HC Deb 16 June 1856 vol 142 cc1560-70

brought up the Report of the Votes agreed to in Committee of Supply on Friday evening.

On the recital of the Vote of £3,500 for the erection of a suspension-bridge across the ornamental water in the Inclosure in St. James's Park—


rose, and said: Mr. Speaker, I have often heard it said that the proper way of conducting business in this House would be to vote first and to discuss afterwards, and assuredly the course I am about to take has at least this recommendation, that it merits the praise due to such a proceeding. I can hardly hope that anything I may say will induce the Government to rescind this Vote, or persuade the House to express an opinion that they should do so. But as I am aware that there are many hon. Members who, though anxious to have spoken on the subject last Friday, were precluded from doing so, and among them the hon. Member for Coventry (Sir J. Paxton), whose opinions are naturally looked to with interest on a question that has attracted so much attention both in this House and out of doors, I have thought it right to oppose the Vote upon the present occasion for this reason, if for no other—that the Members to whom I allude may be enabled to explain their views. There are two points, however, which I am particularly anxious to press upon the consideration of the House. The first is, whether we ought to sacrifice the beauty of our parks for the sake of public convenience; the second, whether we are prepared to intrust the expenditure of the public money to the Board of Works for the construction of ornamental works in this metropolis without having had the plans previously submitted to us. Now, Sir, the question whether public convenience and not beauty ought to be consulted in the arrangement of the parks was long ago decided, when the matter under discussion was the acceptance or rejection of the original plan which, as suggested by the First Commissioner of Works, contemplated the opening of a direct communication between Marylebone and Westminster. That project would, undoubtedly, have been by far the most convenient for the public. There would then have been a road right across the park, which would have afforded ample accommodation not only for foot passengers and equestrians, but for cabs, carriages, and omnibuses. But the plan most certainly did not find favour either with the public, the Committee, or the House, and accordingly it was negatived. The obvious inference from that fact is, that it is not desirable that the beauty of the park should be sacrificed to public convenience. But that question having been settled in the main is now again presented in a modified form. It is now proposed to erect a footbridge for passengers over the ornamental water. Now, Sir, that piece of water is so extremely beautiful that for my part I should dread to lay a hand upon it, lest I should spoil it. I should be sorry however to offer my own opinion as a rule of conduct in such a matter, but what I would venture to recommend is that the Government should take the course which any private gentleman would under the same circumstances adopt, namely, consult with persons competent to pronounce a decisive judgment on the point. Happily we have among us the hon. Member for Coventry, who, from the manner in which he has laid out the grounds at the Crystal Palace, is entitled to be regarded as an authority on such subjects. Due weight ought to be attached to whatever falls from him, and, as far as I am concerned, I shall be guided in the main by what he says as to whether any bridge will or will not detract from the beauty of the Park. With respect to the other point I have alluded to, namely, the propriety of entrusting to the Board of Works the expenditure of public money for the erection of ornamental structures, without an opportunity having been previously afforded us to examine the plans, that is a matter on which I have a very strong opinion. I think that as a general rule we should not do so; and I know nothing with reference to the general conduct of the Board in such matters, or as regards the taste and judgment displayed by the department, which should justify us in departing from that rule on the present occasion. And, talking of the taste and judgment of the department, I will mention a singular illustration of both. Two years ago £1,000 was voted for the erection of a new pedestal for the statue of King Charles at Charing Cross. The reason assigned was that the old one was in a state of decay, and that the safety of the statue required that it should be renewed. The old pedestal had been designed and executed by the celebrated carver, Grinling Gibbons. The attention of the First Commissioner of Works, the late Sir William Molesworth, was called to the subject. It was subsequently suggested, however, that the pedestal was not in so bad and unsafe a condition as had been supposed; and the First Commissioner having directed further inquiry to be made into the matter, it was found that, instead of an entirely new pedestal costing £1,000, all that was required was that some slight repairs should be effected, at a very trifling expense, on the existing beautiful specimen of art. Now this, I apprehend, points out that we cannot always depend on the taste and judgment of the Board of Works. If the right hon. Gentleman (Sir B. Hall) had been a dictator, and there had been no press and no House of Commons in this country, we should now have had the park cut up by the intersection of a broad road for the transit of waggons, carts, omnibuses, &c. The right hon. Gentleman has, in my opinion, therefore, displayed no taste and no appreciation—I will not say for the beautiful in general—but for the beauty of St. James's Park. Under these circumstances, I do not think it desirable, when we are dealing with a park of such great and acknowledged beauty as St. James's, to entrust him with the erection of this bridge, without our previously seeing the design for the structure. Indeed, we ought to lay it down as a general principle, that whenever it is proposed to expend the public money on ornamental works, the plans sent in should be exhibited to this House, and public opinion brought to bear on the question, so that the best scheme may be fixed upon before the funds are voted. It is, therefore, with the view of insuring that a structure suited to the situation intended for it is erected, that I am anxious the money should not be granted until we have seen the design. I hope I shall not be deemed to be adopting a factious course on this occasion, but to be actuated simply by a deep interest in the preservation of the beauty of the park. Unfortunately in England all our public and private buildings, streets, and statues are more or less disgraceful; and I must say that, when one returns from Paris to London, he cannot but be struck with the dirt and meanness of our thoroughfares. With the exception of a few remarkable buildings, the metropolis has nothing but its, in our time, unequalled vastness to recommend it. In this metropolis we have but few bright and pleasant spots on which the eye delights to dwell, and which we are not ashamed to show to foreigners, and these are our parks. It is, Sir, precisely because I am anxious that we should not destroy those few agreeable places that I have brought this subject forward. It is, indeed, alleged that in the opinion of competent judges the proposed structure will not mar the beauty of the park; but I ask the House to refuse the money until it has seen the plan; and if I meet with any support, I shall divide the House against the Vote.


said, had he been present when the Vote was proposed on Friday night, he would certainly have begged the noble Lord at the head of the Government to defer it till another season. Not quite a fortnight ago a Vote of £2,800 was asked for to construct a footbridge across the ornamental lake in St. James's Park, and which was to have been placed about two feet six inches or three feet from the water. He strongly objected to that plan, because it would have cut the ornamental water in two and spoiled the prospect; and next day the right hon. Gentleman (Sir B. Hall) informed him that the Board proposed to put up a suspension-bridge eight feet from the water, so as to enable all parties to have a clear view of the ornamental lake and its banks. That appeared in some degree to obviate his objection; yet, when he came to reflect on the plan, he found that an inclined plane of considerable extent would be required to lead up to the suspension-bridge, and that such a project would still cut the park in two in much the same manner as the one previously proposed. The wiser course would be not to go on changing the plan for the bridge as had been done several times in the space of a few months, but to wait till some well-digested scheme had been prepared. If a bridge were really necessary—and he had never seen any reason to believe it was—the House and the public ought at all events to know the kind of structure intended to be erected. On those grounds, therefore, he hoped that the Vote would be postponed.


said, that Mr. Sydney Smirke had, in 1834, suggested a suspension bridge of iron wire, a structure which would not be open to objection in point of taste; he meant a bridge composed of what the French called fil de fer, supported on iron columns, and in his opinion a bridge of that construction would certainly not be an eye-sore in the park. Since the last discussion, however, he had presented a petition which altogether contested the necessity for this bridge, and declared it was not required for the public convenience. The noble Lord at the head of the Government, when he moved the Vote, stated it was necessary for the accommodation of the poor. Such a consideration would deserve every attention; but they must recollect that the park was closed at the hours when the workmen were likely to pass. If a bridge was necessary, he thought the right hon. Baronet (Sir B. Hall) and his advisers could erect one which would not be very objectionable in point of taste; but the real question was, as he had just stated, whether it was absolutely wanted? If not, they had better leave it alone. He did not think the necessity had been proved, and would therefore support the Amendment.


said, it was admitted that some convenience was required, and as all hon. gentlemen of taste in the House condemned both the high and the low bridge, he ventured to make an humble suggestion, which would answer all the purposes of convenience. It was to give the people a somewhat larger ferry boat, and pay the man who worked it, so that the poor could be conveyed across free: the present boat could be retained for those who wished to pay a penny. A boat to hold eighteen or twenty persons would answer every purpose.


said, he would allow that he had no right to interfere with the opinion which the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) might form as to his taste or judgment in those matters, or his fitness or unfitness for the office he had the honour to hold; but he thought it rather hard that the noble Lord should insinuate that in advocating this bridge he was promoting his own personal objects, and only seeking to serve those whom he had the honour to represent. He hoped the House would not believe he could be guilty of such a dereliction of duty. The noble Lord, perhaps, was not aware that when the old bridge was taken down in 1828 or 1829 the feeling in the metropolis against its removal was so strong, and representations made to the Board of Works so urgent, that the then surveyor wrote to the Treasury recommending them to sanction a Vote of £8,500 for the erection of a new one. That at all events proved that the present plan was not a new one got up for personal objects. He could assure the House that many representations had been made to him by the inhabitants on the south side as well as the north side of the water, and he could tell the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Tite) that he had been earnestly requested to build this bridge as a great public convenience. The noble Lord (Lord Elcho) had also stated that he had no confidence in the Board of Works, because they had asked for £1,000 for a new pedestal for the statue of King Charles, and afterwards had the good sense to save the £1,000, and do what was necessary for £40. When he came into office he found the sum of £1,000 had been voted, but on examination he found that a new plinth under the horse was all that was required, and he thereby effected a saving of £960. The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) suggested a ferry boat. That, he conceived, would be a very inconvenient mode of transit. He would undertake to say, that if the House sanctioned the Vote, the bridge should be of the lightest possible character consistent with durability and the weight it would have to bear, and one that, he apprehended, would not expose him to a renewal of the condemnation which the noble Lord had so lavishly bestowed upon him that evening.


I trust, Sir, that the House will not be tempted by the right hon. Gentleman into discussing the question of a vote of confidence in the Ministry. I was a Member of the Committee to which this subject was referred, and not having spoken when the former discussion took place I was reproached by some of my colleagues for my silence. I can only now say that I remember, with pride and satisfaction, that in that Committee I voted against every proposition of the right hon. Gentleman—against foot-bridge and suspension-bridge alike; and I hope that the House will allow me one moment while I state the reasons that induced me to do so. I was mainly influenced in the course which I took by the reasons which have been urged by the noble Lord who has called our attention to the precipitate Vote of the other evening. It appeared to me that the enclosure of St. James's Park was one of those few objects of which we as Englishmen might be proud, and that the effect of any bridge of such a description as was brought before us would be to turn one very pretty ornamental lake into two very ugly ponds. I admit that an objection to taste may, in a limited degree, be met by an overpowering sense of public necessity; but I cannot recollect that in the Committee we had any evidence upon the subject; at all events, there was none of a very overwhelming character. I believe that we formed our opinion principally upon conversation and upon one or two memorials which were brought before us. Certainly, nothing like evidence of a nature calculated to prove a public necessity was brought before us. As to the romance of the workman, which the First Minister introduced into the subject, it will not stand the test of criticism for a moment, because the workman, at break of dawn, repairing to the seat of his daily toil, cannot enter the park, seeing that its gates are not opened until some hours afterwards. The question is then, whether you will, for the accommodation of a few persons, living in very reputable habitations in the vicinity of the park, take a step which would outrage every principle of taste and beauty. The right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works, says that we had a bridge before, which was accidentally destroyed, and that he can prove from the records of the office that there was a demand that the bridge should be restored. But the right hon. Gentleman forgot to remind us that that bridge was only an accidental and temporary structure, raised for the display of fire-works at the peace thirty years ago, which was not a period very eminent for taste; that there was no garden there then, but in its place a morass and a canal; and that the question was a mere consideration of convenience. I do not think, therefore, that the evidence of the right hon. Gentleman upon this point should greatly influence our decisions in coming to a vote with regard to it. What I wish to impress upon the House more particularly, however, is, that the Committee were called upon to decide on a very serious and extensive question, with very limited information, and in a very hurried manner. Remember, if this bridge is raised, whatever may be the subsequent opinion of the public upon it, however hideous they may think it—however limited the convenience which they may gain, we shall not very easily get rid of it; and therefore I think that we cannot take a more prudent or sensible course than at least to pause for another Session before we give a final sanction to its construction.


Sir, after the tone of solemnity in which the right hon. Gentleman has discussed this subject, perhaps it may not be superfluous to state that I do not consider it to be of such magnitude as to make me recommend it to the House as one of confidence or no confidence in the Government. Assuredly the discussion which has taken place this evening is somewhat in opposition to certain well-established maxims, which are usually accepted in this country. One maxim is "De gustibus non est disputandum," and yet the whole of our disputation has gone upon nothing but matters of taste. However, as every man may express his opinion upon a matter of taste, I must say that I differ entirely from those who think that a bridge is a deformity which can only be justified by absolute necessity. That has not been the opinion of those who have had to lay out places which have excited the admiration of all who have freqented them. Has nobody been at Wilton, or does no one recollect the bridge there which cuts the water in two, which has not even a walk to it, and for which certainly there is no necessity? Does nobody recollect the bridge at Blenheim? There is no absolute necessity for it. It cuts the water into two parts; it might have been avoided; but it has always been considered a great ornament, and has been much admired. I think, therefore, that a bridge is, in itself, a beauty instead of a deformity; but of all bridges a suspension bridge is in its nature the most graceful. Everybody knows that the line which a flexible body suspended between two fixed points describes is that which is so much admired as the catenarian curve or line of beauty. A suspension bridge must, therefore, be an exceedingly handsome structure, and one which must give delight to every man of taste. Before leaving the question of the beautiful, I must make an observation upon what fell from the right hon. Gen- tleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), who objected to a light suspension bridge as an object that would in his eye be ugly, and proposed instead a large lumbering square ferryboat that would fill up perhaps half the middle of the lake. I remember when I used to travel from London to Dublin that we had to stop at the Menai Straits in the middle of the night, and blow a horn until a man brought a large, ugly, lumbering ferryboat from the other side. According to the right hon. Gentleman that arrangement was infinitely preferable to that bridge over the Menai Straits, which people travel from immense distances to gaze upon as an object of wonder and admiration. Sir, I certainly am not for the old ferryboat. Believing that a light suspension bridge would be an ornament to the gardens, I come next to consider whether there would be any utility in it. We have been told by hon. Gentlemen on the other side that there is no absolute necessity for a bridge. I admit it; but, let me ask, what necessity can ever be shown for anything of the sort? There is no necessity for a communication between Belgravia and St. James's Street, and if the authors of the scheme had been put to show that it was a matter of absolute necessity, the passage by Marlborough House would, I apprehend, never have been broached. Again, it is all very well for those who ride in carriages or on horseback to say that it is immaterial to the people whether they have a long or a short road to travel over; but to those who have to pass between Westminster and the western and northern parts of the town, the question is a very serious one. At present they are compelled to walk round by the Horse Guards on one side or Buckingham Palace on the other, to get to a point which, if there was a bridge across the lake, they might reach with the utmost celerity. I am certainly of opinion that the bridge would be a great convenience to foot passengers, and I really think it is a mockery to tell the lower classes that, while we are consulting our own comfort by making a road for persons who use carriages, they must continue to walk all the way round by the Horse Guards or the Palace, because we think our eyes would be offended at seeing a bridge. Such language would be creditable neither to the taste nor to the good feeling of the House of Commons, and I hope will not be used upon the present occasion.


said, it was admitted on all sides that there was no public necessity for this expenditure, which could not be, from all he had heard in the course of the discussion, of any use to the mass of the people. Under such circumstances, as the representative of a large constituency of working men who would be called upon to pay a portion of the Vote, he objected to it in toto, and he appealed to hon. Gentlemen whether it was fair that roads and bridges for their own personal convenience should be made at the public expense?


said, that he could assure the noble Lord at the head of the Government that the opponents of the Vote did not think a bridge a deformity; but when gardens had been admirably laid out without reference to a bridge, they believed that the introduction of such a structure would have an injurious effect. He agreed with those who thought that the people would be perfectly accommodated by a free ferry, which might be maintained with two boats at a comparatively trifling expense.


said, he must contend that the people of Westminster would derive great benefit from the proposed bridge, and he denied that the plan had been brought forward with a view to please the electors of Marylebone and Westminster.


said, he must beg to express his regret that anything which had fallen from him should have given pain either to the right hon. President of the Board of Works, or to the hon. Baronet who spoke last. He used the words "Marylebone and Westminster," merely to describe the localities which would be affected by the proposed bridge, and not with any view to offend the hon. Representatives of those places, who, he was well aware, would be the last men to use their influence in that House to promote their own private interests.


said, he was in favour of a bridge to accommodate the lower classes, and he hoped the Board of Works would take good advice before they spent their money.

Motion made, and Question put, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

The House divided:—Ayes 119; Noes 93: Majority 26.

Vote agreed to.

On the Vote of £4,977,200 for the Transport Service and Prisoners of War,


said, he must again complain of the delay which had taken place in bringing back our troops to this country from the Crimea. Several large transports had been lying unemployed for weeks at Constantinople, and he thought great apathy, if not neglect, was attributable to the Government in leaving our gallant army exposed to the risk of disease in a climate which at this period of the year was most unhealthy. He believed that the ships sent out would not have been sent but for a letter from the Commander in Chief, stating that he would not be responsible for the health of the troops if ships were not at once despatched to bring them home. Had the Government shown any energy or decision the troops might have been brought back in ships of war, and one-half the expense for transport saved.

Vote agreed to; as were also the remaining Votes.

The House adjourned at Two o'clock.