HC Deb 29 April 1864 vol 174 cc1950-7

said, he rose to call attention to the insufficiency and inconvenience of the temporary Museum for Inventions at South Kensington, and the Patent Office in Southampton Buildings, and to the expediency of uniting the Museum of Inventions and the Patent Office under one building, and at a convenient distance from the law courts. On two former occasions when he had the Motion on the paper the House was counted out. He therefore had no alternative but to bring it forward even in the then thin state of the House, The Patent Office in Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, contained the specifications of patents and a valuable collection of books. It was near the law courts, and as far as site was concerned, was well enough adapted to its purpose. Several years ago the patented and other inventions which had come into the possession of the institution in Southampton Buildings were removed to South Kensington for exhibition at the request of the authorities. Though the exhibition was attended by some success, it did not prove very attractive, for the authorities at South Kensington devoted their energies rather to giving amusement than real practical instruction.

Notice taken that forty Members were not present, House counted, and more than forty Members being present,


resumed his statement. In 1859 a proposal was made that the inventions should be transferred from the South Kensington institution to a building to be erected on a piece of ground in the same neighbourhood. Desiring that they should be exhibited at some place near the centre of the metropolis, and knowing the grasping disposition of the authorities at South Kensington, he took exception to the estimate for the new building, as he feared that if once located there they would probably be permanently retained there. The Government told him, in reply to his remarks, that they had considered the question of site and had determined that the new building at South Kensington should be regarded as a temporary erection. Eventually the vote passed on that distinct understanding. After some time the inventions were transferred to it. They still remained there, and a large number of fresh models had been added to the collection, which now formed the nucleus of a very valuable museum. But the authorities at South Kensington were quite unable to exhibit the inventions to advantage. The models were crowded higgledy-piggledy together at a great distance from the law courts, which prevented the possessors of inventions from sending them for exhibition, and so the museum was at a complete standstill. Matters were even worse in Southampton Buildings, where the books and specifications were stowed away in narrow inconvenient cells and passages, in the latter of which they were not sufficiently protected from the weather. The Government appeared to be quite alive to the necessity of doing something in the matter; but he was rather afraid they were proceeding too fast. It was a subject upon which the opinion of the House certainly ought to be taken. There was something very curious in the absorbing powers of Brompton for museums, The Members of the Government seemed to have taken a new oath of allegiance which bound them to Brompton. He knew several who used to speak rather disparagingly of the South Kensington concerns when independent Members, but who became thorough and devoted supporters of them as soon as they took their seats on the Treasury Bench. He hoped that the Patent Library would not be transferred thither. It ought to be placed in the vicinity of the law courts, where patent agents and others interested in these matters chiefly congregated. Then again, the utility of the Patent Museum would very much depend on its being in the neighbourhood of the library, so that persons might inspect the models when they had consulted the specifications and books. It would be very hard on manufacturers, mechanics, inventors, and others of the kind, to compel them to go all the way to Brompton in order to visit the library and museum. He was surprised at the extent and magnificence of the buildings proposed to be erected according to the exhibited plans. If sanctioned, they would involve a vast amount of expenditure, and he could not help suspecting that they formed only an instalment of an undertaking of much wider scope. It was rather significant that one of the plans was labelled "Acropolis of Art," that was not a title which could apply either to a Patent Museum or a Gallery of Natural History, and he thought if carried out it might be more properly called a Necropolis of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's surplus revenue. The Government found it necessary to provide attractions to induce people to visit the building at Kensington, and wines and spirits, cold luncheons and lobster-salads were to be obtained there. It would no doubt be said that it was difficult to obtain a site elsewhere; but Chancery Lane would be a much better spot, and he believed there was available space in the locality. A scheme had once been put forward by a private company for building a museum in Southampton Buildings, and it would have been handed over to the Government when completed. He earnestly hoped the Government would consider their decision.


said, he thought the hon. Member had done well in calling attention to the matter. He wished to know whether the First Commissioner of Works had had any communication with the Patent Commissioners on the subject of the future Patent Museum, and whether they agreed that it should be located at Kensington; because, if so, he should be curious to know what had induced them, within the short period of two years, to change the opinion they expressed in favour of the Patent Office, library, and museum being placed, not merely in close contiguity to each other, if not tinder one roof, but also in close proximity to the class of persons such as barristers, mechanical engineers, skilled workmen, solicitors, and patent agents, who were most interested in the use of them. He, therefore, asked whether the Patent Commissioners were now willing, in spite of their Report, to dissociate the museum from the library and office; and whether they considered Kensington to be a central situation, such as is considered indispensable in the Report? He calculated that there must now be about £240,000 derived from patent funds, and which should be applicable for patent purposes, and he thought that sum would be sufficient to buy ground in a region proper for patent purposes, and to build on it. In the temporary structure at Kensington there were 909 models, but of these, only 108 belonged to the owners of patents. The rest were models which had been lent: to the superintendent of specifications, and: might be taken away at any time. He was afraid, therefore, that the Government might be miscalculating, and might erect a very large building and have only 108 models to put in it. The House had been asked last year by the Prime Minister, whether they would grudge the Government three acres for this purpose, while the Americans had eleven acres. But he ventured to say that there was no building in the world which contained such rubbish as that which contained the models at Washington. The most interesting model in the collection was one of the famous ballot-box with a false bottom, which was used at San Francisco. The persons appointed to be the judges of the building which the First Commissioner of Works proposed to erect were three architects, one amateur, and one painter. In the case of the British Museum and that of the new building at Kensington the proper persons had not been consulted. If the gentleman who had charge of the mediaeval collection had been consulted, when the large northern court at Kensington was constructed, a huge glass-house with excessive light in the main portion of the structure would not have been the result. Objects of the slightest delicacy had to be placed in the arcades where they could not be seen — places which were nothing but the abodes of Nox and Erebus, He trusted, therefore, if these new Museums were to be made, that no final decision would be arrived at without the persons who were intrusted with the care of the collections to be exhibited being consulted as to the suitability of the galleries.


said, he quite admitted the importance of the subject under discussion, as no one could doubt that the Patent Office was unfit for its purpose. It was placed in Chancery Lane in 1853, and the building there was at that time sufficient for the wants of the office and the library, but the library had increased so rapidly that it had outgrown the space allotted to it. The necessity, therefore, for increased accommodation had pressed upon the Government and upon the Commissioners; but, for the convenience of persons engaged in legal proceedings, the Patent Office must be in the neighbourhood of the Courts. It was exceedingly difficult to find accommodation for the purpose in that part of the town; but there was a building which appeared to be suitable, Last year, when they were asked the purposes for which they wanted to purchase the site of the Exhibition building at Kensington, they mentioned the Patent Museum and the Collection of Natural History, for it was not possible to find sufficient accommodation for the models in the same building with the office. The House had thought proper not to agree to the proposition of purchasing the Exhibition building itself, and therefore he felt bound to turn his attention to the erection of a new structure, and with that view he had invited competition for a design for one which would hold the patent models and the Natural History collection of the British Museum, and which would harmonize with other buildings that might subsequently be erected for purposes of science and art. South Kensington, to which the hon. Member for Swansea seemed to have such an objection, would be equally and even more convenient for the working men of the metropolis and of the country at large than Chancery Lane. It had never entered into the mind of any one to remove the library from the office, but the Museum was not an essential part of either one or the other. A model was not a part of a legal description of a patent, which consisted altogether in the verbal description and engravings. A great number of the models in the Museum were not models of patents, and it was very desirable that these models of mechanical inventions should be placed in those spots to which the working classes were in the habit of resorting for that kind of amusement and instruction. The Commissioners were of opinion that the Museum ought to be an historical and educational institution, for the benefit of the skilled workmen in the various factories of the kingdom. At present, they calculated that about half an acre would be required, but as the number of models was certain to increase rapidly, provision ought to be made for the future extension of the Museum. In the plans, half an acre had been provided, or 23,000 square feet, on two stories, independent of future requirement. It would be impossible to provide space sufficient for present and future requirements in close contiguity to the office, and he, therefore, thought it desirable that the vacant space at South Kensington should be employed as the receptacle for the interesting models which it was certain would be congregated there. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Galway had asked whether the Commissioners had approved the proposed site of the Museum. He could not point to any particular statement of theirs to that effect, but he gathered from the general terms of their Report that they wished to see an ample space provided for the Museum, and that they did not attach importance to its being under the same roof as the office. Former Commissioners had recommended that the Museum should be placed at South Kensington. The Government had not lost sight of the matter, and when their plan was matured and brought before the House, he did not think it would meet with the opposition which the hon. Gentleman anticipated.


said, he wished to correct an erroneous impression which the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be under—namely, that the House last year consented that the Patent Museum and other collections should be placed at South Kensington. They did no such thing. All that the House did was to affirm by one vote that the land should be purchased, and by another that the buildings upon it should be pulled down. He believed South Kensington was a great deal too far out of London to have the Museum, or any other collections removed there.


said, he thought that looking to the responsible position of the right hon. Gentleman, he ought to have consulted the Patent Commissioners. It had so happened, however, that the Commissioners had already given an opinion which was to be found in a paragraph a little below one to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred. It was hardly ingenuous to overlook that paragraph. And who were the Commissioners? They were such eminent men as the Lord Chancellor, Sir J. Romilly, Sir William Atherton, the late Attorney General, and Sir Roundell Palmer; and yet, without consulting them, the right hon. Gentleman had determined upon a particular plan, and then said he should be very much surprised if they should object to it, merely because they had incidentally remarked on one occasion that the most important consideration in connection with the erection of the necessary buildings was the spot to be selected, and that the readers being a class of scientific persons, it was obvious they should be enabled to read the books and examine the models and machines, and consequently that the Patent Office, the library, and the Museum should be under the same roof, or in close proximity. Could not the right hon. Gentleman take the trouble to read the Report? Before the First Commissioner of Works advertised for enormous plans for a special purpose, that House ought to be consulted. The right hon. Gentleman could not appropriate money belonging to the Patent Office to other purposes. It should be recollected that the plans and designs which the right hon. Gentleman called for must cost something, and was it right that they should be involved in that expense without the consent of the House? Unless the purposes for which the buildings were to be erected were clearly defined, it was impossible that proper designs could be got. He was quite dissatisfied with the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman. He supposed they should hear no more of those Estimates until the House was about to be prorogued, and then next year they would be obliged to follow up the plans to which Parliament would be said to have given its assent.


said, the position in which the Question had been left by the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman was most ambiguous and unsatisfactory. He was not acting in concert with the Commissioners of Patents, and the whole responsibility, therefore, was cast upon the House. If the right hon. Gentleman proceeded without due regard to the objects of the Commissioners, the money available for the Museum would be entirely lost to the public, and it would be necessary to pay for the buildings out of the Consolidated Fund. He hoped, then, that his hon. Friend who had brought the subject forward would not lose sight of it, but would press for a Select Committee, so that when the House should be called upon to vote it would have ample information. Unless that were done, they would have no information except what the right hon. Gentleman chose to give.

MR. SPEAKER put the Question—"That I leave the Chair;" and having declared it carried left the Chair.

Motion agreed to.

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