HC Deb 26 February 1866 vol 181 cc1086-95

(Mr. Tite, Mr. Taverner J. Miller, Mr. Doulton.)

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he had put a notice upon the paper of his intention to move that the second reading of the Bill should be postponed to the 16th of March, and he proposed that postponement with a view to seeing whether it was possible, within the limits of deviation, to change the approaches to the Embankment from Charing Cross so as to avoid Northumberland House. That postponement was opposed at the instance of the Duke of Northumberland; and the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. Beresford Hope) had given notice of an Amendment, the object of which was to throw the Bill out. The Bill for embanking the Thames was brought in in 1862, not by the Metropolitan Board, but by the Government, as the result of a Commission which sat two or three years before. At first it was suggested that the Bill should be carried out by a Commission; but, as the Metropolitan Board of Works were necessarily largely interested by reason of the project for carrying the main sewer along the Embankment, it was resolved in the House itself that the whole matter should be placed in the hands of the Board. The plans were much discussed and varied in that House, and the Board of Works were authorized to carry them out, but the Board itself was not represented on the Commission, nor even referred to. However the Bill passed, and recently the approaches to the Embankment came under the consideration of the Board, and it was found that there was nothing practical about those that were proposed. An Act of Parliament was passed last Session, also authorizing the Metropolitan Underground Railway to go along this part of the Embankment; and the railway engineers were quite unable to do anything until the side approaches and the levels connected therewith were settled. The Metropolitan Board had undertaken to make the communications from Charing Cross; there were eight or nine streets involved, and therefore they were extremely anxious that the Bill should pass this Session, because, if it did not, the approaches could not be settled, and another Session must arrive ere the great works of the Metropolitan Railway could be undertaken. For these reasons, they were anxious that so much of the Bill should pass at once as did not interfere injuriously with the rights of the Duke of Northumberland; for, if the levels could not be settled, two years would be lost before the works of the Underground Railway could be commenced. This was not a private speculation; it was a matter in which the whole metropolis was interested. The Board had a great work to do, and there were great responsibilities connected with it. One thing wanted was a short approach to the Embankment from Charing Cross. In proposing to take Northumberland House, which stood on the shortest line (it not being more than 400 yards from the extreme point of Northumberland House to the Embankment) the Board intended no discourtesy to the Duke of Northumberland. Indeed, it had been rumoured that the Duke or his family had no desire to preserve the house. So much was that the case, as they understood, that there had been even a proposition to place the terminus of the railway at Northumberland House instead of in the position at present fixed, and he had himself been, two or three years back, invited to join a company to buy the house and build offices on the site. Of course he knew now that the popular impression was a mistake. The late Duke died a year ago, and another nobleman having succeeded to the dukedom, the matter had assumed another shape, and it was now said that the attempt to take Northumberland House was a breach of contract. The Board had consulted the First Commissioner of Works, who was Chairman of then Committees of 1862, who did not understand that the contract involved the obligations alleged. Of course, if there was any honourable understanding they the Board were bound to adopt it, though they had nothing to do with making it. If it was agreed, as was suggested, that the house should not be touched—if there was a strong feeling in favour of its preservation on architectural or archaeological grounds, the Board were quite prepared to agree to a clause which had been submitted to the agents of the Duke, that no part of the House or gardens should be touched without the consent of the Duke first given in writing, or they would further strike out of the Bill everything relating to Northumberland House, and they would endeavour to lay down another street to avoid it. He therefore proposed, with that object, that the second reading of the Bill should be postponed to the 16th of March, to allow time for the necessary consideration of the subject. They had no intention of touching the Savoy Chapel, which had been recently restored. The Embankment was a work of great public utility; looking to the crowded state of the streets it was important that it should be carried out in its integrity; and if the Bill were thrown out a great public injustice would be committed.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be read a second time upon Friday the 16th day of March next."—(Mr. Tite.)


said, he was glad his hon. Friend (Mr. Tite) appreciated the architectural and archeaological interest of Northumberland House, and that he now proposed to strike out of the Bill everything that made it different from the Bill of 1862—a Bill which had provided the needful approach to the Embankment. It was, in fact, as it came before them, only the Bill of 1862, plus this great act of Fenianism. How did it happen, if it was so well known the Duke intended to sell, and that the lion of the Percies was to wag its tail over a railway station, that the first intimation the Duke had of the existence of such a knowledge should have been the appearance one day in October at his door of a clerk from the Metropolitan Board of Works, with a pen behind his ear, for the purpose of making some preliminary surveys? Whence, too, arose this wonderful eagerness to demolish Northumberland House? There were people who might say that the cause was to be sought in the fact that at Northumberland House were to be found four acres and a half of freehold with no leasehold interests to be bought up. In fact, thin reason was openly avowed in Messrs. Vulliamy and Bazalgette's report to the Board of Works, in which stress was also laid in the view of the river which would be obtained from the Opera Colonnade, as if anything would be thereby made visible except a squint glimpse of the hideous Charing Cross Bridge. The insertion, as at first proposed, of a clause to the effect that Northumberland House should not be touched without the consent of the Duke would he to throw upon his Grace the odium of saying "No;" and, if he did so, to expose him to the comments of the press as on obstructor of public improvements. If that were all that was yielded, the third reading of the Bill would be opposed. North umberland House must be struck out of this Bill at once peremptorily, and for over, or a little more would be heard of it. Another aspect of the question was suggested by what had transpired, Northumberland House and the Savoy Chapel were to stand. This was to knock to pieces both ends of the Bill. What was to be done with the middle? On that most magnificent foreshore, recovered from the Thames, one of the finest sites ever opened up in the metropolis, an architect employed by the Metropolitan Board of Works was to erect a hideous crescent—a row of houses without one square room—and thereby to ruin the whole effect of the natural course which the stream took at that point, not to talk of the destruction of the Adelphi Terrace, This re-building, also, was not to be a matter for fair discussion; it was not to be open to competition among able architects; it was not a project in which the people were to have something to say; but it was to be done arbitrarily by the Board of Works, employing their own officials about a matter which was the common interest of the whole capital. For his own part, if the House was satisfied with the course proposed, without equivocation and without shuffling, he would accept it. But if the general feeling was that the Bill in all its features was so open to objection, and was so entirely riddled to pieces as to deserve to be rejected, if the House would not on any terms have this terrace thrust upon them, he would not refuse to go into the lobby for a division. He begged leave to move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "Friday the 16th day of March next," in order to add the words "this day six months,—(Mr. Beresford Mope,)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he did not understand the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke, or what it was he wanted more than he had already got. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bath, who moved the second reading of the Bill, having abandoned every principle and object which the Metropolitan Board of Works had in view, the course pursued by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke was most ungenerous. He thought the hon. Gentleman ought to be perfectly well satisfied. As he understood it, the Metropolitan Board of Works had proposed the construction of a handsome street from Trafalgar Square to the Embankment. There was one house, that of the Duke of Northumberland, in the way of accomplishing that object, and therefore the Board must abandon their scheme Very little notice was taken when the Metropolitan Board of Works, or any of the great railway companies, proposed to tear down the houses of thousands of the labouring classes and throw the inhabitants on the wide world. But the sympathy of the hon. Member for Stoke and other hon. Members was roused when it was proposed to interfere with the house of one man. It was true that for the first time this Session the question had been raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lambeth (Mr. Thomas Hughes), and he (Mr. Locke) seconded him. They had proposed that a Bill should be rejected which interfered with the houses of a vast number of persons in the metropolis who would be thrown out on the wide world; but neither from the one side of the House nor the other was the question ever raised before. He repeated it—the question had never been raised before, and it was now mooted because the Duke of Northumberland's house had been interfered with. It was all very well for the hon. Member to deal with aesthetics, and to say, "Here is the Savoy Chapel, and here is the house of the Duke of Northumberland going to be pulled down." But what was this Northumberland House? It had a lion on the top with a stiff tail, and that was all. And then it was, "There are five acres of land." But who ever enjoyed them but one man. Below this land, and on the banks of the Thames, the Duke of Northumberland had, according to his own statement, built up a number of miserable hovels, such as Francis' cement works, whereby he had disfigured the banks of the river, in order that he might look over them, and have an uninterrupted view of the Thames. Such was the statement which the Duke had put forward, and he (Mr. Locke) defied any hon. Member to contradict it. He was astonished to find that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bath, who represented the Metropolitan Board of Works in that House, should have come forward with such a miserable proposition, for, by so doing, he had disgraced that body and neglected the interests of the public. He ought to have gone to a division, and have let hon. Members say whether or not they were prepared to succumb to a great Duke, when they had disregarded the interest of large bodies of the inhabitants of the metropolis. The hon. Member for Bath must, if he intended to pursue his present course, give up the representation of the Metropolitan Board of Works to some other hon. Member, or else the Board must be put an end to. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bath and the Board had not been true to the metropolis in this matter. They (the House) ought to have had the question boldly raised before them, and left to the House to determine.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment.


said, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Southwark had suggested that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bath was not a fitting representative of the Metropolitan Board of Works in that House. [Mr. LOCKE: On this occasion.] Well, if any other Gentleman be substituted he hoped it would not be the hon. and learned Member for Southwark, for a more extraordinary doctrine with regard to the rights of property he had never heard laid down than had been laid down by that hon. and learned Gentleman. He said that if one individual happened to be the proprietor of a house and five acres of land in the centre of a great city, that on that account Parliament should be called upon to take it from him. Now he (Lord Elcho) protested against any public board or private party roughly overriding the rights of property, if his hon. Friend the Member for Stoke had gone to a division he should have supported him, not because this was the property of a Duke, not because of any want of courtesy shown to him, but on the ground of want of faith on the part of the Metropolitan Board of Works. A bargain had been entered into by one body, a subsequent body succeeded to the responsibility, and then tried to override the arrangement which had been made in 1862. It might be all very well for the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Southwark to state there was no sympathy in that House for the labouring classes in reference to the destruction of their residences for railway purposes, and that the hon. Member for Lambeth had been the first to call attention to it; but he (Lord Elcho) begged to remind hon. Members that the first voice raised on behalf of the labouring classes against the selfish interests of railway companies was by Lord Derby. The Metropolitan Board of Works had endeavoured to repudiate a former undertaking, and it occurred to him that some Minister ought to be held responsible for the due performance of any promise or arrangement honestly and honourably arrived at. But he had another objection to the Bill, and that was on account of the 20th clause, which provided that notice was to be given of taking the houses of the labouring classes precisely in the same way as notice was given by railway companies. He was happy to find that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets had given notice of a Motion for the appointment of a Committee to con- sider the local management of the metropolis, and he hoped the Committee, if appointed, would make some inquiry into the autocratic jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Board of Works.


said, he should not like it to go forth to the country that the Metropolitan Board of Works had deliberately proposed a breach of faith as had been stated. This House ought to be exceedingly stern with reference to any allegations of breach of engagements between parties promoting Private Bills, and if the Metropolitan Board had proposed such a violation of good faith their Bill ought to have been thrown out. The allegation of a breach of faith which had been made against the Metropolitan Board rested on their alleged violation of the provision of the 53rd clause of the Act of 1862. Now, neither the 53rd nor any other clause contained any provision with reference to Northumberland House. The object of the Bill—for which he was responsible—was to reclaim land on the banks of the Thames in front of Northumberland House. There were certain wharves before Northumberland House which the Metropolitan Board could either buy or else could make compensation for any injury that might be done to them. The Duke of Northumberland expressed a wish that these wharves should not be bought, and a clause was then introduced into the Act forbidding the purchase of the wharves without the authority of the Duke of Northumberland. By another clause in the Act it was determined that no houses were to be erected on the plot of ground before the house. There was no direct reference to Northumberland House. It was not inserted in the schedule, neither was there, nor could there be, any understanding that at some future time Northumberland House should not be taken if it was required. That was the view taken by himself and the Metropolitan Board of Works. Not only was Northumberland House not mentioned in the clause, but it was not mentioned in the Bill. He thought it right, on behalf of a public body, to say that, in proposing this scheme, the Metropolitan Board of Works might fairly suppose they were not departing from any agreement previously entered into with the Duke of Northumber land. While he thought it his duty to make this explanation to the House, he should express his full concurrence in the resolution come to by the Metropolitan Board, and announced to the House by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Tite). He was glad that Northumberland House was not to be destroyed, and his pleasure did not arise from the fact that its owner was a rich man, for Bills came before them every day by which hundreds of persons of small property were deprived of the houses in which they lived and on which their earnings depended. He felt more for such great calamities to poor persons than for the inconvenience to a rich man who would be compelled to spend his money in the erection of another splendid house somewhere else. But he was not unmindful of the fact that Northumberland House was a great feature in London scenery, and that many interesting associations were connected with it. On these grounds he was glad that the members of the Metropolitan Board had changed their minds and that Northumberland House was to be spared. He felt sure that the Metropolitan Board could easily obtain the site of a fine street from Charing Cross to the Thames Embankment without at all interfering with Northumberland House.


said, there certainly was a moral understanding that if the Duke conceded certain things Northumberland House should not be interfered with. If there was not a representative of the Board of Works on the Committee the late Sir Joseph Paxton was a member. And although the hon. Member for Bath refused to be a member, he was one of the most important witnesses called on behalf of that body. They also retained eminent counsel to look after their interests, and therefore it was idle to say there was no understanding about this matter. He wished to know why the original plan of a street from the Horse Guards was not to be carried out. The original plan was to take Lord Carriugton's house.


said, he was glad to find there was a newly-awakened sympathy in the First Commissioner of Works for the poor, because the House could not get the least concession last Session for the labouring classes when it was proposed to make accommodation for the Law Courts by the sweeping away of the places of residence of thousands of working men, The words which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cowper) ought to be a lesson to all persons who had to deal with public bodies to use simple terms in their agreements and not special pleading language. The right hon. Gentleman said that there was no clause in the Act of 1862 by which it was covenanted that no person should ever make a street through the place where Northumberland House now stood. No person said that the Act contained such a clause. But the very foundation of the 53rd clause was protection to Northumberland House. A certain body made an agreement in 1862, and in 1866 the same body sought to do the very same thing which they had agreed not to do. His own opinion was that the Board of Works wished to get the land about Northumberland House to make a building speculation.


said, he could not blame the course that had been pursued in this matter by the Metropolitan Board of Works and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bath. The Metropolitan Board of Works had nothing whatever to do with the arrangement with the Duke of Northumberland, which it was now said was sought to be broken. It was more important that they should keep their pledge than that the public should get a new street. If it had been the feeling of the noble Duke to allow this to be made it would have been one of the finest in Europe. But they felt bound in honour to respect every arrangement entered into, whether with a rich or a poor man, and when this proposal was introduced into the Bill it was under the impression that it met with the Duke's approval.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Bill be read a second time upon Friday the 16th day of March next.

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