HC Deb 16 March 1826 vol 14 cc1388-91
Mr. Hume

rose, to make a motion to the House relative to the money taken by the dean and chapter of Westminster from the public, for admission to view the Monuments in Westminster abbey. He was induced to make the motion, in consequence of an item in the estimates, for a sum of money to the dean and chapter for cleaning those monuments. He understood, the annual revenue of that establishment amounted to 20,000l. and that the individuals who attended visitors through the abbey, instead of being paid out of that fund, were remunerated by fees which the public ought not to pay. That House had very properly voted several sums for the erection of monuments in Westminster abbey, for the purpose of perpetuating the actions of illustrious individuals who had rendered great services to the country; and he understood that large sums had been paid to the dean and chapter for permission to erect the monuments in the abbey. That being the case, he thought they ought to be open to the public for inspection. From a correspondence which had been, put into his hands, it appeared, that the individuals appointed to superintend the collection of the money paid for admission, were the minor canons, among whom the money collected was divided. He believed that about fifty years ago the admission fee to the abbey was not more than a penny or twopence; a sum quite sufficient to keep out that description of persons who would be most likely to do injury to the monuments. His object was, to ascertain whether or not the dean, and chapter had aright to demand money from the public for permission to view monuments erected at the public expense. He had thought the dean and chapter would, by attending to the strong expression of public opinion upon the subject, have prevented the necessity of this motion. If it should turn out that the funds were not sufficient without the assistance of the admission fees to support the establishment, some arrangement might take place, but if it should turn out that that House or his majesty had no power to compel the dean and chapter to open the monuments to the inspection of the public, he should protest against granting a single shilling of the public money for permission to erect those monuments. He concluded by moving, for an account of the sums charged by the dean and chapter of Westminster for the admission of each visitor to view the public monuments in that abbey, the total amount received from that source in each year, for the last five years, and how the same has been appropriated.

Mr. Secretary Peel

did not rise to oppose the motion, as he thought it fair that the House should be in possession of the information asked for. The hon. member, however, was in error, if he supposed that the dean and chapter of Westminster had any rights different from those of other deans and chapters. The House he believed, had no power to compel them to admit strangers to the abbey. He was also wrong in supposing that the fees for the admission of visitors were of recent origin. They had existed from very early periods, and instances might be found in the Record-office, of their being granted by patent; though, since the Restoration they had been granted during pleasure. In 1613, a patent was granted, which he had seen, to sir E. Phipps, sir R. Miller, and others, to collect the fees for shewing the monuments to visitors. At present the fees were divided among the minor canons and the choir. The amount of the income of the minor canons, who were obliged to attend about four months in the year, was about one hundred pounds per annum, and of this they drew about seventy pounds from the fees. The admission fee had been diminished, and was not at present more than was necessary to protect the monuments. The abbey was now opened three times a day to every body when divine service was performed; it was opened without any charge, at all seasonable times, to artists; and the admission fee had been reduced from 2s. to 1s. 3d. The total amount of the emoluments would be seen when the papers were produced. The hon. member was wrong if he supposed that the dean and chapter had not laid out any money in repairing the abbey. During the last twenty-five years, they had expended 53,627l. for that purpose; being on an average upwards of 2,000l. a year. During the last twelve years, 40,000l. had been applied to the repairs of the abbey, being more than 3,300l. per annum. This shewed that the dean and chapter had paid liberally for the maintenance of their magnificent abbey. They might mistake in demanding a sum for admission, but he was persuaded that they acted bona fide, and were sincere in their opinion, that such a sum was necessary to secure the safety of the monuments.

Mr. Hobhouse

said, that when he was at Westminster school, Poets' corner and the aisle of the abbey, the only portion of the abbey which was viewed with interest, except by a person who might come to gaze about London for a few days, were open to the public. He thought the preferable mode would be, to have the abbey open, as it formerly was, to the public, and to appoint a guardian, whose duty it would be, to preserve the monuments from injury.

Mr. W. Smith

thought, that as the public had paid considerable sums to the dean and chapter for permission to erect those monuments, upon which a large sum of public money had been expended, they ought to be open for inspection.

Mr. Peel

said, it was a mistake to suppose, that the dean and chapter had received money for permission to erect the public monuments, although they occupied a considerable space in the abbey, for which individuals would pay.

Mr. Baring

said, that if the rights contended for by the dean and chapter were pushed to their extent, they might as well shut up the abbey against the entrance of persons for the purpose of divine worship, contrary to the privilege which prevailed in every catholic country.

Mr. Alderman Wood

said, that he knew an instance in which a member of that House, wearied with a dull committee, had gone to the Abbey and heard a good sermon, for which he paid nothing; but after it was over, he was asked for money to see the monuments. This, however, he refused, and there was no power to enforce it.

The motion was agreed to.