By Jane Wilson
It opened on July 26th 2021. An urban peak, promising to be London’s trendiest, temporary visitor attraction. A miniature mountain in the middle of Marble Arch. Labelled the Marble Arch Mound, it was constructed from scaffolding, wood and turf, with a scattering of trees, an artificial hill 25metres high. But it’s now all downhill. It closed on 9th January this year and deconstruction is underway.
It cost almost double its original budget of £3.3m. Planned as part of a smarter greener future project for the Westminster Borough, its purpose was to attract people back to the West End to address the pandemic fall-out. Sadly, it was not the most successful initiative. And not the prettiest of sites either. The lush greenery planned did not flourish, instead it sat as a mound of green and brown tones blocking the intersection at the corner of Hyde Park, Oxford Street and Park Lane. At first there was an entry fee which was later phased out due to the lack of visitors.
But one aspect that I felt was successful was its viewing platform, 22.5m above ground. This offered a great vantage point to appreciate 360-degree views of London. Hidden underneath the scaffolding, 130 steps later, down into the space beneath, Lightfield came to sight, a mesmerising light exhibition which was installed by Anthony James, @anthonyjamesstudio. These impressive light exhibits were made of stainless steel, specialised glass and LED. A welcome and very pleasant surprise.
The mound did provide an educational experience and a very enjoyable one on a bright sunny Sunday morning in January. My views pivoted from the chimneys of Battersea Power station to the financial skyline of Canary Wharf with nature’s greenery of Hyde Park spread out below. Little did I know that the area around the mound, known as Tyburn, was notorious for London’s main place of public execution. It is hard to believe that between 1196 and 1783, over 50,000 criminals, some traitors and others victims of religious persecution, were hanged here. In fact, near Tyburn Convent, there is a plaque to commemorate Catholic martyrs.
Even the Marble Arch Fountains and the water performance in flow below have a history. They were originally installed in the 1960s but decommissioned in 1999 when they were filled with soil to hide them. In 2009 they were brought back as part of a regeneration scheme by Westminster City Council.
The platform provided many interesting historical and architectural facts, as well as fascinating tales all clearly illustrated on information boards positioned in the direction of London’s iconic landmarks. Highlights included the UK’s tallest building, The Shard, 72 storeys high, reaching 310m, its razor steel edges shimmering in the sun. The 32 capsules suspended on a circular structure, each representing a London Borough, form the London Eye which reaches 135m high. When this opened in 2000 as the Millennium Wheel, it was the world’s largest observation wheel, but soon after in 2006, this honour was overtaken by China’s Star of Nanchang. But some would argue that it remains as the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel since it is the only one supported by an A-frame on one side. In London’s financial area, One Canada Square, with its pyramid roof is the third tallest building in the UK. This has been a popular backdrop for fictional spies such as the boat chase in 007 in The World is Not Enough, Johnny English and standing in as the CIA’s HQ in The Bourne Supremacy.
In the distance the quirky shapes of the capital’s skyline were visible. Think household names: the Cheesegrater at Leadenhall St, The Gherkin in St Mary Axe and The Electric Razor at Strata. Then there’s The Walkie Talkie at Fenchurch St and The Boomerang at Blackfriars.
Think of aspirational ownership on the monopoly board and you will land on Park Lane which you see running 0.7 miles down towards Hyde Park Corner. This prestigious street borders Mayfair as well as Hyde Park. A number of upmarket hotels line this street including the Dorchester. Next to the Hilton Hotel is Londonderry House which was until the 19thcentury home for Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, the Duke of Westminster and Lord Mountbatten.
Battersea Power Station and its familiar chimneys is breathing new life into the area in the form of restaurants, apartments and cultural spaces. It was the largest coal power station, generating 20% of London’s electricity needs. It closed in 1983 but remains today an iconic Grade 11 listed building.
Whatever your beliefs, protesters and activists have the right for free speech. And the north east corner of Hyde Park became renowned as Speakers Corner. Since 1872, this site has seen Karl Marx, George Orwell and Winston Churchill expounding their views on their soapbox. You may hear debates and see gathered crowds on a Sunday morning although social media has muted this sport.
But directly below the mound is a welcome expanse of greenery which brought us back down to earth. Created in 1536, the Grade 1 listed Hyde Park was used for deer hunting for Henry V111. This was after it was confiscated from the monks of Westminster Abbey. Within its grounds are the Serpentine Lake, Kensington Palace and Gardens and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. It provides a perfect setting for war memorials as well as the Albert Memorial which sits opposite the Royal Albert Hall. A hidden pet cemetery for more than 1,000 animals is one of the secret places, although closed to the public. These 142 hectares of land are enjoyed by nearly 13 million visitors. The annual Winter Wonderland lights up much of the park at the end of the year while in the summer music attracts festival lovers.
The Mound at Marble Arch may have been a temporary build but it did succeed in opening the history books on the neighbourhood and throwing glints of light on the architecture that has created today’s London’s skyline. But after just 6 months it’s goodbye to the Mound at March Arch.
Jane Wilson is editor of thewellnesstraveller.co.uk
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