A hill grows in London #1

A hill grows in London #1

Marble Arch Hill is part of a plan by Westminster Council to entice people back to the area especially post COVID. A hill at this location does in many ways seem a good idea because Central London has a dearth of strategically placed viewpoints – there’s no natural promontories in the capital south of the Regent’s Canal or the Metropolitan/Circle/Hammersmith Lines. The River Thames frontage has several prominent hills in fact however huge amounts of construction has compromised these and its difficult to know there’s a string of prominences along the Thames between Charing Cross Station and the Tower of London. Its time to invoke the ages old art of building artificial hills once again (cue Silbury Hill) and bring a bit of excitement into peoples’ lives!

I wrote about the idea when it was first mooted back in February 2021. As you may know it was approved almost with flying colours. There were objections but those who thought the project would be useful to this part of London easily outnumbered those against. In a way a hill is a nice idea even if its a sort of fantasy. It may well bring benefits to the area and it would be difficult to argue against that. Whether it brings benefits in terms of the local communities etc is another thing altogether. Its primarily aimed at tourists or shoppers who come to Oxford Street, a catalyst to get things sort of back to how they were before the pandemic. and there’s nothing wrong with that. It probably will work on many levels (pardon the pun) but how deep any benefits will go is another thing. At this stage in time (and that’s long before its finished and opened) it still does seem an extravagance – and at this stage its quite difficult to see what sort of social benefit could be derived from having such a facility.

Nevertheless its certainly an intriguing concept!

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Initial work site established 3rd May 2021 – a week and half before anyone officially announced the work had begun!

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Signs for diversions (even though there were not actually any at that time) began being placed about the area on 13 May 2021. Initial road diversions were put in place too. This was the last day anyone could actually walk on the grassed areas within the traffic islands.

Although work on the hill structure began in mid May, in the week before signs were put around the area warning of diversions etc, and a special work area was prepared to the west of Tyburn Way (that’s the buses only lane in the middle of the islands) there’s been other work undertaken long before that stuff that was undertaken back in March and April including surveys, marking out the ground in question, and establishing where the utilities and services were.

An initial works site was established on the 3rd May on the westernmost traffic island (that’s the one with the fountains) and some infrastructure was stored here from that date onward as well as portacabins for Conways’ workers mess and offices. On the 12th a live webcam was set up. Records say it began the 13th however it was live the previous day as Marble Arch London’s own website says. This webcam is sited on the roof of the London Marriott Park Lane hotel.

Between the 13th and 17th May the site was prepared and fencing put up around the perimeter. Small amounts of planks, scaffolding and other stuff were brought in on the 17th May. Actual scaffolding began was on 18th May however the first few days were one of bringing further stuff in as well as setting out the structure’s initial layout of the structure. Tyburn Way was closed from Monday 17th May. The buses that used this road for stop overs were diverted to temporary stands along the west side of Cumberland Gate.

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Tyburn Way closed off to traffic on 17th May and the works perimeter is extended throughout the two Marble Arch islands.

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Early stages of the scaffolding as seen from the top of a bus. 19th May 2021.

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The very first bit of the long flight of steps on the hill was installed on the 19th May 2021.

The horses head was one of the more significant movements in the early stages of the work.

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The horses head (its actually called ‘Still Water’) seen a few days before its removal. At the time there was little infrastructure on site and the base of the structure itself had barely begun.

The removal of the horses head was undertaken on 20th May 2021. Its been moved to Achilles Way near Hyde park, that’s almost opposite the Hilton Hotel. Its said this the horses head new permanent residence.

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View of the new structure with the horses head visible on its low loader prior to removal to Achilles Way. This is a screencap from the dedicated webcam. Source: Twitter

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I think only two people (including me) took photos of the horses head on the low loader prior to its removal from the site!

Although the horse was craned off its site and placed on a low loader in the afternoon, it was not until the evening when traffic was somewhat quieter that the sculpture would be moved to its new location nearer Hyde Park Corner. Naturally a few (including local organisations) are not happy with this arrangement and would like the sculpture brought back to Marble Arch once the hill has done its job and is removed.

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The horses head in new position at Achilles Way 21st May 2021.

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The stairs getting longer and longer! 26th May 2021.

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The part completed ‘hill’ or ‘mound’ as some call it – seen on 27th May 2021.

And now some pictures of the scaffolding riggers at work!

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Workmen on the early stages of the hill structure. 26th May 2021.

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View of the workers the following day 27th May 2021.

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An excellent spot for a short breather! 27th May 2021.

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There were lots of considerably synchronised movements! One lot of guys one one level doing similar movements as another lot on a different level!

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The guys up on the scaffolding! I took this picture on 5th June 2021.

When did the hill actually get topped out? It seems it was the afternoon of the 3rd June 2021. There’s a picture of it at 5am on the 4th June when the weather was dry. Most of that day was very wet thus I didn’t venture down to see how progress was doing.

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The Marble Arch hill in the early morning of Friday 3rd June 2021 showing the completed topmost platform. Source: Twitter

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I took a picture of the topped out structure on the 5th June 2021.

One aspect of the new (temporary) hill is it does seem much bigger than the plans that were drawn up for it. The new top floor observation deck immediately struck me as being far bigger than that which was proposed. Not only that the stairs have been altered somewhat too, these were intended to be more sinuous, now they’re more straightforward (just three changes in direction) whilst the lift from the top to ground level too has been moved, all this work no doubt to both increase the capacity at the top as well as improve how the walking arrangements to the top as well as back down would be done. The overall design is as in the plans but there have been tweaks.

In the original plans the stairs were intended to almost circumvent the profile of the hill and end up at the top observation deck from the west side. In the actual design however these have been moved somewhat towards the east and will now ‘tunnel’ briefly into the hill before emerging into the centre of the observation deck itself. The lift which was intended to be on the north side of this deck has now been moved to the west side! Although there’s now a larger observation deck, as I understand things from the workers, the total height of the hill itself has been reduced slightly as a result and its somewhat more broad on the upper levels than originally intended.

In terms of publicity, the domains marblearchhill.com, marblearchhill.co.uk, marblearchmound.com and marblearchmound.co.uk have been registered. No doubt something will be live at these sites including prices, ticket availability and bookings. Its said timed slots will have to be booked however that also depends on whether the government lifts the COVID regulations fully or not. Certainly if things are more relaxed as the summer proceeds I’m sure people will be able to turn up and purchase tickets at the site itself.