Marble Arch and Kensington Gardens

Historical Eye

Circa 1896: Piccadilly to Oxford Circus


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Marble Arch circa 1896: Cumberland Gate stands at the north-east corner of Hyde Park, at the western end of Oxford Street, and was erected about 1744 at the expense of Cumberland Place and its neighbourhood. Here took place in August, 1821, a disgraceful conflict between the people and the soldiery at the funeral of Queen Caroline, when two people were killed by shots from the Horse Guards on duty. In the following year the unsightly brick arch and wooden gates were removed, and in their place some handsome iron gates were set up at a cost of nearly £2,000. These gates were removed in 1851, to make room for the Marble Arch. The Marble Arch had, up to that time, stood in front of the chief entrance to Buckingham Palace, bearing the Royal banner of England. This arch, which was adapted by Mr Nash from the arch of Constantine at Rome, cost £80,000, the metal gates alone costing £3,000. It was originally intended to have been surmounted by an equestrian statue of George IV. The material is Carrara marble, and it consists of a centre gateway and two side openings.


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Oxford Street/Marble Arch circa 1896: On the right-hand side in this view we see Cumberland Gate, which stands at the north-east corner of Hyde Park. Facing us at Great Cumberland Place, extending northward from Oxford Street to Bryanston Square. Hyde Park Place is the name given to a row of mansions overlooking the park and built on the right and left of the entrance to Great Cumberland Place. On turning round the corner into the Edgware Road, almost opposite the Marble Arch, one will notice that there are two houses on the right hand with balconies and verandas. These balconies were built in order to accommodate the sheriff and other officials who were bound to be present at the execution of criminals who were hanged on the gallows, which stood about 50yds on the other side of the road.


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Oxford Street/Marble Arch today: To clarify the ‘then’ description, Cumberland Gate is the roadway running to the right hand side of the shot (not seen in this image or above). Marble Arch is just ahead, also on the right. The pavement has been much reduced in size, probably in order  to widen Oxford Street, which serves as a major traffic artery at this point. Marble Arch is located at the top end of the Oxford Street shopping zone,  the main area of conspicuous consumerism being located just a bit further to the east. I find it amusing to see the bewildered faces of tourists arriving here only to be disappointed that they’ve not exited straight into a shop or department store. You’ll often spot them looking at their guidebooks, phones or tablets, trying to work out where on earth they are. Meanwhile, in the middle of the ‘today’ shot, is one of the many open-top London tour busses that ply their trade around town. Some scoff at this sort of thing, but I think they’re an excellent introduction to London for visitors. To appreciate the city one should either walk it or see it from the top of a bus.


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Kensington Gardens, the round pond, circa 1896: The Kensington Gardens lie to the west of Hyde Park, and are separated from it by a sunk fence, or wall. The visitor here will behold fine woodland scenery and rich glades, giving surprises of landscape whose beauty can scarcely be surpassed in any English forest. The Gardens were first laid out in the reign of William III, and were very considerably enlarged in that of George II. It was at this time that the avenues, now so pleasant, with converging lines of noble trees, were planted, and the Serpentine took its present shape.


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Kensington Gardens, the round pond today: Getting the angle right proved impossible and I was left to wonder if the pond had been changed in shape since the late Victorian period.  Its uses certainly haven't and even on a blustery,  overcast day one can still see children and adults enjoying themselves or watching the birds and ducks pass by. I’ve got a feeling model boats aren’t allowed here anymore. Probably because some idiot, at some point, decided to use a  miniature speedboat and terrified the wildlife with it. The miniature sailing ships from 1896 are much more sedate and to my taste.


Then and now 1896

'Poor old Marble Arch, its backdrop is now tarnished by cheap modernist buildings'

Marble Arch today: Poor old Marble Arch, its backdrop is now tarnished by cheap modernist buildings. It’s a shame the statue of George IV never surmounted the arch; one of our most corpulent kings, a bloated, puffy-faced monarch straddling this structure would have been priceless in comedy value alone. However, one suspects the artist would have been economical with the truth for propriety’s sake. The riot recounted in the ‘then’ section is a neat example of Londoners and their proud tradition of Lèse-majesté. Caroline was the much maligned and estranged wife of George IV who, in life, had garnered much public sympathy for her unfortunate situation. By contrast, George IV was not particularly well liked either among the people, the establishment or even  his own family. Caroline died not long after his coronation from which she was barred from entering, with wild rumours then circulating that she might  have  been poisoned.

Around St Paul's


Around Trafalgar Square


Fleet street and the Strand

Victoria Station

Westminster and Lambeth


Marble Arch and Kensington Gardens

Back to re-inventing the wheel


Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Street


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