HC Deb 04 August 1845 vol 82 cc1374-6
Mr. Hume

called the attention of the House to the practice of exacting fees or receiving gratuities from the public as the condition of their admittance to cathedrals and other public buildings; and moved— That, in the opinion of this House, the practice of exacting fees from the public as the condition of their admittance to cathedrals, is highly improper, and ought to be discontinued. He believed, that, the opening of those edifices would greatly conduce to the public benefit, and regretted that no such steps had been taken for that purpose. He considered the practice of taking fees for admission to be disreputable to the country.

Sir R. Peel

said, he had always expressed a strong opinion, and felt that there was great advantage from giving as free and unrestricted admission to these noble edifices as was consistent with security to the works of art contained in them. He could not conceive anything more likely to exercise a beneficial influence on the public mind than the free admission to examine such edifices; but due precaution should be taken for securing the monuments and other works of art from injury; although he believed, that, speaking generally, nothing could be more exemplary than the conduct of the great body of the people; and he was speaking of the working classes, because he believed that their conduct had been as exemplary as that of the higher classes; still the hon. Gentleman must be aware, that occasionally it did happen, as in the case of the Portland Vase, and also of some very valuable pictures, that there were exceptions from that general exemplary conduct. He did not mention that as a reason for additional restrictions; but that free admission should not be allowed to the injury of the works of art. That distinguished divine, the late Dean of Westminster, had had an interview with him; and he must say, he believed that it was the wish of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster to give those facilities of admission to the Abbey which they thought they could give consistently with security to the works of art; and he understood that the present Bishop of Ely did give, in pursuance of the promises he made, the fullest consideration to the subject, and that his exertions were constantly directed towards that object. He had now the satisfaction of stating that—not in consequence of the hon. Gentleman's Motion—but in consequence of a communication he had made to the present Dean of Westminster soon after his appointment; and his having stated to him the opinion he had expressed to Dr. Turton, and represented how freely the public had been admitted to the cartoons at Westminster Hall, how exemplary their conduct had been, that there had been no instance of mischief, and that all, had retired with acknowledgments for the opportunity given to them for the inspection of the cartoons—he had a few days since received from Dr. Wilberforce a letter, in which he said— As I know your wishes respecting the admission of strangers into the Abbey, I trouble you with a line to say that I have just issued some new directions on that subject. Strangers are henceforth to be admitted without any payment into the south transept, the nave, and the north transept, that is, into the great body of the church. The only part from which they will be excluded, is from the choir (except at times of service), for obvious reasons, and the chapels behind the choir. These will be shown to them at a charge of 6d. a piece. This will be the only payment allowed in the Abbey. Such a payment is universal on the Continent. He sincerely hoped that that would be an inducement to the deans and chapters of other cathedrals to do the same; and he trusted, that the hon. Gentleman would not raise any difficulty by proposing a Resolution on the part of the House of Commons, which they would have great difficulty in enforcing, imposing an obligation on parties who, he believed, were willing to allow as free admission as they could, consistently with due security to works of art.

Mr. Cowper

said, the statement of the right hon. Baronet must be gratifying to the House. The reduction of the charge of admission to the Abbey had only tended to render the edifice more of a show-place than it was before. When the charge of admission was high, persons were allowed to walk in and go where they chose; but when a reduction was made, the persons admitted were assembled to the number of twelve, and they then went round, accompanied by a showman, who, in the vulgar manner adopted by exhibitors of waxworks, described the interesting monuments and relics in the building. He strongly objected to a church being converted into a place of exhibition; and he might remind the House that the Abbey was not erected with the object of enabling the dean and chapter to levy a tax upon the public. He thought the public might be admitted into the chapels gratuitously, if they were accompanied by a person whose duty it should be to take care that no injury was done to the monuments or to the edifice. He hoped that the concession announced by the right hon. Baronet was only the prelude to a still further concession, which would afford the public admission to all religious edifices without payment of any pecuniary fee.

Mr. Williams

wished the right hon. Baronet had compelled the deans and chapters of Westminster and St. Paul's to give the public free admission to those edifices, for he would thereby have removed the stain upon the character of the clergy which attached to them under the present system of requiring fees. He believed the clergy of the Established Church were the only body in this country who demanded fees for the exhibition of their religious edifices. The cathedrals were public property, and did not belong exclusively to the clergy, who derived large revenues from their exhibition. He hoped his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume) would not relax in his laudable efforts to obtain admission for the public to all cathedrals without the payment of any fee.

Mr. Borthwick

expressed his gratification at the statement which had just been made by the right hon. Baronet; but he thought the object hon. Gentlemen opposite were anxious to attain would be more effectually secured by the spontaneous good feeling of the clergy, than by any Resolution of the House. His opinion was, that the public ought to have access gratuitously to St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey.

Mr. Hume

said, he had heard the statement of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) with great satisfaction. He hoped the right hon. Baronet would exert his influence to have all other cathedrals, as well as Westminster Abbey, thrown open to the public. He thought the proposed charge of 6d. for admission to the chapels in Westminster Abbey, ought to be reduced to half that amount. Under the circumstances, he would not press his Motion.—Motion withdrawn.