HC Deb 18 February 1859 vol 152 cc515-24

When the subject to which my Question relates was brought under the consideration of the House last Friday, the noble Lord (Lord J. Manners) followed immediately after my hon. Friend put his question, and was therefore unable, according to the forms of the House, to say anything in answer to the suggestions made during the discussion. I am not going to raise a debate upon the subject, but merely to ask the noble Lord for some information which I hope he will be able to give to the House. A Committee sat last Session, of which the noble Lord and myself were members, and that Committee decided the new Foreign Office should be erected in accordance with one of three designs—namely, the plan which received the first premium, the plan which received the second premium, or the plan which received the third premium at the great competition of 1857. The noble Lord stated the other evening that he had selected the plan which received the third premium, and had laid aside the other two plans, for the reconstruction of the Foreign Office. I therefore wish the noble Lord to be good enough to state to the House the reasons which induced him to adopt the plan for the reconstruction of the Foreign Office which received only the third premium, and to re- ject those plans to which the first and second premiums were awarded. Then I have another question to put to the noble Lord, and it is, whether he would have any objection to place in one of the Committee-rooms the three sets of plans as they were exhibited in Westminster Hall, in order that the Members of the House may have an opportunity of seeing them before any further steps in relation to the design for which the premiums were given are taken. I am not going to enter into the question whether the building should be Gothic or not, but if I could collect the expression of feeling on the part of the House, which was very decided when the subject was touched upon last Friday, I do think that feeling was most emphatically expressed against the building of a Foreign Office in the neighbourhood of Downing Street in the Gothic style. Now, therefore, what I wish to ask the noble Lord is this,—will he have the goodness to place these three plans in a Committee-room, and allow the Members of the House of Commons to see them before he gives any further orders in relation to the reconstruction of the Foreign Office, or before he goes to any further expense with regard to the subject in perfecting the drawings, or in preparing the estimates with reference to a Gothic structure, and which the House evidently so much objects in regard to the neighbourhood of Whitehall and Downing Street, If the noble Lord has so far committed himself as to have rejected the designs which received the first and second premiums, and has accepted the third design, and given instructions to perfect the drawings and to prepare the estimates, I think he ought to take the same course with regard to the other two which were selected by the Committee, unless he can give very good and sufficient reasons why he has rejected the first two designs and accepted the third.


I hardly know whether the right hon. Baronet, in asking me to state the reasons which induced me to give the preference to one of the three designs named by the Select Committee over the other two, wishes me to enter into all the architectural topics and bearings of the case. If the right hon. Gentleman's question refers to a consideration of that nature, I very respectfully put it to the House whether, upon a Motion for I the adjournment of the House, it is at all possible to enter into a discussion of points like these, which occasioned the Select Committee to sit, for I forget how many weeks. It is, in my opinion, morally impossible for this House to come to any decision upon such a question as this upon the present occasion. Of course, the right Lon. Gentleman knows—as every Member of this House knows—that nothing practical can be done in this matter until a Vote is asked for in Committee of Supply, when every one of the architectural points connected with this question may be raised by the right hon. Gentleman, and raised in a manner and at a moment not inconvenient to the progress of public business. But if the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to state what are the reasons which have induced me to think that I was perfectly justified in making the selection which I did, I have no hesitation in telling the right hon. Gentleman. In the first place, then, I say that I considered myself not only justified but actually called upon, after all that had happened, to ascertain whether the Executive Government could not come to some decision which should enable the House to carry into effect their intentions with respect to the reconstruction of the Foreign Office. Therefore, after the Report of the Select Committee, I did give great time and great thought to the decision at which I proposed to arrive, and I took that course with the view of enabling the House of Commons, during the present Session of Parliament, to express its deliberate opinion upon the subject. But does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that anything which occurred when he was in office precludes me from setting aside the particular plan to which the first premium was awarded by the judges? All I can say is, that if that is the impression which the right hon. Gentleman wishes to convey to the House, the right hon. Gentleman himself, when he summoned the architects of England to enter into the great competitive scheme, took the greatest pains to make it clear that he never would bind himself or the Government to the adoption of any of the plans that might be submitted to him. That then is one reason for the course which I have taken. And now, Sir, let me state to the House another reason. What was the course taken by the noble Lord lately at the head of the Government and by his colleagues? They went much further. They not only repudiated any obligation, implied or explicit, to employ the gentleman to whom the first prize might be assigned, but they distinctly repudiated all obliga- tion to employ any gentleman who competed. They went further than that even. The noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) insisted, and he went out of office insisting, that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir B. Ball) should employ, not the architect who obtained the first prize, nor the architect who obtained the second prize, nor the architect who obtained the third prize, but should employ a gentleman who, for reasons which I appreciate and admire, positively declined to enter into the competition at all, so that, if I may use the sporting phraseology introduced by the noble Lord on last Friday evening, the cup was to be given by him to a horse that never started in the race. That is my reason No. 2 for the course which I thought it my duty to adopt. But now let us come to the third reason. When the change of Government took place and I entered office, I found this extraordinary state of things. The right hon. Gentleman charged with the duties of this office recommended and insisted upon the adoption of one particular course, a course which the noble Lord at the head of the Treasury pointedly refused to permit, and the noble Lord insisted upon a course totally at variance with the view of the right hon. Gentleman. Now, Sir, what we did was this:—the entanglement was so great, the late Government being so divided in opinion, that it could come to no decision, we said, let us refer all these embarrassing questions to the impartial investigation of a Select Committee. Under these circumstances that Select Committee was appointed, examined many witnesses, and bestowed great pains and labour on the investigation. They agreed to three or four most material Resolutions; as to the selection of the architect, the Committee recommended that one of the three prize-men should be selected; but at the same time they stated their opinion that there was nothing in the terms of the competition that necessarily bound the Government to select the architect of the new Foreign Office from the successful competitors; the Committee thought it contrary to the interest of the public that the choice of the Government should be so limited. I adopted the recommendations of the Committee, and I think I was quite right in so doing. I now come to the question which of the three prizemen ought to have been selected. The opinion of the Committee upon that point is expressed as follows:— As to the three first designs it must be recollected that while the first prize for the Foreign Office was awarded to Messrs. Coe and Hofland, yet they did not compete for the War Office. Again, while, in the opinion of Mr. Burn and that of the assessors, Messrs. Banks and Barry stood first in merit for the Foreign Office, yet, according to the same opinion, they were unsuccessful for the War Office, while Mr. Scott stood second both for one and the other. I regard those expressions as tantamount to a declaration that in the opinion of the Committee, the first three prizemen might be looked upon as equal: well, then, the candidates being equal, of course a most material point for consideration in this selection would be the merits of the different styles. The Committee states in its Report:— Some of the prize designs being in Italian architecture and some in Gothic, your Committee particularly directed its inquiries to the question whether (apart from considerations of taste), either style had the advantage as to cheapness, commodiousness of arrangement, or facilities for light and ventilation. The result of these inquiries is that in those respects no material preference exists on either side. The Committee then, having stated its opinion that the candidates were equal and that there was no preference of one style over another, I leave it to the House to consider whether it was an easy task for the First Commissioner of the Board of Works to make a selection between three gentlemen and three different styles. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Tite) a few years ago expressed his opinion on the competing plans; he said, on the 10th of August, 1857:— One of the prize plans was, to a certain extent, a copy of the Hotel de Ville, in the Renaissance style, and the other in a very ornate style of half French, half Italian architecture; and to build on either of these plans would create a great incongruity with Sir Charles Barry's building,—what no man of taste would for a moment sanction."—[3 Hansard, cxlvii. 1309.] I can only say that the site of the new Foreign Office being on the south side of Downing Street, and tending southwards towards Westminster Abbey, and the Gothic buildings of the Houses of Par liament, that when the merits of the designs and styles were so equally balanced it was impossible wholly to exclude some consideration of what may be called the genius loci. That consideration led to the decision I did make; in so doing, I had no wish to prejudge the question, or preclude the final judgment of the House, to which we all know we must submit. I propose, when this plan is materially altered, as it must be from the changed circumstances of the case, that the whole of the working designs, drawings, and estimates shall be placed in the library of the House, that ewery hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity of seeing them, and fairly judging of the nature of the design. If there is a general wish that the three plans, as was suggested by the right hon. Baronet, should be again submitted to inspection in one of the Committee-rooms, I have no possible objection to their being shown in that way; but I beg the House to recollect that the plans themselves will throw very little light on the question at issue. They were part of a gigantic scheme, that would sweep away a whole suburb, and that included magnificent and costly official residences, altogether apart from the design for a new Foreign Office. The more humble plan I propose offers a sufficient amount of accommodation for the official residence of the Secretary of State in the office itself, at a bulk and cost hardly, if at all exceeding, those required for the Office alone in the original designs. It is scarcely fair to these three designs to bring them into competition with the matured and cheaper plan. I therefore ask the House to reserve its decision till the whole question is brought before it; I ask it not to interfere at the present stage of the transaction, but to give the Executive Government that fair play to which, under all the circumstances, it is entitled.


said, he had not wished to intimate that the First Commissioner of the Board of Works had no power in the matter. On the contrary, he had always held that the responsibility ought to rest on him. He had only wished the noble Lord to state the reasons why he had adopted one design and rejected the others.


Sir, it is not my intention to express any want of confidence in the Executive Government, but there are some statements of fact in the speech of the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) respecting the conduct of the late Government, in which 1 cannot acquiesce; and I ask the House to allow me to offer a few words in explanation. The noble Lord has represented that he found the question involved in great difficulties, in consequence of a difference of opinion between the late Treasury and the Board of Works. But the noble Lord has omitted some material facts respecting the merits of the question. When it was proposed that different architects should send in their plans it was intended that a large space should he given to the Government offices, and a Bill was prepared to enable the Government to carry out that large plan by acquiring additional space. But when the Bill was proposed to the House objections were made to it by hon. Gentlemen who now sit opposite, and the measure was withdrawn. It then became necessary for the Treasury to instruct the Board of Works to prepare the plans on a different basis; finding all the plans sent in for competition rendered useless, it was thought unnecessary to call on any one of the architects who had competed to prepare new plans; and others were prepared by the official architect of the Board of Works, adapted to the limited area then in the possession of the Government. The Board of Works was requested to report whether the official plans suited the area, and were fitted for adoption. That was the state of things the noble Lord found on his accession to office. There was no complexity beyond that occasioned by the decision of the House, in consequence of which the additional ground was not acquired. The present Government has altered that decision, and determined to apply for powers to purchase new ground at a cost of £100,000. It has decided also to resort to the architects who have already competed for the design; but, somewhat capriciously, have rejected the designs No. 1 and 2, and taken No. 3. I am sure the noble Lord will admit the accuracy of that statement, and hen. Gentlemen must see that all the difficulty which has arisen on this matter was not created by the conduct of the late Government, but resulted from the decision come to by this House.


said, he wished to explain the seeming inconsistency in the opinion he had formerly given which had been quoted by the noble Lord the Chief Commissioner of Works—on that occasion he had spoken of the incongruity of building two designs in different tastes, namely, one for the Foreign Office and another for the War Office—in the same line, and in juxtaposition with Sir Charles Barry's Treasury and Home Office in a third style. What he desired was a light and correct Italian style, consistent with the general character of the buildings in the neighbourhood; but the noble Lord was embarking in a course the result of which, he feared, he had little calculated. If he was to obtain tenders from builders he would find himself committed before he was aware of it. Mr. Scott ought to be required to accompany his plan with an estimate. Any architect could make an estimate, and an accurate one to. At all events, there were gentlemen connected with the office of the noble Lord who could do this. If working drawings were to be prepared, and other expenses incurred, the noble Lord would do well not to go too far for the possibility of a future retreat, and it was to be hoped that before a final decision was arrived at he would give the House the opportunity of judging whether his selection was a right one, to obtain tenders from builders would involve a expense of at least £10,000, and a builder's tender was no better security than an architect's estimate.


said, the question was not merely whether the Foreign Office should be built in the Gothic style of architecture, but whether for some time to come all their new public edifices should be built in that particular style. Since the subject was last before the House he had had an opportunity, by personal inspection, of forming a more definite estimate of the merits of Mr. Scott's plan. He confessed he could not acquiesce in the high opinion which that gentleman appeared to entertain of himself, judging from time long string of superlatives in his own praise with which he wound up his recent letter to The Times. The House had been originally led to suppose that the style adopted for the new Foreign Office was Lombardo Gothic; but from Mr. Scott's explanation it now seemed that it was to be Flemish Gothic. Everybody acquainted with the public buildings of Belgium knew their chief characteristic was that at least one-half of them was devoted to the roof. The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Beresford Hope) might not object to live in the roof, but such a waste of space involved a waste of public money. The only way in which Gothic could be adapted to modern requirements was by stripping it almost entirely of all its peculiar features, and nothing could be more offensive than the bastard style of Gothic which had gradually crept into fashion, and was now, he regretted to say, diffusing itself throughout the country. If they went into the vestibules and circular places of the building in which they were then assembled, they would see that instead of having a lofty, spacious, and airy dome, affording ample room and light, they had an enormous and ponderous Gothic lantern, excluding light and air, and combining every possible objection that could exist to a public edifice. Many of the offices for the clerks of that House were hardly habitable for human beings; and some of the buildings at the end of Westminster Abbey, in which they had an illustration of the wonderful style of which Mr. Scott was so enamoured, were of the most common-place and least attractive character that any one could conceive. He should be sorry, indeed, to see the same style applied to other public edifices. This was an important question of principle, and one likely to lead to an enormous expenditure of the national revenue. He therefore gave the noble Lord full warning that he should most strenuously oppose the encouragement of that style of architecture.


—Sir, the noble Lord the First Commissioner of Works seemed to imagine that he had caught my right hon. Friend the Member for Marylebone (Sir B. Hall) and myself in an inconsistency in regard to the argument we used against the choice he had made of the second prizeman. I beg leave to say that there is no inconsistency whatever in our argument. The noble Lord himself quoted passages showing that the last Government deemed themselves perfectly free to select any architect, and not confined to the selection of one prizeman, and therefore we were at liberty to choose Mr. Pennethorne's plan. But the reasoning of the noble Lord (Lord J. Manners) as well as of the hon. Member for Maidstone, the other day, was that, choosing from the prizemen, they were at liberty to choose a comparatively unsuccessful one. Now, I contend that if they take their stand on the choice of a prizeman, they ought to have chosen the man who gained the first prize, and not him who got the second or the third. I entirely confirm what was stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Radnor (Sir G. Lewis) as to what took place in relation to this subject in the last Government. It was our opinion, as far the as our personal choice went, that, considering the circumstances stated by my right hon. Friend, the plan of Mr. Pennethorne was the one best adapted to the requirements of the case. Sir, I still retain that opinion. I think that plan had the merit of external simplicity combined with a sufficiency of ornament, and also harmonized with the other buildings in the locality for which it was designed. I hope the noble Lord, the First Commissioner of Works, will attend to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Tite) and not run the Government into a liability for great expenses until Parliament has had an opportunity of determining what style of architecture is most suitable for the object in view. It is evident that if the noble Lord is about to procure working drawings and estimates from builders, for Mr. Scott's plan, he will incur a very large expense which, possibly, may be wholly thrown away, because it may be the opinion of Parliament that a different plan ought to be adopted. I distinctly maintain that Gothis architecture is not adapted for this purpose. Buildings of this kind should he gay and cheerful outside, and light and airy in their interior. We all know that our northern climate does not overpower us with an excess of sunshine. Then, for Heaven's sake, let us have buildings whose interior admits and whose exterior reflects what light there is. Don't let us have a building of a dark and dingy external construction, and of an internal arrangement that will prevent people obtaining all the light which Heaven accords to them according to the season of the year. I would only ask hon. Gentlemen who may have any doubts as to the comparative merits of the two styles of architecture to look in the first instance at Sir Charles Barry's buildings in Parliament Street,—the Board of Trade, and the Home Office, and then to go behind Westminster Abbey and see that hideous Gothic structure which has been erected there,—I believe by Mr. Scott,—a building which would excite one's horror, if one could imagine that any large portion of London was to be covered with such edifices.