Another London arch sitting in the midst of a roundabout, Wellington Arch has also been known as Constitution Arch or the Green Park Arch. While Marble Arch sits at the top of Park Lane, Wellington Arch is situated at the bottom and today acts as an ‘entrance’ to Green Park – much in the way Marble Arch (see blog our blog post on Marble Arch) acts as an ‘entrance’ to Hyde Park.
History and Design
The Wellington Arch is the work of King George IV who wished to commemorate Britain’s victories in the Napoleonic Wars by constructing large triumphal arches (such as Marble Arch) in London. The original idea was that this Arch would provide a grand entrance into central London from the west. There had previously been a turnpike gate at this location – now known as Hyde Park Corner – which meant that this location was often considered by Londoners and visitors to be the beginning of London (Hence: Apsley Houses’ address of Number 1, London).
Architect Decimus Burton designed the arch which was constructed between 1826-1830. The original design called for a single opening – which exists – and altitudes of exterior ornamentation which was omitted to attempt to save some of the money King George IV was lavishly spending throughout his reign.
In 1846, Wellington Arch was selected as a suitable location for a statue of Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington. A statue was indeed created and at 40 tons and 28ft (8.53m) high, the statue of former Prime Minister Wellington became the largest equestrian figure ever made! The public felt that the statue was far too large for the arch and that the entire construction was a bit ridiculous, particularly as Wellington was no longer a very publicly popular figure. However, fearing the Duke would be insulted were the statue to be removed or altered, Queen Victoria commanded that it should remain in place for the rest of Wellington’s life.
Originally the arch was adjacent to the decorative screens marking the entrance to Hyde Park, where Apsley House is still standing today. However, to facilitate an increase in traffic, the arch was moved in 1882 to its current position, directly in line with Constitution Hill – the road leading from Hyde Park Corner to Buckingham Palace.
When the arch was moved, the Wellington Statue was removed – and not put back. It was sent to Aldershot and a smaller statue of Wellington atop a horse was commissioned and was designed by Joseph Edgar Boehm, the statue of which still sits on a plinth nearby the arch today. The original architect of the arch, Decimus Burton, had originally intended there to be a sculpture of a quadriga (a roman chariot drawn by 4 horses) atop the Arch, although his plan did not come into fruition until 1912. The current bronze quadriga on top of the Arch was designed by Adrian Jones and depicts the angel of peace descending onto the chariot of war – and currently holds the record of being the largest bronze sculpture in Europe.
Hollow inside, the Arch had previously housed a small police station until 1992. In 1999 ownership of the Arch passed to English Heritage who are still in control of the monument today. It is open to the public and contains three floors of exhibition which detail the history of the arch. Occasionally one can see visitors standing on top of Wellington Arch as those who have paid to go inside are also given access to the terraces on top, providing magnificent views over Belgravia and Hyde Park.
Just underneath the arch is a ventilation shaft for Hyde Park Corner Underground Station. The hot air coming through this vent often appears as smoke on very cold days and, on average, the London Fire Brigade receives around 3 emergency calls per year from people reporting that there is a fire underneath the Arch!
- 1st October 2014 to 2nd November – 10:00 – 17:00 – 7 Days a Week
- 3rd November to 29 March 2015 – 10:00 – 16:00 – 7 days a week
- Spring 2015 – Opening times yet to be announced
- Adult – £4.20
- Children (5-15) – £2.50
- Concession – £3.80
- Family – £23.10
- Under 5’s – FREE
- Address: Apsley Way, Hyde Park Corner, London W1J 7JZ
- Nearest Underground Station: Hyde Park Corner
- Nearest Rail Station: Victoria Station
- Bus Routes: 2, 9, 10, 14, 16, 19, 36, 38, 52, 73, 74, 137, 148, 414, 436, C2