The Marble Arch Mound


I normally have a certain admiration for pointless follies and architectural foolishness. However, this story features something far less loveable.

Oxford Street has for a long time attracted a rougher clientele than Regent Street or Bond Street. As its fortunes declined into discount stores new ways were sought, most of them misguided, to bring back foot traffic. Nobody thought of the obvious answer; to improve the quality of the terrible stores leasing the street and to ban vehicles.

Instead, Westminster Council came up with this.

Beside the Marble Arch, obscuring it in fact,  they have constructed what they hope to be a tourist-attracting money spinner. A natural hill which you climb through verdant greenery to discover new views across the capital. It would look like this;

The reality is this.

The public reacted with derision and appalled laughter. The press scented blood. Here we have a disaster on the scale of the Thames Dangleway or the Lumley Floral Millionaires’ Bridge.

Westminster Council’s PR team failed to define or name it, so Londoners christened it the Marble Arch Mound. It cost £2 million to build and so, the thinking went, it should cost the user. It’s between £4 and £8 per person to climb.

But wait – there’s even less! The Health and Safety people ruined the climb with giant municipal prison railings. The landscape is scabby and has been likened to an 8-Bit video game render. Worse, once you get to the top you can’t come back the way you came. You must go down through the centre of the scaffolded mound, which turns out to be – you guessed it – a retail opportunity.

The view of Hyde Park from the summit isn’t there. People are posting photos that show rubble, scaffolding and the backs of houses. Westminster Council gave everyone their money back and closed the doors. They swear they’ll reopen very shortly when ‘the trees have grown in’ as though they expect nature to spring to the rescue overnight. In the same spirit, whenever the council thinks of ‘greening’ it comes up with concrete planters that fill with rubbish.

It may already be too late for the Marble Arch Mound. It has been set in the public mind as a horrible, greedy mistake that deserves its fate. There’s a chance its fortunes could be turned, just as the awful Millennium Dome became the equally awful 02, and the Dangleway, a cable car system with not one regular customer, still operates.

Perhaps the Prime Minister will like it. He has no sense of shame or embarrassment.


I probably won’t be bothering to look in on this again as Labour councillors are now checking into the finances of the £2million ‘Marble Arch Slag Heap’, and it now looks as if rumours of it reopening are just going to remain that.

21 comments on “The Marble Arch Mound”

  1. Keith says:

    Even in the countryside Highways England have been ‘vandalising’ historic railway bridge arches by filling them with concrete because they are now deemed unsafe for cyclists and walkers. Shame.

  2. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    Reminds me of the local tip my Dad took me to when I was a little girl and my Mum had thrown my doll away because it was broken.
    We didn’t find the doll (of course), but I loved my trip to the tip because it was somewhere that little girls weren’t supposed to go.
    If I am ever tempted to visit the mound ( which I doubt will happen) I’ll visit the tip instead.

  3. Stu-I-Am says:

    Reminds me of the nursery song ‘The Bear Went Over the Mountain:’ the one where the bear went over the mountain to see what he could see, but all he could see was the other side of the mountain. What I suggest is that the Westminster Council quietly set a team of archeologists to digging in the mound, with the word ‘leaked’ that it may be another Sutton Hoo (or may not — just don’t know yet). A documentary on ‘The Dig II,’ would recoup some of the misspent moolah and, in the end, like the infamous live US TV special on the opening of gangster Al Capone’s purported ‘secret’ vault find…dirt.

  4. Peter+T says:

    How many trees, or forests, are required to cancel the CO2 produced in making all the disgusting concrete that London’s councils and architects impose on the city? Why doesn’t ULEZ apply to construction?

  5. Brooke says:

    Why doesn’t ULEZ apply to construction? $$$$ …builders and developers have an almost infinite supply of the stuff to “share” with local politicians and regulators.

    I seldom have anything good to say about the US city I live in, but we haven’t recently created anything as ugly as your mound. Following our horticultural society’s advice, I suggest a subversive group throw wild grass and flower seeds at it continuously. Milkweed even mugwort will help.

  6. Brooke says:

    BTW–Isn’t the council’s next act of vandalism “The Eye?”

  7. Kevin says:

    £2 million ???

  8. Stu-I-Am says:

    But wait — there’s more. Apparently the original plan called for the Mound to completely cover the actual 19th c. triumphal Marble Arch for the six months it is/was supposed to exist. Conservationists scratched that. No official word yet from Boris. You may remember, as the then editor of ‘The Spectator’ magazine, he suggested another hoped-for tourist attraction, the Millenium Dome, be blown up because it was so bad. “There must be some form of public humiliation,” he said. “I’d like to see all those responsible for the contents of the dome eating humble pie.” Wonder if the PM plans to pass out verbal ‘umbles’ for this one ?

  9. Jan says:

    Hardly a surprise that this is so close to the Tyburn Tree the place of execution – execution on what was practically an industrial scale. Tyburn taking over from Smithfield as London’s prime point of execution..Many of the people executed here were in fact Catholics who are regarded as martyrs by the Catholic church. If you go to the nearby Tyburn convent the basement there contains a museum to the many who died here.

    There’s little you can say in defence of this crazy mound thing except perhaps that is that it is one of a whole series of disastrous ideas for usage of this particular site. Also that Oxford street is much older than you ever think likely part of an ancient prehistoric track heading West which became a drover’s route into town. Interesting site really all in all with a tributary stream 2 the Tyburn running beneath. The animals being brought into town for slaughter were watered at Bayswater and at what later became St Agnes Well now the site of an Italianate garden at the NW portion of the Serpentine.

    Tell you what else is interesting if you continue into Park Lane from this pile of grief with the park to your right (offside) and when you’ve passed beyond the posh car showrooms and you come to the start of the great mansions well the actual plots of these gardens still echo the shape of the lynchets the strip lynchets the sites of the very ancient( premedieval ) peasant farms. Weird that.
    The Edgware road travelling NW from here is a famous Roman road again probably a Roman modification of an existing trackway.

    Perhaps this was a site that peaked early and hasn’t found its true potential for centuries!!

  10. Stu-I-Am says:

    ‘Putting lipstick on a pig’ readily comes to mind.

  11. Stu-I-Am says:

    Speaking of fantasies (and off topic…) Apparently there is to be a return to Middle-earth (Second Stage) in a ‘prequel’ to J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ next Sept. in what is purported to be the most expensive tv series ever — so far unnamed. Not surprising that Amazon can afford this, considering all of the books and Chinese-made electronic gadgets I’ve bought over the years.

  12. David+Ronaldson says:

    Imagine what Snowdonia, the Peak District and the Highlands would look like if they’d been designed by a committee and run by a Tory council…

  13. Peter+T says:

    “You can put lipstick and earrings on a hog and call it Monique, but it’s still a pig.”

    – Ann Richards, the last Democrat to be governor of Texas.

  14. Keith says:

    MVRDV create happy and adventurous places. They were also responsible for the proposed senseless and insensitive ‘Exploding’ twin towers. Hardly a happy place.

  15. Martin+Tolley says:

    Ah – MVRDV – dudes from Amsterdam. No wonder they made a mess of building a hill.

  16. Roger says:

    A leading candidate for the title of the world’s biggest dung heap.

  17. Helen+Martin says:

    I cannot for the life of me imagine how the council thought they were installing anythingthat would improve the location. Marble Arch, for heavens sake. What a vast lot of rubbish! I can’t imagine what the area in general looks like with that monstrosity plonked down there and TWO MILLION POUNDS! If it were the weight of the thing, perhaps yes, but the cost?! It smacks of financial desperation.
    As for upgrading the stores renting premises on Oxford St., property owners rent to whomever will pay their price. All the city can do is provide attractive amenities – and I don’t mean the Marble Arch Mound.

  18. Helen+Martin says:

    Stu-I-Am, are you aware that the original “Wait, there’s more” salesman has recently died? There was a piece in our paper (remember them?) the other day announcing Billy Mays’ death.

  19. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Helen+Martin Ah yes — Ron Popeil, the master pitchman. Hair-in-a-can. Indeed! But the Inside-the-Shell Egg Scrambler, to me,was perhaps his most inspired, pure Popeil product — one that you didn’t know you needed or wanted. Avoid those ‘slimy egg whites.’ ‘No muss, no fuss.’ Of course, you still had to crack the eggs. It’s a good thing he never went into politics. Just imagine an ideological pitchman stirring up dissatisfaction and unhappiness  to sell a gimcrack agenda to millions of the gullible. Just imagine…

  20. Helen+Martin says:

    Where did I get the name I put in there? Ron Popeil, yes indeed that was the name.

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