HC Deb 21 February 1833 vol 15 cc1049-59
Mr. Slaney

rose for the purpose of moving that a Select Committee be appointed to consider the best means of securing open places in the neighbourhood of great towns, for the healthful exercise of the population. He had attempted some time since to bring forward this question, but from the state of public business he had been unable to do so. He now rejoiced at the delay which had thus taken place; for, in the mean time, a Reformed Parliament had been summoned, and there now sat as Members of it, several persons, Representatives of those large towns that were most interested in the present question. To show the condition of the population of the country at former periods, and at the present time he would refer to some abstracts of the population returns. These would prove that during the first ten years of the present century, the increase of the population had been fifteen and half per cent; during the second ten years, seventeen and a half per cent; and during the last ten years—namely, from 1821 to 1831—it had been again fifteen and a half per cent. The increase in the metropolis alone during the same three periods, had been seventeen per cent for the first ten years, twenty-one per cent for the second ten years, and twenty per cent for the last ten years. In Manchester during the same three periods, the increase had been in the proportion of twenty-two per cent for the first ten years forty per cent for the second ten years, and forty-seven per cent for the last ten years. An increase had taken place in nearly the same proportion in all the populous communities in the kingdom, so that taking the last thirty years from 1800 to 1831, there was an increase in four counties of thirty per cent, in the metropolis of fifty-eight per cent, in ten of the largest manufacturing towns of eighty per cent, and in three of the largest manufacturing towns, of 100 per cent; or the population had doubled itself in thirty years. At the same time it was gratifying to know that the chances of life were better now than they had been formerly. From 1700 to 1780, the average of deaths was one in thirty-seven; from 1780 to 1790, it was one in forty-five; from 1790 to 1810, it was one in fifty-four; and from 1810 to 1820, it was one in sixty. All this had been the result of improved habits of living, and improvements in medical skill and science. From these facts the most important inferences might be drawn. Allowing for the unfortunate situation of several large classes of the community—the peasantry of the south of England, for instance, and the hand-loom weavers—the chances of life were better now than formerly. Then we came to this point, that, within the fifteen years that had elapsed since the peace, there had been an increase of twenty-five per cent in the population of the country: and, at the same time, there had been a great improvement in their health. It had always been held, that the increase of the population, and the increase of health at the same time, gave a proof of the increase, in a corresponding degree, of the capital of the country. He, therefore, had no hesitation in saying, that the capital of the country must have increased. Without saying one word of the decrease of taxation, relief would be afforded by the mere increase of population as the amount collected would be spread over a larger number of people. He should now state the alteration which had taken place in the relative situation of the different classes of this country. One third of the working population of the country had been employed at the beginning of the present century in manufactures; and two thirds in agricultural labour. At the present moment those proportions were exactly reversed; and yet, at the same time, on the whole, the health of the population had been improved. Having shown the increase in these manufacturing districts generally, he should now say one word as to the increase of numbers in the towns themselves. At a former period the working people had more exercise in the open air than at present. Many of them, such as hand-loom weavers, formerly lived at a distance from their place of work, but now their labours had been changed for those of the power-loom; so that 100 or 200 of them were now congregated together. Not only had that change taken place, but persons were taken at an earlier age than formerly; and without adverting at large to the Report on the factory employment, he might mention that these persons, some of them under ten years of age, were employed fifteen hours a-day. To such persons he thought the House ought to afford the means of healthful exercise, when the day of rest arrived. At present they had no such means. He should proceed to refer now, in the first instance, to the state of the metropolis. At this time it contained a greater number of inhabitants than any city in the world had ever possessed. Within a circle of eight miles from St. Paul's, there were no less than 1,750,000 persons, and the population of the town itself amounted to one million and a half, In that population were mixed the richest and the poorest men—men whose wealth had never been surpassed by that of any other men, in any times whatever, and the most wretched outcasts, whose miserable condition was not equalled by that of the poor of any other city in Europe. The poet Cowper forty years ago, had compared this town, surrounded with its villas, to "a swart Indian with his belt of beads." It no longer deserved the comparison. It was begirt with other towns instead of villas, It had, it was true, three large parks, one of which only was open, while the other two were partially closed to the public. These did not afford sufficient space for the healthful exercise of the population. A vast number of this population was composed of the working classes, who had not, on Sundays or holidays, any open place of recreation but the three parks, two of which were partially closed against them. He could never observe, without pleasure, thousands with their wives and families, flocking on Sundays to these places of enjoyment; and his great regret was, that they had not far more extensive means for such indulgences. This was a subject upon which imagination and genius might be happily indulged; but he had no further pretensions than to bring before the House a statement of facts; and it was much to be regretted, that, in past legislation, the interests and comforts of the working classes had been too much for- gotten. This metropolis had one of the finest rivers flowing through it, and yet there was scarcely one open space left on its banks. So cooped was it with buildings, that a foreigner might be residing in the city for years without knowing that there was such a river. He mentioned this, to show how little advantage had been taken of the situation of the river for the purpose of adding to the salubrity of the metropolis. It was said by Mr. Wyndham, that the parks were the lungs of London; and if they were then so necessary to the ventilation of the city, how requisite was it now, that its present vast population should have increased means of recreation. The great manufacturing town in the north, which were principally built on coalbeds, had doubled their Population in thirty years; and yet there was not one of these great communications which bad a sufficient open space for artizans to take exercise or recreation upon Sundays of holidays, He did pot appeal to the passions of the House, nor deal in declamation. But he put it to them, to say, whether it was not the duty of the legislature, to afford every accommodation and the means of rational enjoyment to the working classes, upon whom, in so great a degree, the prosperity of the country depended. The rich, who had their own enjoyments, and who had so many means of recreation, ought to consider the situation of working men, and, in speaking of the humbler classes in the manufacturing towns, it was but justice to them to state, that they were less a burthen upon the Poor-rates than the inhabitants of the southern agricultural districts. For this they deserved great praise. One single manufacture of this country afforded greater means of wealth and employment than any other in the world; he meant the cotton trade, of which Manchester might be said to be the centre; and it was the duty and policy of Parliament, to afford every means of necessary recreation to those who were engaged in it. The in crease of that trade was so great, that he could not help adverting to it. The importations of cotton, in 1781, were about 5,000,000lbs.; in 1820, they increased to 56,000,000lbs.; in 1820, to 147,000,000lbs.; and in the year 1830, to 250,000,000 lbs. The annual value was 36,000,000l.; the wages paid annually were 22,000,000l.; and the trade employed 1,250,000 persons. In 1780, the number of persons employed in that trade was not more than 50,000; and it would now appear, from what he had said, that the present number employed was twenty-five times that amount. The population of Manchester was 187,000, and yet there was not for that immense population an open suitable place for exercise or recreation. The artizans there had no place to walk on Sundays, and near that town and other such places, the working man and his family were met on the road with notices against trespass, and the inhospitable intimation of spring-guns, and Steel-traps. It happened, that there was a Benevolent Society formed at Manchester, to protect the working classes in the enjoyment of footpaths, which were too often attempted to be closed up against them, and from the exertions of that society, which were necessarily limited, the greatest advantages had followed; for they had preserved for the working man many of his limited comforts, of which he would otherwise have been deprived. He did not mean to dwell on the probable increase of population, with the view of advancing arguments in favour of his proposition, but it was a matter well worthy of consideration, and had been ably discussed in a work lately published by Mr. Babbage on the "Economy of Manufactures." Other considerations besides the public health ought to induce Members to consider this subject very seriously; but a comparison of the number of deaths in 10,000 persons, before they reached twenty years old, in various situations, would show how material such outlets were to health. He would call the attention of the House to a subsequent statement upon this point. The number of deaths were—in a healthy county, 3,700 out of 10,000; in a marshy county, 4,200 out of 10,000; in London, 4,500 out of 10,000; in Carlisle, 5,600 out of 10,000; in Preston, Stockport, Wigan, and Bury, 6,000 out of 10,000. In Leeds the loss of life was still greater in proportion, being more than 6,000 out of every 10,000 persons, before they reached the age of twenty-one. This evidence showed how absolutely necessary it was, that everything possible should be done to promote longevity. In London, it was notorious, that there were many hundreds who knew what the country was only by description of the pastoral ruralities of Hampstead and Highgate. He did not put it, however, merely on the ground of health. Of late years, there had been a growing disposition to decry the amusements of the poor, and wakes and fairs had been abolished for their immorality; but those who abolished them were bound to find a substitute, or to incur the suspicion of canting hypocrisy. He was persuaded that if due outlets were provided, the consumption of spirits would decrease, and mechanics, instead of sotting in alehouses, would rejoice in the opportunity of enjoying the open air. At present, the poor workman in the large manufacturing towns, was actually forced into the public house, there being no other place for hit to amuse himself in. Independently of this, it was well known that healthy happy men were not disposed to enter into conspiracies. Want of recreation generated incipient disease, and disease, discontent; which, in its turn, led to attacks upon the Government. Another argument he begged to address to the Vice President of the Board of Trade, and it was this—that the consumption of manufactured goods would be increased by enabling the lower orders of both sexes to display their neatness or their finery. Plain men, like himself, and like the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, were content, perhaps, to wear coats only because they kept them warm; but the greater part of mankind sported dress, because they thought they appeared in it to advantage. The maidservant and the mechanic's daughter took as much pride in displaying her rich ribbons, as a lady her fine equipage, or a duchess her diamonds. In his mind, this feeling ought to be encouraged, as it promoted cleanliness, decency, and self-respect. If such persons had no opportunity of appearing in public walks, they lost a great stimulus to industry, and that industry would always increase in proportion as it afforded the means of indulging in such becoming luxuries. Fathers and mothers, also, were naturally happy in seeing their children well dressed, and in showing them to other people. When the late Sir James Mackintosh was exemplifying the progress of society, he showed the different stages by which men advanced in civilization, and in tracing that progress from the actual wants of nature to the enjoyments of luxuries, he proved how necessary it was to attend to the principle which he had just laid down. If the working classes were not allowed to indulge in such pardonable vanity they would have recourse to pernicious practices. He conceived therefore that public walks would not only promote the health and morality of the people, but be beneficial to the mere wealth of the country. It would, of course, be expected from him to state, how he intended to remedy the evils of which he complained. He should first propose that a Select Committee be appointed to consider what was the best plan that could be devised, and to that Committee he should entirely commit the subject, inviting also the attention of any hon. Member who might take an interest in the matter. At first the House might perhaps be deterred from its consideration by an apprehension that public walks could not be erected but at too great an expense. In his opinion the expense would not be so considerable as was supposed. To provide such walks as he wished for, there would be no necessity for carriage-ways, and there were in the neighbourhood of some large towns commons which might be advantageously used for the objects which he had in view. The interior of such open spaces might be beneficially used for grazing and other purposes, whilst they were surrounded by such walks as would afford exercise and recreation to the people. It would cost little, for example, to have a space like that beautiful walk Christchurch Meadows. Several of the Corporations were also possessed of lands and open spaces which might be profitably applied for similar purposes. They were, besides, several of the public roads on the sides of which there might be erected public walks upon the plan of the Boulevards in Paris. These might be ornamented with trees and other decorations affording all the means of recreation which he desired. The extensive commons which joined extensive towns, such as those at Coventry, might be well laid out in public walks. There were several such commons and fields which, by draining, would become valuable property, besides affording the means of exercise which the people so much required. What he meant to suggest in the Committee was, that any town raising a sum by subscription or otherwise for the purpose of building public walks should receive a certain proportion of money from the public Treasury, upon the same principle as money had been advanced for the building of new Churches; and that Commissioners should be appointed to prevent any waste of this money. If in those Churches a provision was made of free seats for the poor, he saw no reason why free walks should not be also secured to them. He was quite sure the public, when they knew the purpose for which this money was granted, would not grumble at the expenditure. He also felt confident that the humbler classes, when they knew that it was expended for the improvement of their own condition, would accept it gratefully, and take it as an earnest of the kind intentions of the Legislature towards them. By attention to these and other apparently unimportant matters, he was sure the wealthy would reap a rich harvest of reward in the happiness and contentment of the humbler classes of the community. The hon. Member then moved, "That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the best means of securing open spaces in the immediate vicinity of populous towns, as public walks calculated to promote the health and comfort of the inhabitants."

Mr. Baldwin

seconded the Motion, and acquiesced in most of the doctrines laid down by the hon. Member. He thought, however, that the health of the working people would be more effectually preserved by attention to the cleanliness and ventilation of their houses, and by the widening of the narrow lanes and the lighting of the passages in large towns. In his progress through England, Scotland, and Ireland, he had observed a great want of attention to these particular points, which, from experience, he could say were most essential, not only to the comfort but to the health and existence of the poor. He did not undervalue the advantages of public walks, or other means of necessary recreation; but cleanliness and the ventilation of houses, which were too much neglected in large towns, were more essential than public walks.

Mr. Lamb

agreed with the hon. Member, that the subject of the health of the lower orders was of much importance to the Legislature, but he doubted whether much more might not be done to promote the object of the hon. Member by Magistrates of towns than by Parliament. He did not see how the Legislature could effect the object which the hon. Member had in view; at the same time he regretted to say that too little attention had been paid to this subject at the passing of several of the Enclosure Bills. The erec- tion of public walks could best be effected by local legislation. At the same time, he had no objection to the trial of the experiment proposed; for it always gave him great pleasure to see people who worked hard all the week innocently enjoying themselves on Sunday. He hoped that nothing would, at any time, be attempted to cloud the general sunshine of the cheerful Sabbath in this country.

Mr. Faithful

cordially approved of the Committee. In general the small and old towns enjoyed walks of this description, and he hoped that all the large and modern would not be left without these conveniences.

Mr. Lennard

also approved of the principle of the Motion. He begged to take advantage of that occasion to suggest to the noble Lord at the head of the Woods and Forests the expediency of throwing open the grounds of the Regent's Park, which had been so long closed, to the public. Contrary to the explicit understanding of the Government and the public on their being first laid out they had been kept closed under various pretences, of which the most feasible—the necessity of protecting the young trees—was no longer valid. He hoped the public would be no longer deprived of their right out of a mere consideration for the whims of the occupants of villas in the neighbourhood.

Mr. Potter

said, he felt greatly obliged to the hon. member for Shrewsbury for his repeated exertions upon this subject, and was sure, if the plan of having open spaces near large towns was adopted, the best results would follow. As the hon. Gentleman had alluded to Manchester, where he (Mr. Potter) had so long resided, he wished to confirm his statement as to the great want of open spaces for the recreation and health of the inhabitants. The county of Lancaster, it was well known, contained several large towns, but they were nearly all deficient in suitable places where the people could walk out. The hon. member for Shrewsbury had also alluded to the Manchester Association for the Preservation of Footpaths. He had been connected with the Society from its commencement, and could bear testimony to the great good it had done. Such was the constant desire to stop up foot-paths, that had it not been for the exertions of the Manchester Society, he believed there would at this time have been very few foot-paths left within ten miles of Manchester. The hon. Secretary had also spoken of the rights of the poor, and the preservation of public roads being provided for in Enclosure Bills. With the permission of the House he would mention a circumstance which occurred only yesterday, relative to enclosures. He was on a Committee on an Enclosure Bill in Wilts; on referring to that clause relative to the Commissioners having the power to divert, turn, and stop up foot-paths, he proposed a clause to the effect, that no road should be diverted or stopped up until the authority of the inhabitants in Vestry assembled was first obtained; but he was told by the Chairman of the Committee (the hon. member for Wiltshire) that such a clause could not be introduced in a private Bill, but that the General Enclosure Act might be altered. He entirely concurred in the Motion before the House, and hoped the Committee would be granted.

Mr. Fergus O'Connor

feared, that no Legislative enactment could be made to apply to any such evil, or produce any such remedy as that in the contemplation of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member who had brought forward the measure had spoken of the beauty of the capital and its magnificent river; he could also speak of the beauties of Dublin and its river. There was this sad difference, however, between them. In the environs of the one were seen boards with the words, "Beware of spring guns and steel traps;" in the other, were muskets and bayonets without any caution to beware.

Mr. Portman

said, that, in his opinion, the stopping up of foot-paths was one of the greatest causes of the want of sufficient opportunities of air and exercise for the humbler classes, and he hoped the House would not allow any opportunity to pass of doing all that legislation could do to prevent any further extension of that evil. He intended very soon to bring in a Bill, to which a clause might, with perfect propriety, be added, which would render the stopping up of foot-paths extremely difficult. Directing his observations more particularly to the noble Lord at the head of the Woods and Forests Department, he expressed a hope that the time was not distant when the whole of the Regent's Park would be open to the public. As to the project which had that evening been brought before them by his hon. friend behind him, lie confessed it did strike his mind that there were considerable difficulties in the way of carrying any such plan into effect—there was obviously a want of funds—whence then were the means to come? He deprecated anything in the nature of additional taxation, either general or local.

Mr. Harvey

said, that the arbitrary power lately assumed by Magistrates in closing foot-paths had engendered much discontent among the poorer classes, who were thereby shut out from all means of wholesome recreation. It should be a Standing Order of the House, that no Enclosure Act should receive its sanction till such rights of the poor as might be involved should be minutely inquired into. There were more notices of motions for Enclosure Bills since the commencement of the present Session, than had ever been given, he believed, in an equal length of time, but he had no reason to think, that any of them contained a specific provision to prevent the shutting up of foot-paths. Hitherto all laws had been made by the rich—in favour of the rich, and at the expense of the poor, and while that was the practice, or supposed to be the practice, the laws were not likely to be either loved or respected.

Mr. Benett

observed, that most great towns had adjoining to them spaces of ground, such as the hon. Member proposed, to enclose, or rather open, for the purposes of recreation. For his part he thought it would be much better to introduce into private bills clauses for this purpose, than to make them the subject of a public measure.

Motion agreed to, and Committee appointed.