London Drum

Marble Arch – John Nash’s Triumphal Arch

Where? Marble Arch, North-east corner of Hyde Park, at the end of Oxford Street Time required? A typical visit is 5 mins Parking: Nearby car parks Buses: 2, 6, 7, 10, 16, 23, 30, 36, 73, 74, 82, 94, 98, 113, 137, 148, 159, 274, 390, 414, 436 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is Marble Arch Central Train fares

Craig’s review… Christmas shopping down Oxford Street reminds me of walking down Wembley Way after everyone has streamed out of the stadium to catch the last tube home. It’s heaving with people and you can hardly walk ten steps without bumping into someone. This is how busy it used to be 250 years ago when we spent our Saturday afternoons in the little town of Tyburn (modern-day Marble Arch).

Site of the Tyburn Tree

You’ve got to use your imagination a little bit but try and wipe out all the shops and drop in a crowd of thousands around a three-tiered gallows. Put in a grandstand as well (it even had a grandstand!) and picture everyone pushing and shoving and sloshing ale all over the place. Then you’ll have some idea what this place used to look like on execution day.

There were three grades of traitor in London. If you wanted to have a nice private beheading on Tower Green then you had to be related to a Royal. If you were simply rich and powerful (but maybe a bit too powerful) then you’d end up on Tower Hill. And if you were a total loser like me then they’d drag you two miles outside of town to Tyburn.

Your big day would have begun at Newgate Prison (now underneath the Old Bailey) where you’d be shackled to the back of a cart and paraded to Seymour Place for one final pint in the Mason’s Arms (the street is still there, but the pub is long gone). Once you’d drunk enough to forget what was happening they’d drag you to the scaffold. You can still see a circular plaque on the pavement marking the exact spot where it used to be (it’s on a little traffic island by the Bayswater Road).

I’m guessing that it must have been the most terrifying death imaginable, even if you did it blind drunk, with everyone cheering and jeering as they roughly strung you up. The final lines that you’d been practising all week would have just disappeared into the wall of noise and soon you’d be new fruit on the Tyburn tree (that was the euphemistic name they gave to the gallows). If you had any friends left you’d be hoping they’d rush over and pull on your feet to squeeze all of the life out of you as quick as possible.

Roll on 250 years and the crowds have become shoppers. The gallows have turned into traffic lights and the grandstand has been replaced by the triumphal Marble Arch. If you’re expecting it to compare with the Arc de Triomphe or the Arch of Constantine in Rome then forget it, because Marble Arch was never supposed to be anything more than the Queen’s front gate.

State entrance to Buckingham Palace

Back in the 1830s Buckingham Palace was still three wings around a central courtyard and Marble Arch was the ceremonial gateway into the middle, standing roughly where the forecourt is today (where they do Changing the Guard). But when Queen Victoria started expanding her family they built a fourth wing along the front – that’s the one we see today, with the famous balcony in the middle. Marble Arch obviously looked a bit silly then, so they shifted it to the corner of Hyde Park instead. When Park Lane was extended in the 1960s it became marooned on an island.

What a demotion! From Buckingham Palace to benches covered in pigeon sh*t – I have never seen so many pigeons in my life. They’re sitting here preening their falling-out feathers while a homeless geezer shuffles between the people waving two fingers around his lips begging for cigarettes.

He’s not having much luck because all the kids are enveloped in a cloud of strawberry smoke from their vaping machines – those things pump out more smoke than a Lowry painting. Those youngsters won’t have any money, mate – they live in a cashless society. They smoke nicotine-free cigarettes and eat meat-free sausages. They are children of the future.

Worth a visit? Value for money? n/aGood for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy this then try Wellington Arch (walk it in 16 mins or take a tube journey from Marble Arch to Hyde Park Corner). Whilst you’re at Marble Arch you might like to cross over the road and see Speakers’ Corner

London Squire bookThe owns and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

Your comments and questions

DChampion I've always liked Marble Arch I used to work in a shop over the road and I sat there eating my lunch and watch the world go by. I went back there the other day to have a look and it's changed quite a lot, some of the buildings are being knocked down and rebuilt

AP Interesting history. I went there and I didn't know any of that. They should put a plaque up to tell people because it's interesting

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