HC Deb 11 August 1859 vol 155 cc1343-50

said, he would beg to ask the First Commissioner of Works if it is still his intention to proceed with the Works as proposed by Mr. Hawksley for partially cleansing the water in the Serpentine.


replied, that it was his intention to proceed with the works proposed by Mr. Hawksley, not as stated by his hon. Friend for the purpose of partially cleansing, but of totally and effectually cleansing, the water in the Serpentine. He thought that great misapprehension prevailed upon this subject. Two questions, which were quite independent of one another, had been mixed up in this discus- sion: the first relating to the mud at the bottom of the river, and the second with respect to the water itself. It appeared from the remarks which had been made in that House, and from statements in the public press, that the two questions had been regarded as identical, but he maintained that they were entirely independent. He believed that if the plan he proposed were successful perfect purity and limpidity would be secured in the water of the Serpentine, and that the mud, having lost its organic power, would no longer evolve any noxious gases, but would cease to be a source of ill-health or annoyance to the inhabitants and frequenters of the neighbourhood. It was therefore with the water of the Serpentine, not with the mud, that he proposed to deal. After a careful inquiry on the subject that morning he felt confident that the estimate he proposed was sufficient effectually to carry out the object he had in view—namely, to insure the purity of the water in the Serpentine. He believed that an effectual remedy for any nuisance that existed—if there was a nuisance—would be provided by an expenditure of £17,000; while the other plan suggested, of drawing off the water in the Serpentine and forming a concrete bottom, would involve a certain expenditure of at least £70,000. It was said that a nuisance would be occasioned by the erection of a steam engine, and it had been complained that the erection of a large steam engine near Albert Gate would create an eyesore, but the nature of his scheme in that respect had been entirely misapprehended. His proposal was to erect a small ornamental building, which would certainly not be an eyesore, at the Bayswater end of the river. It had been said that the filtering-beds would prove a nuisance to the neighbourhood, and that they would require a large amount of ground, but he was informed that the total area required for filtering 2,000,000 gallons of water per day would be less than three-fourths of an acre, and that the cleansing process would occasion no nuisance whatever. That process, which had been described as cumbrous, difficult, and expensive, would, he was informed, be effected in three or four hours, and would not occasion any bad smell, the refuse being allowed to run into the Bays-water sewer. It had been said that he had taken an estimate of £17,000 to effect an object which would require £170,000, and that the cost of the engines would be very considerable, a comparison being made be- tween the works he proposed and those of the New River Company, which had engines of 200 horse-power at work during the day, and engines of 450 horse-power during the night. Now, there was a great misapprehension on this subject, for the cost of the engines he proposed to erect would he very small indeed. The engine power employed would be quite insignificant, for to lift 1,400 gallons of water per minute 10 feet high, engines of only 5 horse-power were required; and he proposed to erect two engines of 10 horse-power each, the whole cost of which would not exceed £1 a day. It must be remembered, however, that the engines of the New River Company were not employed for filtering, but for providing a supply at high service pressure, after filtration. The water of the Serpentine, about which such strong complaints had been made, contained only 2¾ grains of organic matter in a gallon, which was not much more than was contained in the water ordinarily supplied without filtering to the inhabitants of the metropolis for drinking purposes. The more consideration he gave to the plan he had proposed the more convinced he was of its feasibility. He had obtained the best professional advice on the subject; the highest engineering skill would be employed in carrying the plan into effect; and he had no doubt that it would be found possible, by that plan, to render the water of the Serpentine perfectly pure.


said, that as the hon. Member for Whitby (Mr. Stephenson) was present, and as his opinion on this subject had been referred to, he should be glad to ask that hon. Gentleman whether he thought the scheme proposed by Mr. Hawksley was likely to be successful?


said, he wished as a question of order to ask the Speaker, whether it was competent to one hon. Member to ask the opinion of another hon. Gentleman, who was a private Member of that House, on such a subject?


said, the hon. Member had transgressed the limits imposed by the rules of the House with reference to questions, which ought only to be addressed to Ministers of the Crown with regard to matters affecting public business, or to hon. Members who had charge of measures before the House.


said, that in order to afford the hon. Member for Whitby an opportunity of expressing his opinion, be would move the adjournment of the House.


inquired whether it would be competent to the hon. Member for Whitby, in conformity with the Orders of the House, to speak upon any other question than that of adjournment?


The House reserved to itself the power of allowing an hon. Member to move the adjournment, even in the case of asking a question; but he need scarcely inform hon. Members that it was not usual to do so, and that if the practice were persisted in, it would very soon put a stop to the business of the House. He did not mean to say that the hon. Member had not the power to move the adjournment, but he must inform him that it certainly was not a usual course.


said, that he would second the Motion for the adjournment of the House, as he thought they ought not to separate without arriving at some more satisfactory solution of the question than had been proposed by the Chief Commissioner of Works. He regarded the plan of that right hon. Gentleman as very unsatisfactory. At seven or eight o'clock in the evening the water of the Serpentine was downright pestiferous, and he did not see why the same plan of purification which had been adopted so successfully with regard to the Ornamental Water in St. James's Park should not be applied to that river. It was a disgrace to the Government that such a body of putrid water should be the only place to which thousands of the residents in the metropolis could resort for the purpose of bathing. If the present Chief Commissioner of Works did not understand matters of this kind, why did he not obtain the advice of people who did understand them, instead of persevering in a stupid and obstinate course? ["Order."] He was sorry if he had used words which were unparliamentary, because he wished to treat the right hon. Gentleman as a friend; but he really feared that he would lose all the credit he had obtained for energy in other offices, and bring discredit on the Government and himself, by pursuing a course which would bring detriment to the park and to London.


observed that it was desirable to have the opinion of the hon. Member for Whitby on the subject; he would have been able to give it, and this irregular discussion would have terminated long before, but for the interruption of the hon. Member for Sheffield.


said, that although he did not feel very sure that he was quite in order, he was willing to respond to the appeal which had been made to him to give his opinion on the Serpentine. He had been in the habit of visiting the place for many years, and had watched closely its want of purification. He had held the office of Commissioner of Sewers, and had devoted his attention a good deal to the means of excluding from the Serpentine the sewage of Bays water, which formerly fell into it to a large extent, and the exclusion of that sewage had undoubtedly, to a proportionate extent, led to the purification of the river. At that time he felt there was some smell arising from the river, but for the last few years, say four or five, there had been a very undue amount of excitement respecting the Serpentine. He was in the habit of driving past it twice a day, and rode there occasionally for some hours, but he had never found, for the last three or four years, anything so offensive to his olfactory nerves as to lead him to coincide in the outcry that was recently raised. He believed that outcry was entirely unfounded, because, whatever the state of the Serpentine might have been, it was not now, to the best of his judgment, in an offensive condition. Supposing, however, that the water was impure, the question was how the nuisance should be remedied. The Serpentine was a stagnant lake, and the other day, in riding along the banks, he observed that a quantity of lime was being poured into the water. The consequence of this proceeding was that he saw dead fish floating on the surface, and occasioning the most offensive species of decomposition. In every lake nature provided a sort of equilibrium; there were the algeaceous plants, which were fed on by the small animals, which in turn were fed on by the large; they did that, therefore, with the Serpentine which they ought not to have done; by putting in lime they killed the large animals, which fed on the small, and thus rendered it more polluted than before. The case was very different with the Thames. He did not deny there might be an advantage in pouring lime into a tidal river, where the mass of filth was swept out every six or eight hours; but he was now arguing with regard to a lake which had no supply of water except the small drainage from the sides, and which was just sufficient to meet the evaporation, and no more. He maintained, then, that to throw poisonous matter into a lake like the Serpentine was entirely contrary to nature's process by which an equilibrium was established between animal and vegetable life. With regard to Mr. Hawksley's plan, it was an engineering subject, on which he trusted he might venture to give an opinion. Supposing, for the sake of argument, that the state of the Serpentine was as impure as had been represented—though he distinctly said he did not believe that it was; but supposing it was, the question was, what was the best mode of getting rid of the nuisance. He believed Mr. Hawks-ley's plan was that of creating an artificial stream, instead of a natural one. If they had a natural stream, flowing in at one end and out at the other, the lake would be perfectly healthy; but as they had not they should consider what means were at their command for creating something like a natural stream. They must create an artificial one, and for that purpose he believed that there was only one efficient plan, and that was the one suggested by Mr. Hawksley; namely, that of pumping up a large quantity of water at one end, and so drawing it away from the other. [Sir J. PAXTON: He does not do that.] He does do it; and he could not pump water into one end of the lake without drawing it away from the other. It was impossible. He had great respect for his hon. Friend's opinion upon matters of taste, but upon engineering matters he really must demur to give him the same confidence. His hon. Friend said there was no use in pumping out water at the Bayswater end and pouring it in there again. [Sir JOSEPH PAXTON: Hear, hear.] There was every use in it. The water could not be pumped out and then sent in again without creating a difference in the level of the water, and that would create a current from end to end, and he believed the calculation was that the whole body of water would be changed about every two months. Four and a half horse power would raise 2,000,000 gallons a day ten feet high. By doing that they must alter the level while they pumped it out or in, and if the level of the water was raised at the Bayswater end it must flow down to the Albert-gate end. With regard to the objection on the score of the offensive nature of the filtering process, he entertained no apprehensions whatever on that ground. He believed this was the least expensive and the most effectual plan that could be adopted, supposing the water of the Serpentine to be offensive, which he did not admit. He frequently passed the Serpentine four times a day, and almost always twice daily, and within the last four or five years he had not experienced anything in the least offensive. He must say, however, that in his opinion Mr. Havvksley's plan afforded the most simple and economical means of purifying the water.


said, he was the last man to put his opinion on any subject of engineering in competition with that of his hon. Friend who had last spoken, and who was undoubtedly at the head of his profession; but he did not think this was altogether an engineering question. He (Sir Joseph Paxton) was quite satisfied that Mr. Hawksley's plan would not answer. The proposed filter-bed would only hold a small quantity of water, and he believed that under the plan suggested there would not be a difference of one-eighth of an inch in the level of the surface of the lake. He would venture to say that if the plans were carried out there would not be the slightest change in the water beyond the bridge. His hon. Friend had condemned the system of pouring lime into the Serpentine, and in that opinion he concurred, because, however advantageous it might be to put lime into the Thames, in a lake like the Serpentine it destroyed the fish, which acted as the best filterers of the water. He might observe, however, that according to Mr. Havvksley's plan it was proposed still to pour lime into the Serpentine along the banks.


said, that when two such authorities as the hon. Member for Coventry (Sir Joseph Paxton) and the hon. Member for Whitby (Mr. Stephenson) disagreed, some allowance ought to be made for the Commissioner of Works; and he certainly did not deserve the language applied to him by the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Alcock). Every one agreed that the Serpentine required purifying—the only question was as to the mode of carrying it out. The right hon. Gentleman the Commissioner of Works seemed to have taken advantage of the best engineering skill, and the matter might safely be left in his hands.


said, this was a matter on which any man with the use of his five senses could form an opinion as well as the best engineer. He also took a personal interest in the matter as he lived close to the Serpentine. He had observed its condition narrowly for the last two years, and he could not subscribe to the opinion that it was not in an offensive state. On the contrary it was far worse than the Thames itself. The putting of lime into the lake had destroyed large quantities of fish, and if the present First Commissioner of Works continued that operation he ought to be indicted by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. What was required was that the sewage should be intercepted before it reached the lake, and as large a supply of fresh water as possible obtained.


said, that the First Commissioner of Works having consulted him on the proposed plan, he had satisfied himself of its perfect practicability, and that everything to be desired would be accomplished by it. It had been suggested that the water from the lake in St. James's Park should be pumped into the Serpentine; but the fact was that the water there filtered through the concrete bed into the well, and was pumped back again into the lake. The practical effect of that recommendation would therefore be to empty the lake. Complaint had been made of the dangers of the Serpentine to bathers. But at an expense of a few hundred pounds a sufficient portion of the shore of the Serpentine could be levelled for the safety of bathers who could not swim. All good swimmers preferred deep water, and they would go where they could get it. As to the sewer at the Bays water end, the scheme of the Metropolitan Board of Works would cut off all the sewage which polluted the Serpentine. The plan under discussion, therefore, practically secured all that was required, and there never was a mechanical and engineering problem of more easy solution.


said, that the Chief Commissioner admitted that the filtering beds would require nearly three-quarters of an acre, and he should like to know how they were to be constructed without being extremely nasty, offensive, and injurious to the health of the neighbourhood. The only course that ought to be taken was to take out all the foul water, and to supply fresh water in its stead. The plan of Mr. Hawksley did neither the one thing nor the other, and he contended therefore, that it had all the elements of a faulty arrangement, and was not likely to be successful.

Motion for adjournment negatived.