Three London Questions No.1



Are there secret surveillance rooms in the back of Marble Arch?

Supposedly they’re there, but they haven’t been used since the 1950s. The arch was modelled on the Arch of Constantine in ancient Rome, and originally built by John Nash in 1828 as an entrance to Buckingham Palace but ended up stranded at the bottom of Edgware Road. In theory, only senior royals and their guards are permitted to pass through the central arch.

 Where’s the oldest park in London?

That’d be at Finsbury Circus, the peculiar cut-off area of central London hardly anyone seems to know about unless you live there, mainly because it doesn’t lead anywhere. The circular garden was an Iron Age burial ground and its latest incarnation dates back to 1606, when it was confusingly called Moorfields. There’s still a bowling club here, and a clubhouse that serves Pimm’s. In 1784 it was the site of London’s first hot air balloon flight.

Where’s the only outdoor statue of Elizabeth 1?

That’s at the guild church St Dunstan-In-The-West in Fleet Street. You can only visit it on Tuesdays for some weird reason,or for recitals on Wednesday lunchtimes, and it has the only statue to Queen Elizabeth I carved in her lifetime and a clock flanked by the giant founders of London, Gog and Magog, as well as statues of King Lud, the city’s rebuilder, and his sons. All the statues were originally in Ludgate, as was the legendary pub the King Lud, which survived until 2005 when the property scumlords got rid of it, thus removing another mythic London site.

More questions answered shortly…

9 comments on “Three London Questions No.1”

  1. Alan G says:

    Try this one. Where, precisely did England come into being?

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    At last questions about London that require no answers. I’m good at this type.

  3. snowy says:


    Marble Arch to Edgware.

    First transmitted in 1968, the poet John Betjeman goes on a journey from Marble Arch to Edgware reciting four specially written poems: ‘How beautiful the London air,’ ‘Ho for the Kilburn High Road,’ ‘The sisters Progress and Destruction dwell’ and ‘One after one rise these empty consecutives’.

    Along the way he pauses at places of interest such as the hidden Marble Arch police station from where, since 1851, a hundred policemen could lie in wait ready to emerge at the first hint of trouble.

    [Might not be viewable overseas, sorry].

  4. Helen Martin says:

    The hidden Marble Arch police station? Not hidden in the Arch, obviously, but what is the use of a hidden police station?
    By the way, word has it that Canada House – that huge embassy place on Trafalgar Square – is to undergo a massive re-do. Expect to see scaffolding, paint cans and gilders any day now.

  5. snowy says:

    The Police station was within the arch, it had originally been the used by the ‘Parks Police’. It was first used by the Metropolitan Police [‘D’ Division] for keeping an eye on the ‘goings on’ at Speakers Corner about 1872.

    If the debate became ‘heated’ to the point of public order being breached, reinforcements could be summoned from the station.

    I must confess I copied the text vebatim from the source, I think ‘hidden’ is used to mean occluded rather than covert. Any building that suddenly disgorged 100 officers with batons drawn might cause a raised eyebrow or two.

    On the page linked there is a short clip, which shows the surroundings of the arch at the time, which shows how it might match the second sense of the phrase.

    The clip also gives a very brief view of the interior and ends with the view from the top.

    If the BBC page isn’t playing nicely there is a copy on Youtube that might work better.

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    Is the Speakers Corner still going? I was there in early January, 1963 and several speakers spoke? Shouted? I could understand about every fifth or sixth word from the soap box. Reasonably good crowd to hear the rather excited speakers.
    Been back to London, unfortunately, only once since then in the late Seventies. Reading this blog has convinced me some changes have been made.

  7. jan says:

    Snowy i don’t know if u r right about the Parkies Parks police first using Marble Arch Nick the Met police has traditionally policed Hyde Park and only recently have the Parkies taken oven ie within the last 10 years or so i am not sure but its possible that the Parks police god bless em are even a Met division now.

  8. jan says:

    Speakers corner is still going not really as popular as it once was but it still burbles on. bit like me really….

  9. snowy says:

    Hello jan, the story of who did what and when is a typically British muddle of “making do” and “keep buggering on”.

    From what I understand it went something like:

    HP had its own Constables, and in 1872 the Royal Park Keepers were created separately and only had police powers within the Royal Parks.

    In HP there had been riots about the banning of Sunday trading (1855), the Chartists had been stiring things up, and the Reform League had held mass demonstrations (1866-7).

    By 1872 Speakers Corner had become a place where speakers would call for revolution, and other “seditious activities”, so it was certain that it would be of interest to the “Met”. So they then covered that part of HP.

    The Park Keepers carried on their duties as normal, and in 1972 were renamed the Royal Parks Contabulary and trained up with the rest of the Home Office Forces, but I have the impression that they were similar to Special Constables. Had all the same powers but only carried out Policing as an adjunct to other duties.

    1993 the “Met” start running out of cash and handed responsibility back to RPC, and then skedaddled off as fast as a pair of slightly worn but very shiny Doc Martins would allow.

    Only to be hauled back in 2005, when they are told to take over again, and so they absorbed some staff and all the cash to do it. To stop them just pocketing the money and using it for other things like “diversity classes” and “poetry competitions*” They were forced to set up a separate OCU just for the parks.

    So to the question who was in the Arch there are many answers, all of them correct. Because in a 100 years of use almost every body with a pointy hat and a “hitty stick” will have been in there at one point or another.
    (A bit like a certain famous London Peoples Bureau balcony, which at the current count seems to have had at least 8000 men on it.)

    As I said who really knows, not me thats for certain. 🙂
    Very Best Wishes.

    *Not a joke, entirely real (sadly), Google for “Denise Milani Poetry Competition” for the full silly thing.

    To avoid confusion, Gentlemen should be sure to search for the entire phrase and not cheat by just searching for Denise Milani, in that case I will not be responsible for any damage to, or caused by monocles being dropped, or increases in blood pressure or any ensuing affects.

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