The arch, and Marble Arch close by, were both planned in 1825 by George IV to commemorate Britain's victories in the Napoleonic Wars. The Wellington Arch was also conceived as an outer gateway to Constitution Hill and therefore a grand entrance into central London from the west.
The Wellington Arch was built between 1826-1830 to a design by Decimus Burton. Much of the intended exterior ornamentation was omitted as a cost-saving exercise after the King's overspending on the refurbishment of Buckingham Palace, which was underway at the same time. The arch originally stood almost directly opposite Apsley House, a short distance from, and at a right-angles to, its present location.
In 1846 the Arch was selected as a suitable location for a statue of Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, soldier and Prime Minister. The statue by Matthew Cotes Wyatt which eventually crowned the arch was 8.5m high, the largest equestrian figure ever made. It was so enormous that it generated considerable controversy at the time.
In 1882-3, the arch was moved a short distance to its present location on Hyde Park Corner to facilitate a road widening scheme. It is today in the centre of a large traffic island.
The statue of the Duke was removed to Aldershot at the same time and was eventually replaced, in 1912, by a huge bronze quadriga designed by Adrian Jones. The sculpture depicts the angel of peace descending on the chariot of war. The face of the charioteer leading the quadriga is that of a small boy (actually the son of Lord Michelham, the man who funded the sculpture). The statue is the largest bronze sculpture in Europe.
The QuadrigaThe arch is hollow inside, and until 1992 housed the second smallest police station in London (the smallest being in Trafalgar Square). Transferred to the ownership of English Heritage in 1999, it is now open to the public and contains three floors of exhibits detailing the history of the arch and some of its uses.