HC Deb 11 July 1859 vol 154 cc976-83

rose, pursuant to notice, to call the attention of the House to the advisability of taking advantage of the present opportunity of Berkeley House having been pulled down to secure a road for the passage of carriages and horses from Charing Cross through Spring Gardens into St. James's Park. Foreigners who visited London were surprised at the little progress made in the improvement of the metropolis, and this was one of the reasons why the House had bestowed so much labour on the measure which created the present Board of Works. It was important that the House should assist rather than impede that Board in matters affecting the public welfare. Two questions now arose. One was, whether the Parks, for which such large sums were annually voted, should be comparatively closed to the public, or whether the recommendations of a Committee of that House, made after due deliberation, should be carried out. The House would remember that great difficulty was experienced in obtaining so simple a change as opening a communication between the district of Belgrave Square, and St. James's Street, through the Park. Not the slightest objection could now be found against that change, except as to the manner in which it had been carried out. The Report of the Committee recommended that the gate near the German Chapel should be made ornamental, and that there should be an iron railing; instead of which, from some incomprehensible jealousy, large and ugly walls had been erected on each side the thoroughfare, which completely shut out the view of the adjoining gardens. In fact, everything appeared to have been done to make the alteration distasteful, and the Government had thus lost an opportunity of beautifying that part of the metropolis. Another opportunity now presented itself of carrying out the views of a Committee of that House, who had recommended the Government to take advantage of the pulling down of Berkeley House to make a carriage-way in that district. That Committee was no ordinary Committee, but it comprised several eminent men. Two of its Members had been taken away from them and removed to another House, but whether it was in consequence of their not adopting the recommendations of the Committee he could not tell! Berkeley House had now been pulled down, and he was desirous to know what steps the Government intended to take for widening the opening into the Park at that point. It was no new plan. He believed that in 1844 it was thoroughly understood and intended by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests that Carlton House Terrace should be finished when the lease of Berkeley House, which belonged to the Crown, expired. The occupier of that mansion, however, possessed considerable Parliamentary influence. He could command, it was said, five or six votes, and as he prayed for the renewal of the lease, this great benefit to the metropolis was again withheld. There was also a mass of old stables there, and upon the death of the Queen Dowager it was proposed to pull them down and improve the site. Some other persons obtained possession of them; but the new Board of Works had procured the surrender of the lease. They had pulled down Berkeley House, and they proposed to make a wide gate and carriage-way, in order to lessen the pressure and traffic at that particular point. He pressed the subject upon the notice of his right hon. Friend, with the hope that he would be able to state that he was prepared to take the necessary steps to accomplish be important an improvement. Unless some satisfactory explanation was given, he should feel it his duty to take the sense of the House upon the matter. The corner of the Park, where it was proposed to make the opening, was at present a perfect disgrace, and Mr. Pennethorne, in his evidence before the Committee, after recommending the removal of the Duke of York's Column and the formation of a road across the Park to the Houses of Parliament, had expressed an opinion favourable to opening the Park near Berkeley House, which he said could be accomplished by the purchase of only two houses, one of which was Berkeley House. That was in 1844, so that fifteen years had been allowed to pass away without that much wanted improvement having been made. Now that Berkeley House was pulled down, and the Board of Works was willing to give up twenty feet of space to the public, it was only necessary to pull down the ugly wall and railing at the end of the wall; and the other house, which also belonged to the Crown, being let on a lease, of which only thirteen years had to run, there could be no doubt it could be purchased for a very small sum. Some persons had proposed to make an opening from the Park into Cockspur Street, opposite to Drummond's Bank, and it would be undoubtedly more convenient, but also much more expensive, and there would also be some danger from the traffic from Charing Cross meeting that from the Park in a slanting direction. The evidence before the Committee all tended to show that some opening from the Park to Charing Cross would be a great public benefit, and he was sure that Her Majesty, with that gracious consideration which had ever distinguished Her, would be willing to contribute to the execution of so great an improvement, which would also enable Her to pass from Buckingham Palace direct to the National Gallery. He wished to ask the Chief Commissioner of Works whether he had any intention of availing himself of the offer of the Board of Works, and whether he was prepared to take those steps which would be necessary for carrying out the great improvement to which he referred?


said, that before the Chief Commissioner rose to answer the Question he wished to make one or two observations to the House. He thought his hon. Friend the Member for Perth made a mistake which was not uncommon in not distinguishing between the Office of Woods and the Office of Works. In 1848 he was chairman of a Committee which reported in favour of the disconnection of the Offices of Woods and Works, their functions being perfectly distinct—the Woods being an office of revenue, and the Works being an office of expenditure. The duties of the Office of Woods were important, having to manage the property which had been the freehold of the Crown since the Norman Conquest, and he found that the gross receipts of Crown property for the last year was £420,000, while the civil list was only £382,000. The hon. Member for Perth seemed to think that the property of the Crown was the property of the country. That was not the fact. The Crown was the owner, possess- ed the title-deeds, and the Offices of Woods were only trustees during the life of Her Majesty to manage the property. He might put a case in point to his hon. Friend, and say, "There is an old house at the corner of the Haymarket belonging to a banking firm, why should that remain for the benefit of individuals when its removal would be convenient to the public at large?" It might indeed be removed, but then there would be compensation to pay, and his hon. Friend had not said a word about compensation in the case of Crown property. He could, however, see that the scheme proposed would cost a great deal of money; but he thought he could point out how it could be got. If property belonging to the Crown was taken, it should be paid for like that of any other individual. But then, who was to pay for it? Was the country? This was a scheme for the decoration and improvement of the metropolis —a vast district, the sixteen parishes of which that were included within the district Board of Works had a rateable property to the extent of £6,000,000. He found that the fact mentioned in a pamphlet by Mr. Leslie, one of the members of the Metropolitan Board of Works, who remarked that if the passage to Charing Cross was to be made, the gentlemen who had hitherto dwelt in the unfashionable quarter of Greek Street, instead of spending £15,000 or £20,000 in building a palace in Spring Gardens, should return to Soho, and devote the money thus saved to the completion of the public improvement so warmly advocated by the hon. Member for Perth. It appeared that many parishes had memorialized the Board of Works against the removal of their office from their freehold premises to Berkeley House, and he (Viscount Duncan) believed that, by the expenditure of £4,000, the premises in Soho Square could be made perfectly adequate to the requirements of the Board. If, therefore, they would be patriotic enough to give up their idea of a palace in Spring Gardens, and hand the money to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the improvement which was so warmly advocated might be at once proceeded with.


agreed with all that had fallen from the noble Lord as to the impropriety of taking away Crown property. He did not wish to enter upon the question as to whether the Board of Works should have its offices in Soho or Spring Gardens; but he desired to make a remark upon another point. He had heard no one propose that the Metropolitan Board should pay for the destruction of those houses. He concluded, therefore, that what was wanted was, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should propose to the House a small Vote to effect this improvement. Great public convenience would, it is said, be the result if a carriage road was made; hut what was meant by a great "public" convenience? He quite admitted that such a road would be for the advantage of those who were able to travel in their own carriage or to pay cab hire; but if the hon. Member meant by the "public" those who did not use carriages, and who could not afford to hire them, and who were accumstomed to take their recreation in the Parks, he (Lord John Manners) thought that, instead of being a public advantage, this would be a public injury, for their enjoyment would be entirely swept away by this so-called improvement. The particular angle which it was proposed to take for the purposes of this improvement was a favourite resort of the poor children who frequented St. James's Park, and there were very few other places to which they could go. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. FitzRoy) would not be led away by the seductive eloquence of the hon. Gentleman into giving a hasty answer on this question, but that he would take the whole matter into serious consideration.


said, that he was not a Member of the Metropolitan Board of Works at the time the arrangement for removing from Greek Street to Berkeley House was agreed to, but he nevertheless thought it a wise one, because the latter office was much too small for the transaction of their business, and being freehold, the land would probably sell to advantage, and produce sufficient to enable them to construct the new buildingson the site of Berkeley House. That which had been removed projected eleven feet beyond the line of the Houses on the West side of New Street, but the Metropolitan Board, in the erection of the new house would build it upon a line with other houses. The passage, which was now 220 feet long by 8 feet broad, would in future he 150 feet long and 21 feet wide, which, though very convenient for foot passengers, would not admit a carriage road. But inasmuch as a new terminus was about to be brought to Chelsea, it was thought that the roadway in Birdcage Walk would be much crowded, and this proposal was entertained of opening a passage into the Green Park for carriages at Berkeley House. This could be done by the purchase of one house, the ground of which was the freehold of the Crown, rented to a highly respectable firm of solicitors, to whom it would be necessary to make compensation; but the whole expense of the transfer would be very trifling. It must, however, be remembered that if the Metropolitan Board should make the improvement as had been suggested by an hon. Member, it would be utterly useless unless the Crown allowed carriages the liberty of entering the Park that way. But with regard to the expense it should be remembered that the Board of Works was undertaking various large improvements, such as the carrying of a street from the Borough to Stamford Street at an expense of £190,000; others in New Street, Covent Garden, and elsewhere, all at the expense of the ratepayers, and therefore he thought they ought not to be at the expense of making this improvement. He hoped the House understood how the matter stood, and he begged to apologise for having occupied their attention on a matter which he (Mr. Tite) believed to be of no little importance.


said, the question was mainly one of finance, and if his hon. Friend could establish that the improvement would be of great public advantage and could be effected at a small cost all difficulty would vanish. But he ventured to join issue with his hon. Friend on those points. His hon. Friend, in the first place, did not seem aware of the steps which wore necessary, and appeared to think that all he had to do was to ask for a small Vote; whereas an Act of Parliament would be required in order to carry out the object wished for. But he was prepared to maintain that instead of being a great public advantage very few persons were interested in the proposed improvement. Reference had been made to the Committee which sat on this subject; but it should be rememberd that many of the arguments then used had ceased to apply now that a new passage had been made by Marlborough House. The advantage gained by opening this new road would be confined to a small portion of the public, who would be benefited to the extent of only a few yards; and was it worth while therefore to throw the expense of effecting it upon the great bulk of the public, depriving the poor, at the same time, of a quiet nook in the Park where they and their families might enjoy themselves? With regard to the expense, it would be necessary to take a slice off Sir John Shaw Lefevre's garden, and to pull down a private house, the hotel at the corner, and the pastrycook's shop, and having had the property valued he had ascertained that this improvement could not be carried out at a much less cost than £53,000. Was the House prepared to throw upon the country such a burden for the sake of so small a gain? It was all very well to talk of what was done in Paris, but the octroi there produced £2,000,000 sterling. With such an amount of money at command it was wise to make extensive improvements, but he thought Parliament should pause before it applied the funds of this country in metropolitan improvements which did not concern the bulk of the people, and which would result in so small an amount of public benefit.


said, he was glad to find that the right hon. Gentleman had so completely disposed of the proposal which was under the consideration of the House. He must, however, protest against the doctrine to which the right hon. Gentleman seemed disposed to lend the sanction of his high authority, that one shilling of the Imperial funds should be laid out for the promotion of merely local objects.


alluding to the remarks which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman in reference to what he had termed a "quiet nook," which it was desirable to preserve intact for the benefit of the children of the neighbourhood, said, there was immediately adjoining that spot a triangular piece of land from which that interesting portion of the community were shut out, apparently for no particular reasons, and to which they might be admitted with advantage. It would therefore be well if the right hon. Gentleman would direct his attention to the matter and see whether the ground in question might not be made available for the purposes of recreation.


also urged upon the right hon. Gentleman the propriety of acting, if possible, on the suggestion which had just been made to him. It would further be desirable that he should take into his consideration the expediency of facilitating the communication between Tyburnia and Prince's Gate, by widening the road, taking it by the top of the Serpentine, and thus relieving Park Lane of a portion of its traffic.


remarked, that if they intended to open a passage from the Strand into the Park they had better take a road that was already made. There was a house occupied as the Coastguard Office, which, if pulled down, would leave a much more sightly entrance than any he had yet heard of.

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