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Hyde Park Corner, London, designs for a triumphal arch, gatehouses and screens, c1778, unexecuted (18)

Signed and dated

  • c1778


Adam’s speculative scheme for a monumental entrance io London was the first of several such designs produced by a series of architects for the site at Hyde Park Corner. Dorothy Stroud highlighted the beginnings of an idea for just such a scheme in the writings of John Gwynn, dating to 1766. Gwynn noted the spacious nature of the site, with its tree-lined avenues. The combination of the end of the Great West Road, leading on to Piccadilly, along with the flanking carriage driveways connecting Queen’s House and St James’s Palace with Kensington Palace, led Gwynn to suggest Hyde Park Corner as the ideal location for a monumental approach to London.

Adam’s designs date to c1778, some twelve years after Gwynn’s initial suggestion, and they form the first known scheme produced for the site. It consists of three alternative designs for the same composition, with a triumphal arch forming the grand entrance way to Piccadilly, and with two entrance screens to the east, through which Green Park (to the north) and Hyde Park (to the south) were to be approached. Stroud noted the scheme as both ‘bold and impressive’, whilst considering certain practicalities in its function, with the inclusion of accommodation for the gatekeeper, a weigh-house and flanking pathways for pedestrians.

Three of the drawings for this scheme are dated to 1778, with the preliminary plan (SM Adam volume 51/81) and the survey drawing (SM Adam volume 28/9) dated to November. Significantly at this time Adam was nearing completion on a commission to build a new town house for Henry Bathurst, 2nd Earl Bathurst, his Apsley House. The outline of Bathurst’s house is clearly recorded to the north east of the archway in SM Adam volume 28/9, as by 1778 the building and interiors were complete, with Adam producing designs for furnishing during this period. Apsley House’s proximity to Hyde Park Corner in all probability influenced Adam’s decision to undertake this speculative scheme. It is possible that he was relying on Bathurst’s political influence and personal interest in the project, if so, however it was poorly timed. In April 1778, following events in America, Bathurst resigned from his post as Lord Chancellor, and was subsequently replaced by Edward Thurlow in June.

The location of the site and nature of the designs make it far more likely that Adam was seeking to secure a royal commission. Stroud noted the scheme to be ‘full of flattery’ to his monarch, and indeed regal ornamentation is abundant throughout. The figure of Britannia is predominant in SM Adam volume 51/78 and 79, and in SM Adam volume 28/4 she is depicted flanked by further statuary depicting George III and Queen Charlotte. In SM Adam volume 28/6 we see the theme repeated in the figurative panels, with scenes depicting George III and Britannia receiving tribute.

Stroud noted the scheme as being unfortunately timed. October 1777 had seen the surrender of 5,700 British troops at the Battle of Saratoga, a significant turning point in the American Revolutionary War. In February 1778 France officially recognised America’s independence, and in April, General Howe’s resignation of his American command was accepted by Parliament. It is probable that, with this scheme dating to November of that same year, Adam was in fact attempting to appeal to the patriotic sensibilities of the King, producing a design that celebrated Britain’s military prowess. However, as Stroud highlighted, funding for such a monumental project at this time was always unlikely.

Subsequent to Adam’s unexecuted designs, the conceived idea for a monumental entrance at Hyde Park Corner persisted. At the Royal Academy exhibition of 1794, Jeffry Wyatt presented his scheme for the site, but unfortunately it does not survive. In 1796 John Soane, in his role as architect to the Office of Woods and Forests, produced a scheme for an entrance lodge at Hyde Park Corner. His design for a triumphal arch and flanking gateways, with folate iron work and armorial bearings, was exhibited as the Royal Academy that same year. As with Adam’s scheme, it remained unexecuted. However Soane persisted with the idea of a monumental entranceway, and over the next thirty years elaborated the design as part of an unexecuted scheme for a triumphal processional route, proposed to extend from Kensington Gore to the Houses of Parliament.

Eventually in 1824 a committee charged with overseeing alterations to Hyde Park Corner commissioned Decimus Burton with the view to creating new gateways to the royal parks, for which Burton produced designs for both Green Park and Hyde Park. Subsequently the committee altered the commission to produce instead a new formal entranceway to Buckingham Palace (formally Queen’s House), then under construction. Ultimately it was Burton’s scheme for a triumphal arch surmounted by a gilded quadriga that would prove successful. By 1828 the arch was nearing completion, however it had exceeded estimates. This, combined with a significant overspend on the new royal palace, led to the decision to leave much of the statuary, including the quadriga, unexecuted.

Owing to a concentration of traffic at Hyde Park Corner the arch was relocated in the 1880s to Constitution Hill. The bronze quadriga which currently surmounts the arch was erected in January 1912, following the removal of a gigantic equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington by Matthew Cotes Wyatt, erected in 1846.

There is a further design for this scheme held in the V & A collection [3327], comparable to the left-hand composition of SM Adam volume 1/14, but with extensive rustication as in SM Adam volume 21/47.

See also: Apsley House, Piccadilly; Buckingham House, The Mall

W. Thornbury, ‘Apsley House and Park Lane’ Old and New London, A Narrative of its History, its People and its Places, 1879, pp. 359-375; J. Soane, Designs for public improvements in London and Westminster, 1828; J. Soane, Designs for public and private buildings, 1832; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index p. 41; D. Stroud, ‘Hyde Park Corner’ Architectural Review, 1949, pp. 397-399; A. Rowan, Robert Adam- Catalogues of Architectural Drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1988, pp.56-8, pls. 27-8; S. Sawyer, ‘The Processional Route’, John Soane Architect, Master of Space and Light, M. Richardson & M. Stevens (eds.), 1999, pp.252-263; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, p. 375, Volume II, pp. 18, 38-9, 57, 129, 177, 202-4, 269-70, 275; N. Pevsner & S. Bradley, London 6: Westminster, 2003, p.658; ‘A timeline of the American Revolution from 1763-1787’, www.bl.uk; ‘General Design of a Transparent Illumination, proposed to have been Executed in the Queen’s Garden in Honour of His Majesty’s Birthday, The 4th June 1763’, www.rct.uk; ‘Wellington Arch’, historicengland.org.uk; ‘History of Wellington Arch’, English-heritage.org.uk; ‘Bathurst, Hon. Henry (1714 -94), of the Inner Temple’, historyofparlimentonline.org

Anna McAlaney 2018



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Contents of Hyde Park Corner, London, designs for a triumphal arch, gatehouses and screens, c1778, unexecuted (18)