HC Deb 14 April 1851 vol 116 cc190-200

Order for going into Committee of Supply read.


begged to call the attention of the House to the so-called interior decoration of the New House of Commons, persisted in by the architect in opposition to the declared wishes of the Members of the House. Having recently inspected the New House of Commons with the view of ascertaining what progress was being made, he had been much astonished at the unsatisfactory state in which the interior of the House was at present. When the subject last came under discussion it was the almost unanimously expressed opinion that the House should be fitted up in the plainest, the most simple, and the most unornamented manner, and as much in contrast as possible to the gorgeous and gingerbread gilding of the House of Lords. He presumed, however, that the architect had taken advantage of the absence from town of the hon. Member for Lancaster (MR. T. Greene), for he found that there were not two square inches of the wainscotting, or any part of the interior, that had not been ornamented, or rather he should say disfigured, by wretched fantastic carving, so that it looked more like some monastery of the tenth or twelfth century, than a representative chamber of the nineteenth. The enormous propensity of MR. Barry for gilding whatever he laid his hands upon, had been immediately commenced. The ceilings of the galleries were commenced to be gilded; and there were, amongst other things, shields to contain the armorial bearings of the Speakers for the last 500 years; and although he had every respect for those Gentlemen, he thought that was a species of ornament that might have been dispensed with. There were also 200 small shields or escocheons which had been carved out, and were to be painted, no doubt in very gaudy and glaring colours. He did not pretend to be a dilettante or a man of great taste; but it certainly could not he denied that light was necessary to a legislative chamber, and that facilities for hearing were also most important. MR. Barry's neglect of the latter had occasioned the roof to be lowered, and by that step he had taken away half the light that was previously afforded. Besides that, the glass was to be painted, and every sort of grotesque figure in the most inharmonious colours was to be seen. It was not the very clearest climate that we lived in, and surely none of the light of heaven should be excluded. He begged to inquire of the hon. Member for Lancaster how these circumstances had occurred, and at the same time to return his thanks to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having ordered a complete cessation of these ornamental proceedings about a fortnight since.


said, that the House had last Session voted 8,500l. for this purpose. He should be glad to know whether the alterations already made had not cost a sum approaching double that which the House had voted, and which had been stated to be a sufficient estimate for the alterations required.


said, that the Commissioners at their last meeting had called upon MR. Barry to give an account of what had been expended in the alterations directed by the House. The works were not yet completed, and it was difficult to state precisely, but he believed that they would come within the sum voted by the House. With reference to the mode in which the present decorations had been introduced, he must say that it was his full idea when he left London that it was the desire of the House that the new chamber should be as unadorned as possible; and he certainly thought that MR. Barry quite understood that to be the case. When he returned, he desired MR. Barry to state the reason why he had not acted on that understanding; and MR. Barry's reply was, "I was not aware of any declared wish with respect to the decorations of the House of Commons." He (MR. Greene) repeated that he thought MR. Barry had that knowledge, and he was much surprised, when he returned to London, to hear of the decorations. They had taken place without his (MR. Greene's) sanction, and, having been brought under the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, their further progress had been at once stopped. The ceiling had been so far finished that the Commissioners did not feel justified in going to the expense of scraping it off again. But of course the House might exercise its pleasure upon that point. With respect to what appeared under the gallery, and the shields, the Commissioners had not yet given any special directions, and MR. Barry had requested them to suspend their orders until a portion of the lower part of the House should be finished. It was the intention of the Commissioners to have what yet remained vacant built up with plain oak, and not to have the shields painted. In their present form he owned that these decorations were very unsightly to him, and he assured the House that it was the anxious desire of the Commissioners to meet their wishes. With regard to the acoustic properties of the House, he frankly owned he did not think that the course adopted by the Committee had been the wisest, for he believed that if the ceiling had been left as it was, and the galleries had been widened, there would have been every requisite facility for hearing. He did not think that any difficulties would be experienced with reference to light. Their sittings were usually in the evening, and the now chamber would be quite as well lighted as their present one.


wished to know if written instructions had been issued to Mr. Barry by the Commissioners relative to decorations?


said that there had been no written instructions. It was almost impossible, in point of fact, to lay down minute details as to decorations; but his understanding certainly was that the interior should be fitted up in as plain a manner as possible, and without any decorations.


as a Member of the Committee, wished to remind the House that they had determined to try an experimental roof, and that, having done so upon several occasions, it was ultimately resolved to build the roof after the experimental form. He also had understood it to be the general wish that the interior should be perfectly plain, without any painting or decoration whatever. He was greatly surprised to hear that some painting had been introduced, and he immediately ordered that no further decoration should be proceeded with.


recollected that in the Committee his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had distinctly cautioned Mr. Barry as to the decorations of the House, and his not exceeding the expenditure for which he had given an estimate. He sincerely hoped that, so far as possible, the hon. Member for Lancaster would see that the estimate was not exceeded. He understood it was intended there should be a shield for the arms of every borough; but as he represented a borough—not a very insignificant one, but still which was not incorporated, and therefore had no arms—he hoped that would not be the case. He thought that the new House would be much more commodious in every point of view than the present, and that all the lobbies and appurtenances would be a great improvement; but he should be glad to know when they would be likely to get into the building, because they had gone on year after year, and he believed that the longer they were kept out, the greater would be the expense. He did not see the slightest reason why they should not be able to enter immediately after the Easter holidays.


said, that Mr. Barry had stated that he believed after Whitsuntide they might enter, but that the difficulty arose from the circumstance of the walls of the lobbies being yet so wet that they might destroy the panelling. For himself, he did not think that until the libraries should be finished, the rooms adjoining fit to be occupied, and the Members' entrances completed, there would be much advantage to be gained from getting in. Neither did he think that any great additional expense would be incurred if they delayed their final occupation until next year. Still the Commissioners would urge Mr. Barry forward as much as possible.


denied that Mr. Barry had ever received any instructions with respect to the ornament of the House. As they had adopted a certain style with respect to architecture, they should have the details and ornaments carried out in a similar taste, otherwise they would be acting in a most absurd manner. As the House had chosen to adopt this style of architecture, Mr. Barry was quite right in adopting the style of decoration in unison with it, and had therefore been improperly stopped. He was not MR. Barry's advocate—he believed Mr. Barry had committed more faults than any other architect; in fact the country had paid 1,000,000l. in the education of Mr. Barry as a mediæval architect—but he considered, as Mr. Barry had perfected himself in that style of education which the country had prescribed, he ought not to be censured for carrying out its principle. He differed from the opinion of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. T. Greene) about the un-coloured heraldic decorations. He was at a loss to conceive how the idea of heraldic decorations was to be carried out without using colour. He did not agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir De Lacy Evans) with respect to the fault he found about the decorations. He believed the decorations to be suitable, and in character with the design of the building. He would call the attention of the House to the wording of the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster. The words of the Motion went to impugn the professional reputation of the architect employed by that House, inasmuch as the Motion would lead persons to believe that the architect was acting in opposition to the wishes of the House and the nation. He considered it was not fair towards Mr. Barry to create such an impression.


said, he had been requested by Mr. Barry to make a statement to the House; and, in justice to an absent individual, he hoped the House would allow him to do so. The statement was this:— Mr. Barry has not been made acquainted with any declared wishes on the part of the Members of the House as to the decorations of the new House of Commons, and knows nothing of the existence of such a declaration collectively or individually. Mr. Barry is not persisting in carrying into effect the 'so-called' internal decoration of the House, which was suspended on its being objected to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Heraldry is absolutely essential to the character and the full expression of the Tudor style of the design adopted by Parliament, and it is the only means of giving historic interest to it, which, in a great national edifice devoted to the object of the New Palace at Westminster, is most desirable for many reasons. A display of heraldry and suitable historic decorations has always formed an essential feature of the design and estimates of the building sanctioned by Parliament, and I have never received any intimation, cither written or verbal, to forego the use of it. He supposed, therefore, that all these decorations had been sanctioned by Parliament, as they had been laid before the authorities when the estimates were before them. He was sorry to have heard the statement of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. T. Greene) as to the internal decorations, for he (Colonel Rawdon) was at a loss to understand how heraldic decorations could be carried on without colours. As to the decorations referred to by that hon. and gallant Officer the Member for Westminster (Sir De Lacy Evans), he dobted whether the gallant Officer could have been in the new House; there was a lighter colour in the ceiling, because Mr. Barry said he found that if it was entirely of oak colour, being so low as it now was, it would have a very sombre and heavy appearance. In a gorgeous palace of this kind, they ought to create as much historic interest in it as possible. But he wished to call attention to the form of notice of the hon. and gallant Officer, and to say that, while the right hon. Gentleman in the chair claimed for every Member in that House a right of speech, he thought no hon. Member was bound to put into print a notice of this kind, which impugned the professional character of a professional man. The notice was neither more nor less than this—that an architect employed by the country was acting in opposition to the repeated wishes of Parliament. They ought to be careful in dealing with the character of a professional man. The wishes of the House had not been conveyed in a manner so authoritative, and therefore the hon. and gallant Officer was not justified in saying that the architect was proceeding in opposing the wishes of the House.


said, the hon. and gallant Gentleman told them that Mr. Barry intended to pursue the style of decorations he thought expedient, notwithstanding anything that might fall from the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Commissioners. Every person appeared to be satisfied with the decorations of the House last year. The House was perfectly plain, and if it was necessary that colouring should be used, the House had a right to complain that it had not been used before then. But there seemed to be no end to the expense of the new House. They began with an estimate of 500,000l.; he believed it now amounted to 2,000,000l. He wished to know what was the actual expense incurred up to that moment, and what it would be to bring the works to a close. By a return he held in his hand he found that the quantity of water to be supplied for the new and old Houses and official residences was 260,000 gallons a day while the House was sitting, and 100,000 during the recess; but he had been credibly informed that that was a larger supply than would be afforded to a town of 14,000 inhabitants. If they went on in that way, the people of the country would be very much dissatisfied with their management of this matter. The Government ought to come to some decision on the point. For his own part, he believed the error had arisen from the Board of Works being united with the Woods and Forests, instead of being conducted by a separate and responsible Minister,


thought the noble Lord had misunderstood the statement of the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Rawdon). The hon. and gallant Member stated that Mr. Barry did not understand that any express orders had been given, but as soon as he found such orders were given he suspended all operations, and would not proceed in the smallest degree without the authority of the House.


said, he had recommended on a previous occasion that Mr. Barry should be removed from his situation; and he did that as a simple matter of unfitness, and not as a question of pounds, shillings, and pence. The idea of spending 2,500,000l. on a building, which, after all, was not a suitable one, presented an absurdity not to be equalled in the annals of human folly. He foresaw that so long as Mr. Barry could build up and pull down, paint and unpaint, at his pleasure, there never would be an end to it. The House was not to blame in the matter. No party could take more trouble than had been taken by the Committee. Finding that Mr. Barry was unprepared and unfit to defend his estimates, the Committee had given him an entire year in which to come forward with all his plans and estimates, and to have everything ready; and the Board of Works had recommended that he should not be allowed to commence the work till all the plans were agreed on and ready to be contracted for for 750,000l. The moment the House of Lords was finished, he (Mr. Hume) had complained that there was not sufficient accommodation for the House of Commons, and had stated that if Mr. Barry was allowed to proceed with it he would make it a gewgaw, just like the House of Lords, and not fit for that House. The House had negatived that proposition. He was convinced that the House would not be finished in five years unless some other plan were taken. Two years ago he had moved for a return of the expense incurred, as well as an estimate of all that was to be expended; and the Government of the day had done extremely wrong in allowing the works to proceed without obtaining that estimate. Mr. Barry would now have to receive 50,000l. or 70,000l. It was all very well for him getting his 5 per cent on the outlay, but it was contrary to the express agreement. But the Government was more to blame than Mr. Barry, who was obtaining his education at the cost of 1,000,000l., in order to perfect himself in architecture, at the expense of the country; and he had no doubt the building would cost another million.


said, his recollection of the first estimate was, that it should he 764,000l. Then it became necessary to make an embankment apart from the original estimate, the cost of which was 80,000l. After that, the House adopted a system of ventilation, and it was necessary to erect a tower; that was sanctioned by the House, and cost 70,000l. more. That raised the cost above 914,000l. But then there was the purchase of houses in Abingdonstreet; and, besides that, there was the furniture of the building, extending over an immense space of ground, and with a façade unrivalled in richness, as well as in lineal extent, by any other in continental Europe. But he believed that the money already expended had not been half of 2,500,000l.; and, be the architect faultless or faulty, it was of importance to his reputation that the facts should be accurately stated. Some individual Members might have complained; but where was the record of opinion of a Committee, or of that House, on the assumption of which opinion the notice now on the table had been given? He denied that there had been any such expression of opinion; and, though he could not agree with the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. T. Greene), when he said there was an understanding on the subject, still he thought Mr. Barry would say there was no intimation of a declared will or wish on the part of the House or the Committee that he should omit or do anything that he had done or omitted. He thought it due to the character of an architect of first-rate reputation—for first rate he believed Mr. Barry would have been, even if he had not been the architect of the New Houses of Parliament—to make this statement to the House.


feared that the hon. Baronet had not listened to the observations of the hon. Member for Marylebone, who had stated that he had heard a conversation between the architect and the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject of the decorations. The hon. Member for Lancaster had also stated that an understanding was come to with Mr. Barry on that subject. He (Lord Claude Hamilton) most fully conceded that no Englishman could be indifferent to the feeling that tenderness should be exhibited in dealing with an absent man; and he, therefore, deeply deplored that the hon. Member for the University of Oxford should have thrown out as a taunt that, because the House had not formally recorded its condemnation of the architect of the New Palace, it was to be assumed that they approved of every thing he had done. He apprehended it would place Mr. Barry in a worse position than he was before; for if approval was assumed because no formal protest was made, the House might not in future consult that feeling of consideration by which they had been actuated. He wished to say nothing with respect to Mr. Barry's talents; they had heard that the decorations were not approved by the Commissioners; and, being the representatives of those who had to pay for the building, if they invited attention to their proceedings by their publication, he asked whether they were not setting a bad example in allowing Mr. Barry, without specifications, without draw- ings, without plans, without consulting the Commissioners, to incur any expense he liked, and to involve the country in the payment of any of his fancies, however little in accordance with the wishes of the taxpayers? The grave error, from which sprung all other errors, was commited in 1835, when the architects were not bound down by any specification as to amount. All the architects were invited to compete, but nothing like an estimate was given. The result was, that one plan would have cost 200,000l., and another 1,100,000l.; there was no limit, and the dearest of all the plans was selected, for the amount had been nearly doubled. He hoped that some limit would now be placed on that expenditure, and, instead of desultory, and perhaps invidious, conversation, that the House would treat the matter as one of practical business.


hoped the House would come to some understanding on the matter. Mr. Barry ought to receive specific authority, and ought to be obliged to act on that, and on that alone.


would like to know who was responsible? He had the strongest possible feeling that the conduct and management ought to be put under some responsible administration.


must revert to the discussion on the New Houses of Parliament; he wished to know who was responsible, for positively no one seemed responsible?


understood that the responsibility rested with the Commissioners; but, owing to the illness of one hon. Gentleman, who was, therefore, absent from England for some time, the Commissioners did not meet; and in that interval the decorations which he had stopped were introduced.


said, the Commissioners had to determine upon the decorations, furniture, and fittings, subject to the approval of the Treasury with regard to the cost. He did not wish it to be understood that he said there was an understanding with Mr. Barry as to the ornaments, but that the Commissioners conferred with him on the subject. He thought Mr. Barry did understand; but he was ready to believe that that gentleman was not at all aware what were the wishes of the Commissioners.


considered that the blame rested with the Treasury, who were responsible for the expense. As a mem- ber of the Committee who sat towards the close of last Session, he could only say, that they determined that no expense should be incurred beyond what was absolutely necessary for securing a further extension of room to accommodate the number of Members usually in attendance. Their opinion was against painted windows, for fear of diminishing the quantity of light. Half the windows had been cut off to secure the necessary amount of room; and, now the windows were painted, he could not read moderate-sized print without great difficulty. The light was so deficient that he believed they would require at noonday such artificial light as they had then; and the expense of those windows must, in addition, be very considerable. He knew not who were responsible; but he was sure the Committee were not responsible, for in every discussion the principle of economy had never been lost sight of. All they had ventured to recommend was an extension of room; and he greatly regretted the expense, which no one had authorised.


asked, whether Mr. Barry had given in any statement of the expense of ornaments and fittings to be submitted to the Treasury?


could not give a very satisfactory reply. The whole arrangements were now in the order of the Committee, and the Commissioners felt that it had been taken out of their hands.