Wellington Arch is an easily-recognisable London landmark, with a statue of the Duke of Wellington towering over an imposing neo-classical structure. But what many of the people who come to see the arch do not realise is the monument’s complex history. Since its initial construction in the early decades of the nineteenth century, Wellington Arch has evolved and even changed location.
Wellington’s Arch: how it first came to be
The history of Wellington Arch can be traced back to 1824, when architect Deccimus Burton was commissioned to create gateways for the royal parks of London that would capture the triumphal spirit of the era: this was, after all, less than a decade after Britain’s victory in the Napoleonic Wars. One design that Burton came up with was for an ornate arch to go in Green Park, serving as an outer entrance to Buckingham Palace. The arch was duly constructed over the following years, but due to budget limitations it lacked many of the sculptural details proposed by Burton.
The Wellington connection: honouring a hero
Originally, the arch had no connection to the Duke of Wellington. It was not until the following decade that a proposal was made to incorporate a memorial of Wellington, honouring his status as war hero of Britain. The proposal was approved in 1838 and sculptor Matthew Cotes Wyatt was chosen to create a statue of Wellington on horseback. The statue was erected in 1846 and stood atop the arch, but many observers felt that it looked out of place.
Moving Wellington Arch: a vast undertaking
A much bigger change was in store for Wellington Arch, as the entire structure was moved during the 1880s to make way for a new road. In the process, the controversial statue of Wellington was removed. A new sculpture of Wellington on horseback, this time the work of Joseph Boehm, was built and can still be seen near the arch today.
The final touch: the sculpture of Triumph
Deccimus Burton’s original design for the arch featured a sculpture of a four-horse chariot on top, although this was on of multiple elements that were left out. However, towards the end of the nineteenth century a sculptor named Adrian Jones was given approval by the Prince of Wales to create a bronze sculpture for Wellington Arch, and the design was to be a four-horse chariot. The sculpture, entitled Triumph, was erected in 1912, marking the final state of Wellington Arch’s evolution into its now-familiar form.
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Di Σπάρτακος – Opera propria, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26334185