What Marble Arch Might Have Looked Like
19 December 2016
Ever wondered what Marble Arch might have looked like if George IV had lived a little longer?
John Nash (1752-1835) was the favoured architect of the Prince Regent, later King George IV. Under George’s auspices Nash designed and planned such landmarks as The Regent’s Park, Regent Street, Carlton House Terrace, much of Buckingham Palace and Marble Arch.
Marble Arch was designed to be both a grandiose gateway to an expanded Buckingham Palace and an exuberant celebration of British Victories in the Napoleonic wars – a Triumphal Arch. But the Grade I listed Arch that we see today is nowhere near as grand as Nash originally intended.
This model, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, gives an impression of how Marble Arch might have looked. Nash had it made to illustrate his intended design to George IV.
Bristling with sculpture, including an imposing equestrian statue of George IV crowning the structure, the overall design was approved and sculptures commissioned in 1828.
By 1830 most of the statues and panels were complete ad Nash’s work at Buckingham Palace and on the Arch was progressing. And then the King died.
Shortly after the King’s death Nash was sacked by the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, for overspending on the project. The architect Edward Blore was commissioned to complete the works in a more economic and practical fashion.
Finding himself in possession of a jumbled collection of statues and panels, Blore tried to get Nash to provide drawings to explain how the jigsaw was intended to fit together but Nash, unhappy about his dismissal, would not cooperate.
All Blore had to go on was Nash’s model and the assortment of sculptures in his yard.
The model has a “military side”, celebrating the Duke of Wellington’s victories, including the Battle of Waterloo and a “naval side” putting Lord Nelson’s achievements centre stage. Both sides were to have friezes of battle scenes and allegorical panels along with a selection of “winged victories” and other figures.
On each end of the Arch these two themes were to have been repeated. One end would bear the word, “Waterloo” and the other “Trafalgar” and under each, the names of commanders and battles.
The model was never intended to be a definitive plan but rather to give an overall impression of how the finished article might look. It contains at least one big mistake. The military side is topped with the portrait of Nelson and the naval side with one of Wellington.
Blore eventually decided to complete the Arch but without most of the sculpture. So the Arch today has only four allegorical panels and a little decoration. The ends are blank except for three laurel wreaths.
The Arch was completed in 1833 although the central gates were not added until 1837, just in time Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne.
Extract from The Story of Marble Arch.