The Arch at Hyde Park Corner is to host English Heritage exhibitions of other historic sites in Quadriga gallery
Wellington Arch in 1930, where a former police station has been converted to an art gallery.
Wellington Arch, once the smallest police station in London at the heart of some of the capital’s worst traffic jams for almost 200 years, reopens to the public this week this time incorporating a tiny art gallery.
The Arch at Hyde Park Corner will be home to the new Quadriga gallery in which English Heritage plans to mount exhibitions on other sites around the country. The first is a Stonehenge exhibition.
What to do with the arch, built in 1828 to commemorate Wellington’s victory over Napoleon, has been a problem from the start. It cost so much that the original designs by Decimus Burton, who intended it to be part of a magnificent processional route from Hyde Park to Buckingham Palace, were never completed.
Almost 20 years later it was topped with a ludicrously large statue of Wellington astride his horse. As one of the largest equestrian statues ever cast it had to be made in a specially built foundry, partly from captured French cannon, weighed 40 tonnes and was almost as tall as the arch itself. The statue was mocked and Queen Victoria complained it blocked her view from the palace, but since it was directly opposite Wellington’s London home, Apsley House, she thought it tactless to remove it until after the Iron Duke’s death in 1852.
In the 1880s the arch was dismantled and moved 7 metres (20ft) in one of many attempts to remodel the corner and solve the traffic problem. The statue was exiled to Aldershot where, the Prince of Wales suggested, the army would appreciate it.
In 1912 the arch acquired another sculpture, of peace descending on the chariot of war, completed just in time for the start of the first world war. Visitors who climb to the top gallery get the only detailed view of it, as well as spectacular views over central London.
The police station survived until the late 20th century: in 1952 it had 10 constables, two sergeants, a dartboard, and a cat called Snooks.