Marble Arch, the large stone edifice rather than the tube station is undergoing restoration at the moment, and its rarely seen interior could be opened up again afterwards.
Designed by John Nash, the arch was originally built in 1833 to go outside Buckingham Palace as a grand entrance gateway, but the location turned out to be short-lived and it had to be moved. That’s because at the time, Buckingham Palace looked very different to how it does today, and the grand frontage that we’re all familiar with didn’t exist. You can see a good watercolour of the palace and the arch from 1846 by Joseph Nash in the Royal Collection’s online archive.
When the front wing of the palace was added, blocking off the courtyard behind, Marble Arch would have been squashed right up against the famous balcony, so either the balcony or the arch would have to move.
They moved the arch.
The arch was dismantled and moved to the northeastern corner of Hyde Park in 1851, and the interior was turned into a small police station, which existed until at least the 1950s. The date it closed is unclear though. I can find a newspaper reference from 1960, and John Betjeman took a look inside for the BBC in 1968 saying it was a police station, but candidly, it looked more like a storage room by then.
Regardless of when the police left, the arch has been empty for decades.
Now, it’s getting a major refurbishment as the marble is showing the effects of pollution and weather.
English Heritage, which looks after the building says that water is the main issue facing the arch as it can cause cracks by freezing and thawing, and salt in the water can also cause damage. Water also corrodes the arch’s bronze elements. Some older methods of cleaning the marble have made it more porous and prone to staining which makes maintenance like cleaning graffiti much harder without causing further damage. Traffic pollution also has a negative effect on the marble as acids found in polluted air react with the calcite in the stone and cause gradual erosion.
English Heritage has now started work on restoring the monument to its former glory.
The conservation works will touch upon the arch’s marble masonry, sculptures, metalwork, and roof and will give the whole surface a thorough clean. There will also be pointing – filling the exposed joints with traditional lime mortar – and the replacing of missing or lost parts with new marble. Damaging invasive plants will be removed and poor historical repair work will be rectified. The marble will be cleaned with corrosion treatment and repair work taking place on the roof and statues.
Those works are why the arch has now been covered in scaffolding, and to help pay for the repairs, the scaffolding has been covered in a giant advert, which at the moment, happens to be for Vodafone.
Vodafone will be the advertiser for this month, with someone else taking over in September.
Rob Woodside, Estates Director at English Heritage, said: “Marble Arch is a great London landmark and we are giving it the tender loving care it deserves. This will be a major conservation project, taking well over a year, and whilst we know many Londoners and tourists will miss the arch whilst it is under a scaffold, we cannot wait to unveil it next year and reveal the arch in all its former glory.”
The conservation of Marble Arch has also been supported by Airbnb who recently donated £1.25 million to the conservation of historic sites in English Heritage’s care.
As for the former police station inside the arch, English Heritage will be announcing plans in due course to update this currently unused space.
They’re not saying what the plans are at the moment, but if they are able to open Marble Arch to the public, for a model, look to Hyde Park corner where the Wellington Arch is used for exhibitions and for a chance to go out onto the roof terraces for a good look at the local area.
It won’t be easy or cheap to open Marble Arch to the public though and potentially not even possible after closer analysis, and if it can even be done, the cost of squeezing a small lift into one of the voids next to the stairs will be considerable. But with a generous donor who knows what could be achieved?
The conservation works are due to be completed towards the end of 2024.