HC Deb 25 July 1850 vol 113 cc253-7

On the Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair,"


said, he had given notice of the following Motion, which, with the permission of the House, he should now read:— That, in the opinion of tins House, the present regulations for restricting the admission of the public to St. Paul's Cathedral are injurious to the cultivation of those feelings of veneration for religion and of respect for departed greatness which a free access to that sacred edifice and its monuments is calculated to inspire. That the recommendation by the Select Committee on National Monuments, of 'free admission daily, especially on Sundays, reconciling such admission with the due and undisturbed performance of religious services,' having been carried out for some years in Westminster Abbey, and in many of our county cathedrals, the good conduct of the people in those cases, and wherever confidence has been reposed in them, has completely refuted all previous objections, and shown that free admission may safely be granted. That an humble Address he therefore presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to adopt such measures as may afford to the public free and gratuitous admission to St. Paul's and its monuments. He did not desire on that occasion to do more than call the attention of the House to what he conceived to be a very interesting subject, namely, the admission of the public to St. Paul's Cathedral. Hon. Members might remember that, on the occasion of Her Majesty's accession to the Throne, an address was presented, signed by 600 artists and men of science, which emanated from a public meeting held at the Freemasons' Tavern. That address or petition was taken notice of by the present First Lord of the Treasury, who was then Secretary of State for the Homo Department, and that noble Lord addressed communications to the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's, to the Bean and Chapter of Westminster, and to the Constable of the Tower, the Duke of Wellington, recommending that facilities should be given to the public for visiting those places; and he was happy to say that the result had been productive of the greatest possible improvement in the population of this metropolis. As a proof of that statement, he might mention that Colonel Rowan, the late head of the police department, declared, in his evidence, that great crowds, consisting of the inhabitants of London, were much more manageable now than they had been formerly. In the southern parts of London and its vicinity fairs were usually held, at which quarrels and riots had been exceedingly frequent; but during the two years preceding the period at which he gave his evidence those scenes of violence and dis- order had nearly ceased. It was the opinion of all who turned their attention to the subject, that a free admission to those places where a liberal curiosity might he gratified, gave the people a habit of assembling decorously, and trained the mass of the community to quiet and orderly habits; so that two constables could now keep a greater crowd in order than twenty could have done formerly. He had observed with much pleasure the deportment of the crowds who visited Hampton-court; and he repeated that such opportunities of enjoyment did much towards humanising and improving them. If they trusted the English people, there would be no cause of complaint; and he was happy to say that the beneficial effect of a reasonable confidence was already felt, not only in London, but throughout the country. Westminster Abbey had been opened by order of the present dean, with the exception of a small fee for admission to the chapels, to which there was no objection; thus presenting a very favourable contrast to the course of conduct pursued by the authorities at St. Paul's. Those who went to attend divine service there were driven out the moment service was over, and all who entered at other times were obliged to pay 2d. and 1s. for viewing the monuments. The building in a great degree was raised at the public expense, and many of the great monuments were paid for by the public. Nelson and others, to whom monuments had been erected, were still objects of popular admiration, and nothing but a narrow spirit excluded the public from them. He hoped, then, that the noble Lord would refer to his letter on the subject, and that the right hon. Gentleman the present Secretary at War, then Under Secretary of State, would also remember that letter. The reasons assigned by Mr. Sydney Smith against opening the cathedral appeared to him by no means sufficient, and had not had the effect of convincing any one. Again, he would say that the best consequences had arisen from the practice of opening the cathedrals; the people entered those vast and magnificent buildings with feelings of reverence and awe. He wished for the present merely to put his resolutions on the table, and if facilities of admission were not granted before next Session he should certainly feel it his duty to take some step; though he probably never in that House would undertake another Committee; yet, if something effectual were not done in this matter, he pos- sibly might he induced to adopt such a course; for he estimated most highly the value of those facilities. As regarded the views which others took of them, Lord Stanley, as one of the trustees of the British Museum, was opposed to letting in the public lest mischief might ensue; but millions had now enjoyed that privilege, and Lord Stanley had the candour to acknowledge that they had not abused it. The noble Lord admitted that on May-day as many as 32,000 persons visited the Museum without any ill consequences—nothing had been touched. He had only to add the expression of his deliberate persuasion that the people would be grateful for any attempt made to improve them, and it was gratifying to observe that the example set in England had been advantageously followed in Edinburgh. He should content himself with these few observations, hoping that the House would not consider he had detained them too long.


agreed in the general opinion expressed by the hon. Member for Montrose, that it was desirable a free admission should be granted to the public to view all objects of national interest. The Dean of St. Paul's, in transmitting to him the return lately moved for by the hon. Member for Montrose, as to the money taken for admission to St. Paul's Cathedral during the last five years, had written him a letter stating that the account was furnished by the vergers, who had been for a long period the sole irresponsible receivers of these payments, of which no account was rendered to the Dean and Chapter, and which do not pass their audits. The dean added, that he had been endeavouring to put this subject on a more satisfactory footing; but the control now exercised over the chapter revenues by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had created a difficulty in providing payment for the vergers in lieu of the tax levied on the public. In consequence of this letter be (Sir G. Grey) inquired how the matter stood with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and he found that the subject had been several times under their consideration; but they had come to the conclusion that they were not authorised by law to sanction the arrangement proposed by the dean. He (Sir G. Grey) thought some alteration of the law might, therefore, be necessary; but he would communicate further with the Dean and with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, in the hope that some arrange- ment might be made by which the object could be obtained.

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