HC Deb 09 April 1824 vol 11 cc325-7

On the resolution for granting 60,000l. for the purchase of the Angerstein collection of Pictures being read,

Mr. Hume

wished to know whether any arrangement, with respect to the admission of the public to Westminster Abbey, had been made in consequence of what had fallen from the President of the Board of Control, relative to this subject, en a former evening? He understood the right hon. gentleman to say, that within his own recollection, the mode of admission was extremely easy, and the expense moderate; and he had been led to believe, that some negotiation was on foot, between government and those connected with the Abbey, to remove the difficulty of procuring admission which now existed. The public were, in fact, excluded from seeing monuments which were erected at their expense. Those monuments were the property of the public, and certainly were not placed in the Abbey to be concealed from public view. He was anxious to learn what measure had been or could be devised, to give the public full and free access to view them. If the charge now made for admission were an abuse, it ought to be rectified; if, on the other hand, the Dean and Chapter had a right to exact those fees, the public ought to buy their interest. There was an outcry on every side against the Dean and Chapter, for taking money to which they were not entitled. He wished to see all cause for such an outcry removed. Whilst, however, the present system continued, the people would talk; and therefore he called on ministers to make such an arrangement, as would secure to the public those advantages to which they were entitled, and thus put an end to all ground of complaint in future.

Mr. Ridley Colborne

said, he approved of the grant of 60,000l. for the purchase of Mr. Angerstein's pictures, but he did not think the situation in which they were to be placed was a good one. It would be better if a more central situation were fixed on, where an edifice lit to receive them could be erected. The lease of Marlborough-house would expire in four or five years. That would be an admirable situation for the purpose, and it afforded ample space for the occasion. He trusted that no renewal of the lease would be granted until ministers had considered this suggestion.

Mr. Wynn

certainly remembered the time when the greatest part of Westminster Abbey was open to the public. At the time to which he alluded a very small number of monuments were shut up, and even those were allowed to be seen for 6d. He believed that every part of the Abbey was now closed, and that 2s. were charged for admission. He was not however, aware of any redress on that subject. He regretted that the Abbey was shut up; but if the Dean and Chapter had a right over their church, which authorized them to make those charges, he knew not how the executive government could interfere.

Sir J. Wrottesley

said, that formerly what was called Poet's Corner was open to all. That passage formed a very great convenience to those who had to pass through one part of Westminster. It brought them at once from the cloisters to this part of the town. The whole space between the organ and the western door was open, and the north aisle also. The only part of the Abbey to which individuals could not go without paying an attendant was Henry the seventh's chapel, and that could be seen for the small sum of 6d. He begged leave, as he was on the subject, to state what had recently occurred to himself. He had gone through the cloisters towards the Abbey, and there met the verger, who asked, "where are you going?" He answered "into the Abbey." "Then," said the verger, "you must pay 2s." He (sir J. W.) then observed, that, as service was going on, he supposed he might enter the church. "Oh yes, sir," was the reply. He then went to the door of the choir, but the verger, who seemed to know his motive, did not lose sight of him. He turned round to go out of the door at Poet's Corner, when the verger immediately said, "you are not come here for the purpose of prayers, but to make this a passage; therefore you must go out by the door at which you came in." He looked upon this system of exacting fees as a paltry and scandalous extortion. The whole of those fees were let by the Dean and Chapter, for their own profit. That building which had been the pride and glory of this country for a thousand years could not now be viewed without a pecuniary consideration. The Dean and Chapter dealt out permission to go through this venerable building at so much per head, to add a paltry sum to their salaries.

Mr. Grey Bennet

would be glad to know whether it was not possible to remove those monuments from the Abbey. He thought it would be a fit subject for inquiry in a committee, whether those monuments, which the scandalous extortion of the clergy of the metropolis prevented the public from seeing, might not be removed. He would vote for their removal. Let a building be erected for them; let them be put up in any place where they could be seen. They ought to be rescued from the hands of that scandalous set of money-dealers the clergy of Westminster.

Mr. Monck

entertained some doubt whether the Dean and Chapter had any right to exclude the public. Up to the time of the Reformation, our churches were open all day, to allow the people to say their prayers; as was the case all over the continent at present. Nothing, he conceived, could be more shameful than for those persons to turn these public monuments to their own private advantage. It was a scandalous distinction between this and other countries.

The resolution was agreed to.