Designed by John Nash in 1827, the Marble Arch in London is a white marble faced triumphal arch, built as the royal gateway to the Buckingham Palace. During those days, John Nash was an architect of repute, who was largely responsible for changing the architectural face of the city of London. His three arch design was based on that of the Arch of Constantine in Rome and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris, decorated with Corinthian columns and three arches, consisting of one large central arch and another on either side.
Initially, John Flaxman was given the responsibility to make the decorative sculptures on the arch, but after his death in 1826 the commission was divided between Sir Richard Westmacott, Edward Hodges and JCF Rossi. Subsequently, in 1829, a bronze equestrian statue of George IV was commissioned, with the intention to place the statue on the top of the arch. The upper part of the arch was also planned to be adorned with free-standing figures of ‘winged Victories’ above the pillars, a central raised plinth bearing a group of Britannia with a portrait of Nelson, and another of Europe and Asia with another portrait of Nelson. Apart from that, it was also supposed to be decorated with a number of other fine sculptures, which never meterialised.
Construction of the arch began in 1827, but was cut short in 1830, following the death of King George IV. The rising costs were unacceptable to the new king, William IV, who succeeded his elder brother. However, work restarted in 1832, under the strict supervision of Edward Blore, who drastically reduced Nash's planned attic stage and excluded its sculpture, including the statue of George IV and the winged Victories.
Finally, the arch was completed in 1833.The triumphal arch is faced with Italian Carrara marble with embellishments of marble extracted from quarries near Seravezza, also in Italy. However, it is devoid of planned attic stage and the relief panels. Some of the unused sculptures, originally meant for the arch, were used at Buckingham Palace, some were housed in the National Gallery and the equestrian statue of George IV was installed on a pedestal in Trafalgar Square in 1843.
Originally, the arch was located near the Buckingham Palace, meant for the use of only the senior members of the Royal Family as well as the Royal Horse Artillery and King's Troop. The mostly incomplete Buckingham Palace was actually hurriedly completed upon the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. Later, as the palace appeared to be too small for the large court and the Queen's expanding family, it was enlarged by enclosing the ‘cour d'honneur’ with a new east range. Today, this façade is the principal front and public face of the palace, which shields the inner façades containing the friezes and marbles matching and complementing those of the arch. However, it is said that the arch was moved, mainly because it was too narrow for the Queen's state coach to pass through it.
Nevertheless, the work of reconstruction began in 1847 and completed in March 1851, when the arch was dismantled and rebuilt by Thomas Cubitt as a ceremonial entrance to the northeast corner of Hyde Park at Cumberland Gate. The rebuilt Marble Arch consists of three small rooms, which were used as a police station from 1851 till at least 1968. Originally it housed the royal constables of the Park and later the Metropolitan Police.
Following the widening of Park Lane in the early 1960s, the marvelous Marble Arch now presents a sad and desolate picture of a forlorn and neglected entity, standing alone and isolated, on a large safety traffic island at the busy junction of Park Lane, Oxford Street and Edgware Road.