I don’t suppose many people have lost sleep over what a car park would look like if it had been built by John Nash, the great Georgian architect. One of the problems is that cars had not been invented then, so it would have been difficult for Nash to have designed one. Except that he did. Or, at least, there is a car park in London, the structure of which was designed by Nash. And it is a bit of a scandal too.
Practically everyone who passes it does not even realise what it is. It stretches for over 100 yards along the north side of The Mall on the western side of the Duke of Yorks steps. The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) is on the other side of them. There is nothing to suggest it is a car park. There is no obvious entrance, and the windows are too high and blurred to look through. If you want to see the entrance, you will have to climb the steps and turn left, when you will see it at the top of a steep slope to the car park itself.
Even before the Covid-19 lockdown there were not many cars inside. It appears to have been used by people in the building above, such as the Royal Society, plus corporate contractors. What a waste of space to be providing a daytime shelter for cars that shouldn’t be driven into the centre of London anyway.
It would be a good place for some other prestigious project, such as a learning centre for the proposed Holocaust Memorial (which, at present, is going to disfigure the green space in Victoria Tower Gardens) or a home for the government’s own art collection, which will now be housed on the opposite side of The Mall.
The ground on which the car park is built used to be part of the gardens of Carlton House, the extravagant home – or, rather, palace – of the Prince Regent who, when he became George the IV, decided that he wanted to spend even more money enhancing Buckingham Palace. It was left to Nash to rebuild the whole area, right up to the aptly named Regent Street.
A lot of people assume that the Duke of York’s column and statue was part of Nash’s plan. Not at all. He wanted to build a huge domed fountain in the space between his two terraces in the Mall. Instead, he had to live with a huge monument to the Duke. What he would have said if he knew that part of his terrace would become a car park can only be imagined.
Many of Vic Keegan’s Lost London columns have now been compiled into a handsome self-published book. Buy a copy HERE.
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