HC Deb 18 March 1862 vol 165 cc1819-28

said, he rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to provide for the Embankment of the Thames. One of the most urgent wants of the metropolis was the want of a free passage along the great thoroughfare which united the east and west of London. Along that important line of communication there was such a constant flux and reflux of traffic between the City and the West End that at certain hours it was almost impassable. Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street, and the Strand did not serve the purpose for which they were intended, whilst the great value of the property in those streets rendered it impracticable to widen them. With the construction of another thoroughfare from east to west it was proposed to combine the laying down of the low-level sewer, so as to obviate the necessity of raising the pavement of Fleet Street and the Strand and endangering the houses by loosening their foundations. A third object might be attained at the same time with the two he had mentioned—the improvement of the navigation of the River Thames; and a fourth advantage would be the embellishment of the shores of the river and the formation of a handsome and healthful promenade for the public. One might have expected that London would have taken a pride in the river which formed one of its noblest features, and to which it owed in a great measure its prosperity and supremacy over other cities. But, on the contrary, it had been neglected and abused. Paris made the most of the Seine; St. Petersburg did not neglect the Neva; Stockholm, Florence, and other foreign cities had greatly improved their rivers. Even the Liffey, which was not to be compared in grandeur with the Thames, had been adorned with a beautiful line of quays. But the people of London used their magnificent river as a common sewer, and had got no further than to talk about its improvement. The discussion about the matter had lasted for about 200 years. The first step towards embanking the Thames was taken by one of his most illustrious predecessors. After the Great Fire, Sir Christopher Wren, in drawing up those plans for the rebuilding of London, which would have rendered it a really handsome and symmetrical city, proposed a quay from London Bridge to the Temple. An Act was passed sanctioning the work, but only a portion of it was completed. In 1767 the Corporation of London obtained powers to make the Embankment, about half a mile of which was constructed, and it was then stopped. There had been partial embankments, such as that of the Adelphi; but those had only done more harm than good by aggravating the irregularities of the river. What was wanted was an uniform and complete plan. In 1824 Sir Frederick Trench agitated the question. He assembled a number of the most eminent authorities in art and science on a barge moored off Scotland Yard, with the Duke of York in the chair, who adopted a scheme for an embankment between London and Westminster Bridges. In 1825 Sir Frederick Trench brought a Bill for that purpose into Parliament. That Bill was opposed by those who, taking a short-sighted view of their own interests, believed they would be injured by it. Sir Frederick Trench injudiciously thought it would be well to attempt to conciliate the opposition of the occupants and owners of property on the banks of the river, and for that purpose he consented to curtail his plan. At first, instead of carrying it to Westminster Bridge, he made it stop short at Whitehall Stairs. Being then met by new objections, he agreed to stop short at Scotland Yard. That concession had the effect of calling forth fresh objections, in deference to which he consented to stop at Craven Street. These conces- sions only induced the inhabitants along the remainder of the line to combine their resistance, and they said, "If this work is not to be carried out in front of the property of persons of great wealth and station, why should it be carried out in front of ours?" and in consequence of these and other reasons Sir Frederick Trench had to abandon his Bill. Nothing more was done till the year 1844, when a Royal Commission took up the subject. That Commission was presided over by the Duke of Newcastle, and after hearing a great deal of valuable engineering evidence, they reported that it was desirable the river should be embanked between London Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge, and recommended, as the most pressing part of the work, that the section between Blackfriars and Westminster should be first proceeded with, and a Bill was introduced in 1845, but did not become law. In 1860 the subject was again renewed in that House, and a Committee appointed to inquire into it. They recommended, as the previous Commission had done, the Embankment of the River between Blackfriars Bridge and Westminster Bridge, and suggested that the Coal Duties would form a proper source from which to defray the expense. That Committee did not consider themselves competent to choose among various plans. Last year a Royal Commission went very fully into a large number of plans submitted to them by the most eminent engineers. They recommended not only an embankment generally, but the specific plan to which the Bill now about to be introduced was intended to give effect. That plan, he thought there could be no doubt, was the best yet devised. The subject had been so thoroughly investigated that almost every engineer of distinction had had an opportunity of giving his opinion and making suggestions upon it, and the plan now proposed had the sanction of a Commission, comprising not only very able scientific men and eminent engineers, but also thorough men of business. The main advantage it possessed over most of those previously suggested was, that it did not attempt to maintain the wharves. Almost all the former plans were only ingenious modes of combining access to a wharf with a roadway—a difficulty which no engineering skill could satisfactorily overcome. The last commission, therefore, thought it better to buy up the wharves and abolish them altogether, and then make a solid embankment with an ordinary roadway. No public inconvenience would arise from that arrangement, because the former necessity for those wharves in the neighbourhood of Scotland Yard, which were principally coal wharves, had been superseded by the facilities afforded at railway stations; and in the docks there were means for transferring cargoes from colliers into railway trucks, and conveying seaborne coals to the north and west of London. In fact, any establishment of wharves in the immediate vicinity of Charing Cross, the Strand, and Whitehall, was obviously a great inconvenience; and the general utility of those thoroughfares would be increased by their removal. In point of economy, too, it would be better to give the owners of the wharves the whole value of their property; rather than compensate them first for the injury done them during the progress of the works, and secondly for the ultimate detriment to their wharves after the works were completed. Another feature of the plan was the formation of a thoroughfare from Blackfriars Bridge to the Mansion House; because a mere roadway along an embankment, as far as Blackfriars Bridge, would not supply that great desideratum, a complete thoroughfare from the West End and Charing Cross to the Mansion House, the centre of traffic. It was originally proposed that the embankment should proceed further east than Blackfriars Bridge; but the river was very narrow between London Bridge and Southwark, and any encroachment upon it in that part might be injurious to the navigation. And as to the space between Southwark Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge, the narrowness of the river and the great value of the wharf property would render the advantages of embankment quite incommensurate with the expense. Therefore the plan he proposed consisted of a roadway, commencing from Westminster Bridge, passing along the banks of the river until it reached Blackfriars Bridge, then proceeding with a street of seventy feet in width across Thames Street and Cannon Street, and reaching that great centre of the City which was surrounded by the Mansion House, the Bank, and the Royal Exchange. The funds from which the work was to be executed were those which were appropriated to the special purpose by an Act of last Session. The London Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Act provided that the coal duties should be applied in the first place to the Thames embankment, and afterwards to any other public improvements that might appear desirable. The whole of the coal duties during the period for which they were continued by the Act of last year—namely, ten years, would be required for the former object. It was the opinion of the House last year that those duties could hardly be better employed than in providing for that great thoroughfare and the embankment of the Thames; and, among the many great metropolitan improvements effected by means of the coal duties, none, he thought, would be more appreciated than the subject of the Bill he wished to introduce. He proposed that the execution of the Act should be confided to the Metropolitan Board of Works—a body created by the Legislature for the discharge of duties of a similar nature. The main drainage of the metropolis was very analogous to the formation of the proposed embankment, and the opening of the proposed street. It was said the Metropolitan Board of Works was too much occupied by the business it already had to do, and that it was too large a body to perform executive work of this importance. But, to guard against that objection, the Bill would provide that the executive works thrown upon them by the measure should not be carried out by the whole Board, consisting of forty Members, but by a Committee to be elected by the Board itself for that special purpose. The Committee would be composed of nine Members, two of whom would be selected from the gentlemen who represented the City of London in the Board; because, as a large portion of the work would pass through the City, it would be right that the interests of the City should be represented in the Committee, as they were now in the Board itself. It had always been thought desirable that the embankment should extend, not merely between Blackfriars Bridge and Westminster Bridge, as proposed by the present Bill, but should extend as far as Vauxhall Bridge or even Battersea Bridge. Now, if his Bill were carried out, there would remain unembanked only that small space. between Westminster Bridge and the end of Millbank Street, near the Penitentiary. They might hope, in a few years, to see that part of the work also completed, in which case there would be seen from Blackfriars Bridge to Chelsea Bridge—a distance of about four miles— as splendid a quay as could be found in any city in the world. The Thames would become visible in its majestic course from terrace to terrace, fringed by such buildings as the Houses of Parliament, Somerset House, and the fine churches and steeples of Sir Christopher Wren. That four miles' promenade and drive would furnish recreation and admiration. At present it was not proposed to deal with the southern side of the river. A Commission was sitting which had heard a great deal of evidence, and until it had reported any decision would be premature. Among the advantages which would be derived from the embankment now proposed, considerable spaces of grass and trees would be thrown open to the dense population of the neighbourhood, and here they might breathe fresh air, for he hoped that the river would then be free from sewage, and that the people would obtain enjoyment and healthy recreation from disporting themselves on the bank of a clear river. At some points it was intended to let the land on building leases, and he hoped that at those spots handsome terraces and streets would arise which would be an ornament to the banks of the river. The powers contemplated by the Bill would be committed to the Metropolitan Board, without any control or interference. The coal dues were at present in the hands of the Treasury, and the Bill would empower the Treasury to pay the money to the Board, who, however, would be left free and unfettered in executing the purposes of the Act. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving— For leave to bring in a Bill for embanking the north side of the river Thames from Westminster Bridge, and for making new streets in and near thereto, and from Blackfriars Bridge to the Mansion House.


said, he rose on a point of order. The Bill which it was proposed to introduce was for the regulation or appropriation of a public tax levied under the Act of the last Session, and it was unusual to introduce such a Bill except in a Committee of the whole House. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have forgotten the precedent to which he lately submitted when he proposed to appropriate a tax for the purpose of making a road in Kensington Gardens. That road was to have been made with funds taken from the Coal and Wine Duties, and he (Mr. Ayrton) had pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman that it ought to be introduced in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman accordingly made the usual Motion that the House should resolve itself into a Committee for the purpose of considering the Act, and it would be a dangerous precedent if that course were departed from in the present instance. The Coal Tax was in point of fact a public tax, and ought not to be treated in a local Bill. Again, it was extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman should have given no estimate, and not said a word about the sum he wanted to complete these works.


said, that the view he took of the proposition in the Bill was that it did not impose any charge upon the public in regard to rates or duties, and consequently he thought he should be departing from all precedent if he had asked to introduce the Bill in Committee. No doubt it did appropriate rates and duties already granted, but he had never heard that the mere appropriation of a charge already created ought to be introduced in a Committee of the whole House. As to the Bill for making a road through Kensington Gardens, if it had been carried into effect it would have indirectly imposed a charge upon the public. As to that part of the Bill which sought to amend the Coal and Wine Duties Act, his proposal was that, whereas at present the Bank of England was only required to keep one account, it should in future be required to keep two accounts of the fund—one a cash account, and the other a stock account.


expressed an opinion that the usage of Parliament required that the Bill should be introduced in Committee.


said, it was impossible to estimate the effect of words which were introduced for the first time into the Motion as it was put into the Speaker's hands. As he caught them, they referred to the appropriation of public money, and it might be that the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets was right. He should have the greatest possible pleasure in supporting the Bill, because, as he understood, the creation and management of that great metropolitan improvement were to be handed over to the Metropolitan Board of Works. At present he reserved his opinion on the details; but, as he had caught an allusion to some suitable public buildings which were to recreate the eyes of the Londoners, he might express a hope that neither the noble Lord at the head of the Government nor the right hon. Gentleman would have anything to do with them.


The question is, whether or not any new burden is to be laid upon the people by the proposed Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman states that no new burden is laid on by the Bill. It is merely for the appropriation of a sum already voted. The Amendment added with respect to the London Wine and Coal Duties Act has nothing whatever to do, as I understand, with the question of taxation, but merely has reference to some alteration respecting the mode of keeping the accounts. Under these circumstances, it does not appear to me that there is anything informal in the Motion which the right hon. Gentleman has made.


said, he could not but express his regret that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper) had not included the south side of the Thames in his Bill. He should be glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman whether there was any prospect of the southern embankment being carried out, at an early period. It was a matter of great importance to the comfort of the inhabitants in that district, as they were constantly inundated, and would suffer greater inconvenience if the north side only was embanked.


said, he thought some consideration ought to be extended to the inhabitants of the south bank, and he should like to have some assurance as to whether the embankment on the north side was to be made with reference to the prospective embankment on the south side. As to the embankment from Millbank Street to Westminster Bridge, he wished to know whether it would be in front of the Houses of Parliament, and how access was proposed, seeing that there was no space for a street between the end of the clock-tower and the bridge. He approved a solid embankment, because the openings for barges would lead to a great accumulation of filth and mud, and he therefore condemned the proposal to have openings in that part east of the Temple Gardens, merely for the convenience of the City Gas Company. Those works might have been removed but for an Act which passed two years ago, and even now it would be worth considering whether some of the money from the coal duties should not be applied to get rid of them. He hoped that plans of the works would be exhibited for the inspection of hon. Members.


said, he could not but express his surprise at the tone in which the metropolitan Members had treated the question, for without a grand opening of that sort along the river-side London never would be what it ought to be. The mere removal of stoppages would in a few years give an advantage to the mercantile community of London that would quite compensate any new taxation that might be involved; but, in point of fact, no new taxation would be involved. So far from any improvement of the north side impeding that of the south, he believed that if the improvement of the north was carried out, the improvement of the south must follow. He cordially approved of the proposal of Government.


said, he agreed that it would be desirable that the House should have the plans of the embankment before it previous to the second reading. He wished to call attention to the injury which would be inflicted upon persons occupying premises and engaged in trade along the river side by the proposed embankment. Those persons must remove to a distance, and have carts and waggons running from their yards to the side of the river. He should also like to have some further explanation of the use of the new road from the embankment by Earl Street to the Mansion House. He was of opinion that it would be utterly useless in removing the real press of traffic. If the improvement were carried out as proposed, it would be necessary to renew the coal tax for another ten years beyond those proposed by the Bill; and, as regarded the southern side, he was afraid that it would be little better than a nuisance, and would produce a constant overflow on that side of the water. He should be glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman what effect it was expected the embankment would have on the foundations of London Bridge.


observed, that he conceived the proposed embankment would prove to be one of the most important metropolitan improvements which had ever been proposed, and he was surprised that the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets should persevere in making war on all the schemes suggested for the improvement of London. The matter was one which regarded the whole country, in a certain sense; for it was not only the inhabitants of London who paid the coal tax, but every- body who came into London and helped to burn coals there had a share in it. As the representative of London-super-Mare, he should give his best assistance to pass the Bill.


thanked the President of the Board of Works for the very excellent metropolitan improvement which he had proposed.

Leave given. Bill for Embanking the North Side of the River Thames from Westminster Bridge, and for making new Streets in and near thereto, and from Blackfriars Bridge to the Mansion House, and for amending the London Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Act, 1861, ordered to be brought in by Mr. COWPER and Mr. PEEL.

Bill presented and read 1o.