HC Deb 12 June 1857 vol 145 cc1666-70

I rise, Sir, in pursuance of notice, to call the attention of the Government to the great inconvenience which is experienced by ladies attending Her Majesty's Drawing-rooms at St. James's Palace, owing to the want of proper arrangements for their reception and departure. Sir, the subject may not be one of public importance, nevertheless it is one of no small domestic interest, for it concerns the comfort, the convenience, and the health of a large portion of Her Majesty's most loyal and dutiful subjects, and those over whose happiness it is one of our first and principal duties and privileges to watch. This is by no means the first time the matter has come before the public, for complaints of the faulty arrangements at St. James's Palace on days when Her Majesty holds Courts there, date from Her Majesty's accession, and have been ever since of annual recurrence, and indignation has been annually expressed at the ordeal gone through by those who attend those assemblies, which, instead of being a pleasing and agreeable duty, has become a painful and distressing task, in consequence of the defective arrangements and the limited and inconvenient accommodation provided. But all these complaints and all that indignation pass by and are forgotten, because the sufferers in question are of the gentler sex, whose voices cannot be heard within these walls, and who are, therefore, constrained to suffer in silence, or at least to content themselves with making their complaints known through the circles of their friends or through the columns of the newspapers. The grievance, however, has at length become unbearable, and the proceedings of last Saturday leave one a hope that scenes so painful and so distressing as were then witnessed have occurred for the last time. I am confident that, had the noble Lord at the head of the Government, whose generosity and sympathy towards those whose hardships I am endeavouring to represent is so well known—I am confident that, had he been a witness of those scenes, he would be induced to give orders that would prevent their recurrence. Indeed, I know that it is only necessary to call his attention to the fact, to ensure such a change as shall effectually prevent similar complaints in future. I need hardly remind the noble Lord, who, I regret, is not in his place—I need not remind the right hon. Baronet the First Commissioner of Woods, that times have greatly changed since this pile of buildings afforded ample accommodation, as it did in the times of the Stuarts for the assembling of the Court. What was in those days considered magnificent is now considered insignificant; and apartments which were then constructed as lofty and spacious, are now held to be small and mean. And how much more is the evil augmented, when we consider the vast increase in the numbers of those who throng to pay their respects and duty to their Sovereign—a crowd composed of the flower of the British people, who, on State occasions, contribute to form the most brilliant Court in the world, and an assemblage of beauty, the like of which no other nation in Europe can boast. But, Sir, if, on the one hand, we may well cherish a feeling of pride that these were our fair countrywomen, it is equally difficult, on the other hand, to repress a feeling of shame that they should have been exposed to the pains and hardships of Saturday last. It is only necessary to say, that 981 ladies attended the Drawing-room on Saturday last, of whom 264 were presented. In addition to this, there were a very large proportion of gentlemen present; but the returns upon that head he had not been able to obtain. However, keeping those numbers in view, it requires no great stretch of imagination to realize what on Saturday last was the state of that long, narrow corridor, which afforded the only means of egress and access to the Palace, excepting, of course, the private entrée, which is at the disposal of a limited number. It was rather with respect to the limited number of those ladies who were making their egress from the Palace, that he now wished more particularly to speak. It was difficult to imagine an arrangement more unsuited for the departure of a large number of people from a building. The corridor terminates abruptly at the front door of the Palace, and up to this door carriages are driven in rotation, and the names are called. But by this time the passage has become choked from end to end, and the pressure at the door has become excessive, so as to make the road to the carriage a matter of great difficulty and danger for a lady. When at last, however, she does reach the door, after a violent struggle, panting and exhausted, with her clothes crushed, perhaps torn, she finds her carriage has been compelled to drive on, and that her only alternative is to remain in the open shed, the only accommodation afforded, with a number of other ladies who are in a similar condition. In this plight, exposed to the inclemency of the weather, in the midst of the rain and damp, they are exposed to contact with attendants whose clothes were saturated with moisture. On Saturday last too many ladies had to endure all this—yes, prostrated with fatigue, fainting from the exhaustion, the heat, and the pressure of this "middle passage;" with, perhaps, costly and splendid clothing, crushed and utterly destroyed—many sunk on the matting for repose; not stretching themselves on benches, prepared against such an emergency, but upon the soiled and coarse matting that covered the flagstones, to wait there in patience for the moment when the carriages should be brought to their relief. Nor were benches wanted elsewhere, which might have alleviated in no small degree the amount of their sufferings. But where were they? Why, with a degree of ingenuity that reflected the highest credit upon the skill and judgment of somebody, these benches were placed in a position, not only entirely useless, but where they were a positive stumbling-block and a nuisance. They were placed down that large room where is placed that miserable structure known as the "pen," where they did the duty of traps and pitfalls, and caused not a few ill-fated ladies to be thrown violently to the ground. But why should he mention any particular arrangements where all were so bad. For what can be worse than the miserable "pen," at the fatal entry to which many a fair young girl's anticipations of a Drawing-room receive their first shock, and from which she escapes, perhaps, with a mutilated costume, no longer in a condition to be introduced to her Sovereign. Sir, do not think I have exaggerated a scene which I myself have with pain witnessed, and of which not a few ladies have assured me of the reality. I trust that I have said enough to justify me in having brought the matter before the House, and I feel that the appeal I am now making will not be disregarded by the noble Lord; but now that the circumstances have been brought before him, a remedy will be found. I am very confident also, Sir, that if our Royal Mistress could be made aware of how much was endured by those who gather together to bow before her and do her honour, that those warm sympathies which she possesses in so pre-eminent a degree, and which she never fails to extend to all her subjects, not only the highest and noblest in the land, but also the lowest and most humble, would impel her to have steps taken to prevent the recurrence of scenes so painful and so unbecoming.


then rose, but for some time he was unable to proceed in consequence of loud cries from the Opposition bunches for Lord E. Bruce (the Vice Chamberlain). At length, however, the right hon. Baronet proceeded to say—Sir, I have much pleasure in answering the appeal of my hon. Friend. I believe it is impossible to exaggerate the great inconvenience experienced by the ladies attending the Drawing-room on Saturday last. It must, however, be recollected that Drawing-rooms are now held in the same apartments in which they were held many years ago, when but from 100 to 200 persons assembled for the purpose of paying their respects to the Sovereign. And it may not be unknown to hon. Members that the time was, when, on the occasion of these Drawing-rooms, there being then sufficient room for the purpose, the Queen was in the habit of going round and noticing those persons whom she desired to honour. Instead, however, as then, of there being but 100 or 200 persons to assemble in the room, there were now upwards of 1,000—perhaps 1,400—persons gathered together. And, although the dresses of the ladies in former days were very large, yet I believe at the present moment they occupy very nearly the same space. It is, therefore, utterly impossible that any comfort should be experienced by those attending a Drawing-room in the present day, At the same time, I am happy to be able to inform the hon. Gentleman and the House, that I have received instructions from Her Majesty's Government to prepare plans for the purpose of enlarging the accommodation of St. James's Palace, and I hope I shall shortly be able to submit such plans to the House.


May I ask, whether the works will be commenced before the plans are submitted to Parliament?


The plans are not as yet drawn up; but, of course, the works will not be commenced until they have first been submitted to Parliament.