Marble Arch is a white Carrara marble (with some marble pieces extracted near Seravezza) monument that now stands on a large traffic island at the junction of Oxford Street, Park Lane, and Edgware Road, almost directly opposite Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park in London,England. Until 1851 it stood in front of Buckingham Palace. Historically, only members of the royal family and the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, have been allowed to pass through the arch in ceremonial procession.
The name “Marble Arch” also refers to the locality in west London where the arch is situated, particularly, the southern portion of Edgware Road. There also is an underground station named after it.
The arch was designed in 1825 by John Nash as ceremonial entrance to the courtyard of the new Buckingham Palace, which he was then rebuilding from the former Buckingham House. The palace, as designed by Nash, was laid out around three sides of the courtyard., with the Marble Arch placed on its open, eastern side. The design of the arch is based on that of the Arch of Constantine in Rome and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris. It was originally intended to carry a program of sculpture celebrating British victories during the Napoleonic Wars. An architectural model, made in around 1826 and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, shows it with a continuous relief of the Battle of Waterloo on one side and scenes of naval engagements on the other.
John Flaxman was chosen to make the commemorative sculpture. After his death in 1826 the commission was divided between Sir Richard Westmacott, Edward Hodges Baily and J.C.F.Rossi. In 1829, a bronze equestrian statue of George IV was commissioned from Sir Francis Chantrey, with the intention of placing it on top of the arch.
Construction began in 1827, but was cut short in 1830 because of rising costs. Work restarted in 1832, this time under the supervision of Edward Blore, who greatly reduced Nash’s planned attic stage and omitted its sculpture, including the statue of George IV. The arch was completed in 1833. Some of the unused sculpture, including parts of Westmacott’s frieze of Waterloo and the Nelson panels were used at Buckingham Palace. His victory statues and Rossi’s relief of Europe and Asia were used at the National Gallery. In 1843 the equestrian statue of George IV was installed on one of the pedestals in Trafalgar Square.
The marble soon lost its whiteness in the polluted London atmosphere. In 1847, Sharpe’s London Magazine described it as “discoloured by smoke and damp, and in appearance resembling a huge sugar erection in a confectioner’s shop window.”
The arch was dismantled in 1850 when the new east range of Buckingham Palace was constructed, closing in the courtyard. It was rebuilt by Thomas Cubitt as a ceremonial entrance to the northeast corner of Hyde Park at Cumberland Gate. The reconstruction was completed in March 1851. A popular story says that the arch was moved because it was too narrow for the Queen’s state coach to pass through, but, in fact, the gold state coach passed under it during Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. Three small rooms inside the rebuilt arch were used as a police station from 1851 until at least 1968 (John Betjeman made a programme inside it in 1968 and referred to it as a fully functional police station).It firstly housed the royal constables of the Park and later the Metropolitan Police. One policeman stationed there during the early 1860s was Samuel Parkes, who won the Victoria Cross in the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854, during the Crimean War.
It has been speculated that the arch might be moved across the street to Hyde Park, or to a more accessible location than its current position on a large traffic island. The nearest London Underground station is Marble Arch on the Central Line. The area around the arch forms a major road junction connecting Oxford Street to the east, Park Lane (A4202) to the south, Bayswater Road (A402) to the west, and Edgware Road(A5) to the north-west. The short road directly to the north of the arch is also known as Marble Arch.
The area once was home to the largest cinema screen in London at the Odeon Marble Arch cinema. The screen was originally over 75 feet (23 m) wide. The Odeon showcased 70 mm films in a large circle-and-stalls auditorium. The cinema was converted into a mini-plex in 1997. The arch is near the largest Marks & Spencer store in the United Kingdom, which opened in 1930. The arch also stands close to the site of the Tyburn gallows (sometimes called ‘Tyburn Tree’), a place of public execution from 1388 until 1793.
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