The winner will be presented with their medal at the end.

The Men’s 20km Race Walk starts at 17:00 at The Mall. The rules stipulate one foot may remain on the ground at all times as the competitors speed-walk along the route of 10 laps around the 2km between The Mall and the Constitution Hill and back again. The Mall area is ticketed, but Constitution Hill and around the Queen Victoria Memorial are free.

The Women’s Marathon starts at 11am at The Mall (ticket holders only), before taking a route along Victoria Embankment, St Paul’s, Cannon Street and Blackfriars before ending at The Mall.

The Men’s Triathlon is pretty much the same route and set-up as the women’s above. So apart from ticketed area on Serpentine’s north bank, spectators can find free spots along the route in and outside of the park. The event starts at 11am and is scheduled to finish at 13:15 with the medal presentation at the climax.

Men's Cycle Race © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The Women’s 10K Swimming Marathon starts at 12:00 and will include 10 laps of the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Apart from ticketed area on Serpentine’s north bank, the south bank is free for spectators.

The Men’s 10K Swimming Marathon starts at 12:00 and will include 10 laps of the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Apart from ticketed area on Serpentine’s north bank, the south bank is free for spectators.

The Men’s 50km Race Walk starts at 9am at The Mall. The rules stipulate one foot may remain on the ground at all times as the competitors speed-walk along the route of 25 laps around the 2km course between The Mall and the Constitution Hill and back again. The Mall area is ticketed, but Constitution Hill and around the Queen Victoria Memorial are free.

The Women’s 20km Race Walk starts at 17:00 at The Mall. The rules stipulate one foot may remain on the ground at all times as the competitors speed-walk along the route of 10 laps around the 2km course between The Mall and the Constitution Hill and back again. The Mall area is ticketed, but Constitution Hill and around the Queen Victoria Memorial are free.

Again, very similar route to the Women’s, starting at The Mall at 11am (ticket holders only) but then going along Victoria Embankment into the City of London and back again. Estimated to finish at 13:30 with the medal presentation.

The Men’s and Women’s Marathon both take place today. Some athletes will compete with wheelchairs or throwing frames, some with prostheses or with guidance from a sighted companion.

  • Monday 10 SeptemberTeam GB Parade

Giving the public a chance to cheer for and celebrate with the athletes of the Games as they parade from Mansion House in the City of London, past St Paul’s Cathedral, The Strand, Trafalgar Square and ending in The Mall.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012BT London Live

BT have commandeered three famous London spaces – Hyde Park, Victoria Park in East London and Trafalgar Square – to give Londoners and visitors the chance to enjoy the games if they haven’t got a ticket. As well as big TV screens being set up to watch the action live from the Olympic Park and other sites, there is also a variety of entertainment, including concerts. While many of the bigger concerts in Hyde Park will be paid ticket only, to watch the actual games is free entry. A certain amount of tickets for guaranteed entry are available in advance online, but there will also be tickets available each day on a first come, first served basis, depending on capacity. While Hyde Park and Victoria Park are currently running from now until 12 August, the Trafalgar Square area will be open over the whole summer, including the Paralympics. Hyde Park will have a sports area so you can try your hand at your favourite sports, while Victoria Park will have an Observation Wheel, zipline, bungee trampolines and water-zorbing pool. Visit BT London Live’s website for more information.Tower Bridge Olympic rings © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Olympic Photo Opportunities

Even when you’re not at a sports venue, you can be sure wherever you are in London, they’ll be an Olympic symbol or event going on. The iconic Olympic rings have been placed on Tower Bridge, while the Paralympic symbol will be illuminated on the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square from 19 August.

Every night during the Olympics and Paralympics, images from the Games will be projected along the Houses of Parliament.

London’s famous bridges will be lit up in dazzling light displays every night of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. My tip is go for dinner or drinks at one of the many restaurants or bars spanning the Southbank between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge then walk off your dinner while checking out the bridges.Embankment Wenlock © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Games Mascots Wenlock and Mandeville Discovery Tours

Wenlock – the official mascot of the Olympics – and Mandeville – the official mascot of the Paralympics – have been somewhat controversial, but following their recent appearance on the streets of London, are growing on some Londoners. The Mayor Of London’s office have put together six walking routes in London with different designs of Wenlock and Mandeville highlighting history and culture of the surrounding area. Go to the MOLpresents website to find maps, or see how many you can spot by yourself. Fun activity for adults and children alike.

Big Screen at Potters Fields Park and The Scoop

Watch the games on a big screen at Potters Fields Park on the south bank of the Thames, in between Tower Bridge and City Hall. Nearby is The Scoop amphitheatre, with free music, theatre and films available to all. Visit The Scoop’s website for more info.

Special Events around London

  • Sacrilege – inflatable Stonehenge tour of London

Artist Jeremy Deller has created a large inflatable, bouncy castle replica of Stonehenge for both adults and children to jump on. It will be popping up in parks and spaces in London. Check the website for locations and dates.

  • Bandstand Marathon – free live music

On Sunday 9 September, over 500 bandstands across the country will host free musical performances. Visit the Bandstand Marathon website for more details.

  • Carnaval del Pueblo – Latin American festival
On Saturday 18 August, one of London’s newest attractions, the Pleasure Gardens in Royal Victoria Docks, will host this festival of music, food, dance. For more information, visit Carnaval del Pueblo’s website.