HC Deb 18 May 1858 vol 150 cc883-6

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to enable or facilitate grants of land to be made near populous places for the use and regulated recreation of adults and as playgrounds for poor children, said, he felt it undesirable at that particular hour of the evening (half-past seven) to detain the House at any length; but he hoped to be able to show the necessity of the measure he proposed. With a great increase of population and wealth, the poorer classes had been driven into more confined neighbourhoods, and no suitable spaces had been reserved where they might obtain air and exercise. It was twenty-five years since he first drew the attention of the House to this subject by proposing the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the necessity of public walks and parks in the neighbourhood of large towns, and of twenty-three hon. Gentlemen who assisted him at that period only three were now in the House. The Report of that Committee showed the absolute necessity of reserving places in the vicinity of populous towns for the benefit of the humbler classes and contained several suggestions, many of which had been adopted. Since that time the increase of population in the metropolis and manufacturing towns had increased 100 per cent—the increase in the country at large being 45 per cent. In Bethnal Green the increase in ten years had been 22 per cent; in Shoreditch, 30 per cent; in Islington, 75 per cent; in Chelsea, 50 per cent; in Bermondsey, 32 per cent; in Camberwell, 40 per cent; in Greenwich, 20 per cent. In the same period, Wolverhampton had increased 30 per cent; Birmingham, 25; and Bradford, 40. In the whole of England and Wales the increase had been only 14 per cent in the same period, and 9 per cent in the agricultural districts. In the period from 1801 to 1831, the increase of Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool, had been no less than 90 per cent. The House would easily see the necessity of some provision being made to meet this vast increase. In the Report of 1833, in the Health of Towns' Report of 1840, in the Reports of the Poor Law Commission in 1842 and 1845, the want of places of exercise for the poor residents in close towns had been pointed out. Of fifty towns possessing an aggregate population of 3,000,000 the water supply and drainage for the poor was deficient in 1847, so that the necessity for a supply of fresh air to those persons was apparent. In the denser populated districts the mortality was great, being in the eastern parts of the metropolis double that of the western districts. That was an index of illness, sickness, suffering, of widows and of orphans; and it was an index in the end of poor rates and of crime. The case was the same in the manufacturing towns as compared with agricultural districts. The law, as it at present stood, was greatly to blame for this state of things. He proposed, therefore, by his Bill to take power for setting apart suitable grounds in the neighbourhood of large towns. The Committee of 1833 hail recommended six such places near London. Three of them—Battersea Park, Victoria Park, and Primrose Hill Park—had since been formed. Independently of legislation, there was a hope of much being done to remedy those evils he had adverted to by the liberality of private individuals. He referred especially to such noble grants of ground for the purposes of public parks as had been made by Lord Calthorpe and the hon. Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Adderley). Three parks, also, had been opened in Manchester for the public enjoyment recently. Much, also, might be done by the owners of villas and parks near the metropolis. At present the first thing they did was to build up a high wall round their domain: if the proprietors would remove those walls, and substitute an open railing, it would afford great pleasure to the pedestrians in those neighbourhoods. The principle of limited liability might also be called in, to aid the efforts of those who wished to provide places of public recreation. He would suggest the erection of shelter houses in each of the parks, where amusements might be provided under proper regulation. He anticipated shortly the erection of what might be called railway villages, where working men would reside, being conveyed to and fro at a light expense by the railway companies. He would further suggest that the five or six commons in the neighbourhood of London should bedrained and appropriated as places of public recreation. His proposition hail also reference to providing playgrounds for poor children, a matter of deep importance to the rising generation in the vicinity of large towns. He had received an anonymous letter on this part of his Motion, addressed front a London clubhouse, the writer of which stated that lie (Mr. Slaney) could surely never be in earnest in his intention to propound such a suggestion to the House of Commons. He had, on the other hand, received a letter from the municipal body of the important and populous town of Sheffield, highly approving that part of his plan, and he thought he might fairly set that off against the communication of his anonymous correspondent. There were within the metropolis several large squares formerly inhabited by great people, with large pieces of ornamental ground in the centre, and these might, under certain restrictions, especially as to time, be rendered available for the purpose he had indicated, the more so if it were practicable to get the children who might resort there to submit voluntarily, under the supervision of monitors, to a silent system. [A laugh.] Of course, he did not mean an absolute silent system, but one which would impose comparative silence. He saw no reason why a corner of Lincoln's Inn Fields might not be appropriated to the recreation of poor children at proper hours of the day. He scarcely ever saw any person walking there, and under proper regulations his suggestion might reasonably be adopted. It might likewise apply to some other squares—Soho Square for instance—which were in the immediate vicinity of the abodes of dense masses of the poor population. In the hope that the Government would not oppose his Motion, as it was a matter of great interest and importance to provide for the healthful recreation of the inhabitants of populous places, he would conclude by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made and Question proposed.


said, that as he had long known the unwearied exertions of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Slaney) to improve by legislation the condition of the working classes and of the poor in large towns, he was glad he had an opportunity of moving for leave to bring in this Bill. He (Mr. Walpole) would assent to the Motion, but would reserve the expression of his opioion on the details of the measure until it was before the House.

Leave given. Bill to enable or facilitate Grants of Land to be made near populous places for Public Grounds for the use and regulated recreation of adults, and as Playgrounds the poor children, ordered to be brought in by Mr. SLANEY and Mr. BRISCOE.