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Marble Arch was built by the architect John Nash in 1828. The reliefs on either side are by Richard Westmacott and Edward Bailey. The grand statue of King George IV, which once sat atop the parapet, was later moved to Trafalgar Square.
Nash built it to be the front gate of Buckingham Palace, which was originally just three sides around an open courtyard. But when Queen Victoria added ta fourth wing to the front it was deemed to be out of place, and moved to its current position at the top of Oxford Street. A memory of its former use still lingers on in local law: If you’re feeling rebellious try walking through the central arch… because it’s still technically illegal for a commoner to pass through the royal gate.
The area around Marble Arch was originally home to the Tyburn Tree – a euphemism for a set of gallows. Prisoners were dragged up from Newgate Prison and stood upon a wooden cart. The horses were then whipped and ran away, leaving them to dangle from a noose. An estimated 50,000 people were put to death in this area between 1300 and 1783.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
Legend has it that Marble Arch houses a couple of rooms across the top which the police use to spy on the crowds. Obviously you’re not allowed in there. You can see a door on the side but it’s always locked (I tried it). If you walk through the middle arch then you’re supposed to get arrested (a throwback to its days in front of Buckingham Palace). Of course I tried that as well, but no cops came calling. So if you want to commit treason, give it a visit. But there’s not much else to do.
Whilst you’re there you might like to try and find two little plaques that are buried in the road. One of them is supposed to mark the original location of the Tyburn Tree – the wooden gallows where the guilty were brought for public execution.
The other one is supposed to show the final resting place of Oliver Cromwell, after Charles II dug up his bones and hanged them, in revenge for beheading his dad. I managed to find the first one a little further down the Bayswater Road, but I drew a blank on Cromwell’s grave. Maybe someone can let me know where it is, because I’d love to find out.
> Read Craig’s latest review of Marble Arch “250 years ago there was just a wooden gallows and a mob of yobs wanting to see a show. That’s how Londoners got their entertainment in those days. They’d pluck an unlucky soul from Newgate Prison (where the Old Bailey is today), chain him to a cart and cart him all the way to the west edge of town, where a crowd of thousands (literally thousands) were waiting to see him strung up and swung from the Tyburn Tree (that’s what they called the gallows). The condemned man was expected to put on a good show or the last thing they’d hear would be a thunderstorm of boos as the platform gave way. What a terrifying way to leave this world… continued.”
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There aren’t very many attractions close to Marble Arch, so maybe you could just do some shopping along Oxford Street? Or have a walk over to the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park and hire a pedal boat? If you’re feeling very energetic then you could even walk across the length of the park to Knightsbridge, and do some shopping at Harrods.
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