Old Images of London’s Marble Arch

Old cigarette card of Marble Arch London

Glimpse history through old images of Marble Arch, in London, England.

Marble Arch’s Time Trip

Step back in time with another inspiring creation by James Fox, this time showing Marble Arch in London’s City of Westminster, through many changes shown in old photographs and pictures.

London: Marble Arch Through Time – The Time Travel Artist (YouTube)

Marble Arch in 1926

The BFI National Archive have re-edited and digitally restored Claude Friese-Greene’s 1925/26 film “The Open Road”.

The film itself captured scenes of Britain in a journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats. The remarkable early colour film is available to purchase from the bfi filmstore.

In this wonderful excerpt, we see people walking about in their very trendy 20’s clothing, as a beautiful old car drives through the gates to the main road which is, of course, almost deserted of traffic compared to the next clip from the 1970s.

Marble Arch, London (1926)

Marble Arch in the 1970s

The British Pathé archives hold a silent reel of a rather grubby looking Marble Arch in the 1970s. Cars and vans pass by at speed, and ugly railings sit prominently as a barrier to the traffic.

The monument looks awkwardly placed in its setting, not longer the great monument of wonder that it was at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Marble Arch (1970-1979) – British Pathé on YouTube

Brief History of Marble Arch

This is an excerpt from “The Gardeners’ Chronicle”, published on Saturyday, September 21, 1850.

AN outcry has been raised against the Woods and Forests by a part of the daily press, who, in their zeal for popular rights, fancy they have discovered a flagrant case of popular wrong. A few workmen have been seen cutting a straight line across the esplanade in front of Buckingham Palace; a couple of ominous surveying rods have been observed in the Green-park; some costermongers’ carts have been detected emptying themselves of their loads in front of the palace; and, in connection with this, the famous marble arch has begun to disappear. Hence it has been inferred that Lord SEYMOUR is about to perpetrate some official enormity.

According to the Times, the Commissioners are “coolly proceeding to occupy a large slice of the Green-park temporarily, and a section of St. James’s park en permanence;” the public is hereafter to discover, “to the universal disgust, that the beauty of both parks has been marred, and the proportions of one cruelly curtailed.”

“Ministry and Parliament having alike fled from town, the censures of the member for Montrose having melted into air, and the pledge of Sir CHARLES WOOD having become a thing of the past, the Commissioners set bravely to work with 11,000l in hand. “They begin by pulling down the famous marble arch. They had not settled where the arch was to go, but at all events it must come down; so a road is made into the nearest field,which happened in this case to be the Green-park, and there, shrouded by a wooden enclosure, the relics are to lie till an available position is found. If the place of reconstruction is so uncertain, it might have been as well to hire the yard of some eminent builder and store the materials in a more fitting locality.The only alternative is to suppose that there is some definite object in the choice of so singular a stone-yard as the sward of the Green-park hard by the palace windows.”

“The Woods and Forests have commenced their campaign by cutting off a fine piece of St. James’s park, and are proceeding to pile up the dismembered arch in the middle of the Green-park. Any one may see that, having effected a beginning of their plan, and bored all London with their stone-yard during the time of the Exhibition next year, and perhaps for some years after, they will agitate for some more money in order to finish the job.

“We next have a formidable account of some intentions entertained by Mr. NESFIELD of constructing magnificent gardens in front of Buckingham Palance, to be cut out of the Green-park and St. James’s-park; and an assurance that the ornamental water is to be curtailed.

“From the clearance already made at the upper end,” says the Times, “we discover that one-third of the whole length of the lake would be cut off.”
It is difficult to conceive how a journal, with such means of ascertaining the truth as the Times possesses, could have fallen into this series of mistakes.
The statements are made under a total misapprehension of the intention of the Commissioners and of the facts of the case, as will be seen by the accompanying plan, in which the works now in progres are indicated by solid lines, and the existing boundaries of roadway and iron fencing, by dots.

From this it appears that it is intended to form a court-yard in front of the Palace, about 50 yards broad and 264 yards long, for the purpose of diverting the existing roadway from the walls of the palace, and of securing some degree of quiet to its inhabitants; and that in order to replace the road way thus removed, Constitution-hill will be made to sweep gracefully round the new court-yard, while a similar bend will be given to the line of road from Pimlico. In carrying out this plan a small triangular morsel of the useless naked ugly end of the enclosure in St. James’s Park will be cut off; the water will not be approached within 100 feet, and no interference whatever will take place with public convenience. On the contrary, public convenience will be consulted, and the appearance of one of the few public buildings in London which people care to look at, be wonderfully improved.

These are the exact alterations which are “to create universal disgust, to mar the beauty of the parks, to curtail their proportions with unheard-of cruelty, and to cut off one-third of the whole length of the lake!” Surely a mare’s nest of such dimensions was never found before.

Can any one doubt that instead of “the beauty of the parks being marred” it will be very greatly improved? The appearance of Buckingham Palace has been the subject of some just and much unfair criticism; it is admitted very generally to be unworthy the sovereign of England; but whether that be so or not there the building stands, and it must be finished. The works now in progress are the completion of it; they are as necessary to the building as any other portion of the decorations. Not to construct them would be to leave the QUEEN’s London residence in the same state as a London shopkeeper’s house without its area railings. Until the marble arch is down, and the outer court-yard, with the road surrounding it, is completed, the front of the palace must remain little better than a stone yard. We confidently believe that these changes will be productive of as beautiful an effect as is attainable under existing circumstances.The main public approach to the palace will be by the Mall, which, stopped by the court-yard, with its graceful outline, will extend symmetrically to the right and left, on the one hand leading to Constitution hill, and on the other to the Birdcage-walk and Pimlico.

As to the end of the ornamental ground in St. James’s-park it will undergo no change; there will be no curtailment of the lake and no interference with public convenience; its end will be turned, so as to suit the new court-yard; and that is all. For our own part we could have wished that some alteration of this end of the Park had been made; it is evident that the original design was here left incomplete, with a view to some change like that in progress; for it is inconceivable that the refined taste which planned the modern park would have placed the ugliest portion of it, a portion which is a blot upon the plan, next the front of a Royal Palace.

The unfortunate marble arch is another subject upon which the Times is eloquent. It is astonished at its removal to the Green-park ( a place within a few yards of its present position), and suggests that it is put there because the Woods and Forests have a larking affection for a certain “discarded plan;” and in another place the public is assured that there must be some definite object in the choice of so singular a stone-yard as the sward of the Green park, hard by the palace windows.We dare say there isadefinite object, and we would suggest the great probability that the place to which it is to be removed is some point in advance of the palace, towards the Horse Guards.It is indeed reported that Lord SEYMOUR’s wish is to have it at “A. in
the annexed plan, a not inappropriate position; and if so, it must, we think, be admitted that a more convenient station for the stone-yard” could not
have been selected until the arch can be reconstructed.

We have alluded to “a discarded plan” by Mr. NESFIELD. This is described as follows: “It proposed to make two large ornamental gardens in front of Buckingham Palace-one on the north, and one on the south side of the Mall; the northern one being taken out of the Green-park, and the southern one out of the ornamental enclosure in St. James’s park.The two would extend in length from Stafford-house to the western extremity of the Mall, and in breadth from the Birdcage-walk to the straight path leading into Cleveland-row. The marble arch would be placed in the centre of the Mall, parallel with the east side of the two gardens and between them. “It would be difficult to find any person of taste not ready to admit that gardens like these would be a beautiful
feature of the ground; and that they would harmonise much better with the architectural features of the Palace front than the rough shrubbery and little water squirt which they would cover. Nor would they curtail the space open to public reereation; because they would be as public as the gardens of the Tuileries; in fact, their area would be greater than the present area by the whole surface of the water which they would displace, and which is now only to be looked at.

But all this speculation is as useless as the description in the Times; for there is no intention whatever of executing Mr. NESFIELD’s design, as will be seen by our plan of what is really doing; and it is probable that it never will be executed.
Experience shows that JOHN BULL, who is eager enough to censure Government for the paltry appearance of all public buildings, is still more eager to withhold the means of doing anything noble and worthy of comparison with foreign architectural works; and we see no probability of Buckingham Palace being more favoured than other places.

This next excerpt is from page 539 of “The Manual of Dates: a Dictionary of Reference to All the Most Important Events in the History of Mankind to be Found in Authentic Records”, by George Henry Townsend, which was published in 1862.

MARBLE ARCH (London) was erected by George IV, as a gateway to Buckingham Palace, A.D. 1830, and was removed to its present site, at the north-east entrance of Hyde Park, in 1851.

The original cost was £80,000, and the expense incurred by the removal amounted to £11,000.

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