Standing like a gateway to the royal residence of Buckingham Palace, the Admiralty Arch sits at the end of the Mall abutting Trafalgar Square. Despite the name, the Arch today has actually little to do with the Royal Navy, its only tie being its close proximity to the Navy’s headquarters. Instead, the Arch originated as a memorial to Queen Victoria, commissioned by King Edward VII and the government, and part of a larger memorial that included the Mall, the re-facing of Buckingham Palace, the Memorial Gardens, and the Victoria Monument. A committee chaired by Lord Salisbury was responsible for seeing it constructed and the funds were raised from donations within the United Kingdom and overseas territories.
Aston Webb, who was responsible for the other monuments to Queen Victoria, designed the Admiralty Arch as a six-sided structure with concave facades. The centre features a triumphal gate with five arches, though only four of them are even in common use. The middle arch is only opened for ceremonial occasions, though it can handle auto or horse traffic, while the other two large arches routinely see cars passing through, and the final two smaller arches are reserved for pedestrian traffic. On the Arch are engraved the Latin words “ANNO DECIMO EDWARDI SEPTIMI REGIS VICTORIAE REGINAE CIVIS GRATISSIMI MDCCCCX” which translates as “In the tenth year of the reign of King Edward VII, to Queen Victoria from a grateful nation, 1910.”
Begun in that same year, the actual construction was done by the firm John Mowlem & Co. It was built over a period of two years in a Beaux Arts style out of Portland Stone, which comes from Dorset. The interior was built as offices for the admiralty and even contained a flat for the First Lord of the Admiralty to replace Admiralty House. However, the First Lords chose not to live there and it instead became home to the First Sea Lords, which later included Winston Churchill and the Earl of Mountbatten. The Admiralty Arch continued to serve this purpose for eighty years until the Royal Navy finally moved its offices out in 1994 when the armed forces all moved into the Main Building in Whitehall. In the Navy’s place, some of the Cabinet offices moved in beginning in the 2000s, and the First Sea Lords flat ceased to be a residence for any government official. Admiral Sir Jack Slater was the last person to live there.
Starting in 2011, the government made the decision to lease the Admiralty Arch, beginning a competitive bidding process that was won by Prime Investors Capital, represented in CEO Rafael Serrano, who were given a 250-year lease on the property. PIC’s plan was to turn the Arch into a hotel, a plan that was given approval by Westminster City Council in 2013. In addition to the 100-room hotel, PIC also plans to include a handful of private residences and a private members club. The company is also working to restore the Admiralty Arch to its former glory and should open in 2018. It’s unknown yet if PIC intends to leave one of the odder aspects of the Arch in place, that of the Nose. Artist Rick Buckley placed it there in 1997 as a protest against the “Big Brother” society he saw Britain becoming. Before Buckley was revealed as the culprit, its height of seven feet (perfect for a rider on a horse) gave rise to the rumours that the nose belonged to the Duke of Wellington, King Edward VII, and even Napoleon Bonaparte.
Though one of the city’s best-known landmarks is out of the government’s ownership and is being converted into a hotel, it still serves as the gatehouse for the Mall and the long path to Buckingham Palace. Its ceremonial central gate still opens for great parades as it did for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and her 90th birthday celebrations. No matter its future fate, the Admiralty Arch remains one of London’s greatest architectural attractions.