This fine booklet about the Wellington Arch and the Marble Arch in London is published by National Heritage and written by Steven Brindle and David Robinson. The arches have an almost parallel history: both were planned in 1825; both were built about 1826-1830; both were built to commemorate the military victory over Napoleonic France; and both were built in one location and later moved to another. The former in 1882-1883, the latter in 1850-1851.
The Wellington Arch (formerly known as the Green Park Arch, because of its first location) was designed by architect Decimus Burton (1800-1881). It was built to celebrate Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), who was the commander of the British forces during the battle of Waterloo where Napoleon was defeated (18 June 1815). After the war the Duke became a politician, serving as Prime Minister 1828-1830.
The Marble Arch was designed by the architect John Nash (1752-1835), who was inspired by the Arch of Constantine in Rome, which was dedicated to the Roman emperor in AD 315. There are three openings. A large opening in the centre is flanked by two smaller openings on the sides.
The patron of both arches was King George IV.
There are more parallels:
(1) For a while both arches served as the two smallest police stations in London.
(2) Since 1999 both arches are under the care of National Heritage.
The authors present the history of the arches (the art and the architecture); not only the monuments, but also the exterior decorations, some of which were the subject of intensive public discussion. The text is clear and concise. It is illustrated with a large number of photos and drawings. The modern photos are in colour, while the old photos are in black-and-white (for obvious reasons). However, some of the old photos are very interesting, because they show the Wellington arch with an older appearence. Here is an example:
A photo from around 1850 shows the Wellington Arch with an equestrian statue of the Duke on top (page 15). This composition is unfortunate; it does not work. In fact, many people complained about it. In 1882-1883, when the arch was moved to a new location, the equestrian statue was taken down, and it was not put back on top again.
It was decided to replace it with a quadriga, a carriage pulled by four horses, designed by Adrian Jones (1845-1938). But funding for the project was difficult, and so was the construction. Matters moved very slowly. Finally, in 1912, the huge and heavy quadriga was mounted on top of the arch. The plans for this project had begun in 1891. The new quadriga fits the monument much better than the old equestrian statue of the Duke.
A map on the inside of the back cover shows the current location of both arches. To get to the Wellington Arch take the undergrund to Hyde Park Corner. To get to the Marble Arch take the underground to the station named after the monument.
If you have time, and if the weather is nice, you can walk from one arch to the other, strolling through Hyde Park, from Speaker's Corner in the north to Hyde Park Corner in the south (or the opposite way).
When you arrive, you will find that the Wellington Arch is open to the public. There is an exhibition space inside and a viewing platform over the porticoes.
Marble Arch is closed to the public. Today it is a bit difficult to reach, because it is isolated on a traffic island. You have to take a pedestrian tunnel to get there. Once you get there, you will find you can only look at the monument from the outside, because there is no public access.
The history of these interesting monuments is told in great detail and with a large number of illustrations. I am amazed to see how much information the authors are able to present in just 36 pages; a fine accomplishment indeed. This slim volume is highly recommended.
If you are in London, set aside some time to visit these arches. Bring the booklet with you. It will help you understand and appreciate what you see when you are there.