Plaque: Quadriga conservation 2000
Erection date: 2000
This sculpture was conserved by Rupert Harris Metalwork Conservation on behalf of English Heritage in the year 2000.
Rupert Harris, Martin Rodda, Andy Coupe, Jasper Lyon, Matthew Macdonald, Petrina Stroud, Tove Hirth, Jane Knight, Melvyn Rodda, Wil Roberts.
This plaque is inside the chariot of the Quadriga. We have Matt Brown of Londonist to thank for this photo. He was up there, hanging on we hope, to report on the completion of the 2016 repairs and had the presence of mind to snap this for us. His visit produced some wonderful close-up pictures of the angel of peace in her chariot of war.
Matt would be the first to agree that, for content, this is not the most interesting plaque but for location it takes some beating.
Site: Wellington Arch (2 memorials)
SW1, Hyde Park Corner
A turnpike at this location, at the road into London passing between the two large parks, Hyde Park and Green Park, had led to the idea that this was the entrance to London. See the 'Hyde Park Gate' turnpike on a map. In 1825 under George IV and to celebrate our successes in the Napoleonic Wars it was decided to create a grand entrance to London here. This was composed of two parts: to the north, the joined three arches, known as the Hyde Park Screen, still there today and acting as an entrance to Hyde Park; and immediately facing it, on the south side of Piccadilly, this arch sometimes known as the Green Park Arch, or the Constitution Arch, acting as an outer entrance to Buckingham Palace. Remember: what is now a huge traffic roundabout was still part of Green Park and Buckingham Palace Gardens.
As traffic increased this grand entrance, between the Screen and the Arch, became a bottleneck and it was decided to create a road cutting the corner from Piccadilly to Grosvenor Place and to move the Arch to its present position, all of which was done in 1883-5.
Designed by Decimus Burton as a triumphal arch, richly ornamented and topped with a gilded quadriga, it outgrew its budget and so was completed without all the ornamentation and without the quadriga. In 1838 a committee, looking for somewhere to erect a memorial to Wellington (though he was still very much alive), chose the top of this arch, it being so close to Apsley House, the great man’s London home. A huge equestrian statue was duly erected in 1846 on top of the arch and was greeted with widespread ridicule. Spitalfields Life have a c.1880 photo and it is ridiculous. There was much public discussion, and humour: people generally agreed with Burton that the Archduke (for so it was nicknamed) was vastly out of scale with the arch. When the statue’s removal was proposed Wellington objected, so there it stayed. He died in 1852 but the statue remained until the Arch was moved in the 1880s. The statue was taken down and re-erected on a new pedestal near the Garrison Church at Aldershot, where it remains. And a new more moderately-sized statue of Wellington was commissioned for Hyde Park corner, and erected.
Most of this information is taken from the English Heritage page, which also has some very good pictures.
At Road Record we learn that on 22 March 1926 "The first one-way traffic system in London came into operation at Hyde Park Corner, at the time the world’s busiest road junction."
The giant statue appears, briefly, in the 1968 film 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'. Part of it hoves into view immediately outside a window in which some of the characters are conversing. Our memory is dim, and we may even have the wrong film (since the events in the film probably take place during the time that the statue was stationary atop the arch) but we think not. Another view of the statue in 1866 can be seen at Reformers Tree - here, given the distance, you really get a feel for how big it was.
2014: Ian Visits brings the story right up to date with a good investigative piece where we learn that part of this monument is a ventilation shaft for the road tunnel below and has been since 1962. He has also found some British Pathe footage of the building works, starting at about 1:50.
The central arch of the Hyde Park Screen has a classical, Elgin-marble-like frieze which is well covered by Ornamental Passions.
2022: The Past has a very interesting article about the history of triumphal arches (paywall but a free trial, at the time of writing).