Frequently when driving through London, I go down the side of Hyde Park and round past “Number One London” – Apsley House, for many years the home of the Dukes of Wellington.
They say it was called No. 1 because when built in the 1770s, it was the first house passed by the folk coming from the countryside through the tollgates at Knightsbridge
In the middle of the busy traffic island opposite, stands this arch, designed by Decimus Burton, known as the Wellington Arch [or sometimes Constitution Arch, or Green Park Arch] It was first built around 1830, on a spot nearby, then moved in 1882 to accommodate traffic flow.
The idea of two monuments to commemorate victory in the Napoleonic Wars had been conceived by George IV [the other being the Marble Arch] But Burton’s design exceeded the budget, so initially the arch was just that – with nothing on top of it. Then the nation decided that something should be done to acknowledge the part played by Wellington in the whole Napoleonic affair.
In 1846 – whilst the Duke was still very much alive, a bronze statue of him astride his horse Copenhagen was placed on the top [the arch being especially strengthened to bear the 40 ton weight] But C. had died, so couldn’t be a model – and people objected that the horse was all wrong! Also the statue was out of proportion to the arch beneath.
Petitions were written and sent to the Queen and to the government. Decimus Burton hated it. The Iron Duke himself had to see it out of his window every day – but Queen Victoria insisted it stay, and so it did [for W’s lifetime] but then when the arch was repositioned [30 years after his death] the equestrian statue did not go back on top. The Prince of Wales wanted to have a Quadriga - a four wheeled winged chariot there. This had been on Burton’s original design. Finally, in 1912, once the Prince had become King Edward VII, the dream was realised. [The horse statue was given to the Army, and is now outside the Garrison Church in Aldershot.]
Here is the winged Goddess of Victory [aka NIke] the model for the quadriga driver was the young son of Herbert Stern, the businessman who gave the King the money for the statue.
In 2000, the Quadriga was in serious need of restoration - the bronze casting was supported by its original, complex steel and iron armature, which had corroded badly. Some parts of the structure were being distorted and weakened by rust. A London Conservation Company carried out extensive cleaning and repair work.
But now English Heritage have decided Nike needs a clean up again. Such projects don’t come cheap! So they have sought sponsorship. Now you’d have thought this lot would help – but no!
The cleaning is being underwritten by Cif – who were formerly called Jif, back in the day. In fact, they are planning to work with English Heritage to clean and restore many of our national monuments. For each bottle of Cif purchased in Tesco this month, 25p will go towards the clean-up. I don’t think Cif are actually using their products on the bronze!
“Cif is committed to restoring the beauty of our surroundings, so we’re always looking for people and organisations that share our values to help us do it. Like Cif, English Heritage is dedicated to conserving and restoring our environment for the benefit of this, and future, generations.”
Cleaning will start in January 2016. I shall have a look when I am driving round the roundabout! I think ‘Quadriga’ would make a good name for a four-wheel-drive vehicle.