HC Deb 12 June 1866 vol 184 cc223-35

Order for Consideration, as amended, read.


in moving that this Bill be considered, said, that it was a Bill brought forward by the oldest gas company in the metropolis, which had at present works in three different parts of London. Anxious to meet the public requirements by reducing the price of gas they set about to find a place where they could concentrate their three works into one, and thus carry on their manufacture under more advantageous circumstances, diminish the price, and at the same time remove their existing works from the densely populated neighbourhoods in which they are at present situate. After considerable trouble they found a site at Hackney Marshes. They then made a proposition to the City of London Gas Company, whose works were in Blackfriars, that they should amalgamate with them, and remove their works to the same site. The Bills, sanctioning such an arrangement, ultimately came before a Committee of that House, and there had been no great number of petitions from either Hackney or Bow in opposition. The parish of Hackney certainly opposed the Bill, but it was only on a question as to the manner in which the mains were to be taken through the streets, and not against the merits of the Bill itself. These works being situate in the neighbourhood of Victoria Park an agitation was commenced for the purpose of preventing the proposed works being placed in Hackney Marshes. The Metropolitan Board supported the opposition, and argued that the Bill ought to be rejected on account of the proposed works being so close to the park. The Imperial Gas Company, who had a Bill in Parliament for a new site in the same neighbourhood, in deference to that opposition, thought it right to withdraw their measure. Now, the Standing Orders of both Houses of Parliament very properly required that whenever any gas works were proposed to be erected within 300 yards of any property notice should be given to the parties. The Imperial Gas Works were within the proscribed 300 yards, but that was not the case with the works which were proposed to be constructed under this Bill. These works were at least 643 yards from the nearest point of Victoria Park, and there were various manufactories in the neighbourhood which were of a much more injurious character than gas works could be. Therefore it could not be said that the Gas Light and Coke Company were the first disturbers of this neighbourhood. This Bill, along with other Gas Bills affecting the metropolis, was referred to a Committee of twelve Members, who, after most carefully investigating the subject, and hearing the evidence upon both sides, and visiting the proposed site, came to the conclusion that there was no valid objection to the works being erected as proposed. They, however, inserted a clause in the Bill to the effect that the purifying process should not be carried on in any part of the works which were nearer than half a mile from the outer wall of Victoria Park. It might be said that it was perfectly possible to find a site for the erection of these works which should not be open to the objections which had been urged in this case; but he denied that such a site could be obtained, so near and so suitable, with a view to manufacturing the gas at a reduced price. He had as great a desire as any one in that House to preserve for the public the full enjoyment of parks and places of recreation, but he had an equal interest in removing existing gas works from densely populated and over-crowded neighbourhoods, and taking them to other places. Under these circumstances he trusted that the House would not refuse to proceed with the consideration of this Bill, as the Committee had unanimously reported in its favour, and the House ought not, without the gravest possible reasons (which he sub- mitted were not forthcoming in this case), to undo what a Committee upstairs had done after a full consideration of all the facts of the case. He begged to move that the Bill be now considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now taken into Consideration."—(Mr. Adair.)


said, that he had thought that the proper course would be to object to the Report being brought up, for the reason that he did not object to the Bill, but to the land clauses relating to Hackney Wick. If his hon. Friend would undertake to strike them out, he would give his support to the Bill. He had been familiar with the neighbourhood of Victoria Park from his boyhood, and he had come to the conclusion that the proposed gas works ought not to be constructed on the site contemplated. The consumption of 600 tons, some said 1,000 and even 2,000 tons of coal per day, would be a monstrous nuisance to the inhabitants of the locality. Gas works were undoubtedly prejudicial to the growth of vegetation. Dr. Hooker, in a letter to Dr. Miller, observed that the works at Brentford, though situated on the north side of the river, were unmistakably prejudicial to the Royal Gardens at Kew. He contended that another site might have been chosen not open to objections of this kind; and that the provisions of the Bill itself showed that those who drew them up had suspicions in regard to the way in which the public would view them. The hon. Member concluded by moving, as an Amendment, that the Bill be further considered that day three months.


in seconding the Amendment, said, he never remembered such a widespread or deep-seated feeling as had been occasioned by the proposal to erect gas works in the immediate neighbourhood of Victoria Park. It was a feeling shared in not merely by the poorest classes, but by clergy, medical men, and gentlemen of every other profession. He himself had presented a petition on the subject signed by 2,000 clerks in wholesale warehouses in London. It was said the distance from the proposed gas works to Victoria Park was as great as from Westminster to Charing Cross. But if it were proposed to amalgamate three or four of the largest gas works in the metropolis and settle them down in Trafalgar Square, would not hon. Members rebel at the suggestion?

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Tite.)


as Chairman of the Committee to whom this question had been referred, and having minutely considered the evidence, said, he was perhaps as well qualified to offer an opinion as his hon. Friend the Member for Bath, representing the Metropolitan Board of Works. That Board was heard by counsel, who did not call a single witness in corroboration of their statement. It would be a most unusual and ungracious course, after the Committee had devoted five weeks to the consideration of the measure, to set aside their proceedings in the peremptory manner now proposed. The real question was whether or no gas works ought to be erected in the position indicated. The Committee did not even allow their decision to be influenced by the evidence adduced before them, but proceeded to inspect the site, which they found at Hackney, in a place which was a marsh in summer and a sea in winter. No houses could be built near the spot unless the ground were first raised considerably; and the company themselves proposed to make an embankment for the purpose of their works. Great stress was laid on the beauty of Victoria Park, but he was sorry to say that the single trees as distinguished from the plantations were all in a decaying state, and if the gas works were now at work in the neighbourhood the circumstance, no doubt, would be attributed to them. He defied hon. Members to say that the trees in or adjoining to Birdcage Walk suffered from proximity to the works at Horseferry Road, though these were nearer by one-half than the proposed works would be to Victoria Park. The members of the Committee had no personal interest in the matter, and the issue which they had to decide was the same with which the House would be now confronted, that was to say, as gas must obviously be made in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, the question was—where? One of the witnesses examined before the Committee appeared to think that gas ought to be made at the pit's mouth. The excited meetings held on the subject consisted largely, he believed, of non-residents; and from a question put to him yesterday he believed that many were under the impression that the Committee had sanctioned the erection of gas works in the very centre of the Park. The re- torts were all to be close, and the chimneys carrying off the vapour were, by a special clause in the Bill, placed under the control of the Board of Works. The result of the erection of these works would be the removal of the gas manufactories now in the Horseferry Road, the neighbourhood of the Temple, and other densely populated districts. He might observe that the Committee had laid down some general principles with respect to gas works, which, if acted upon by the Government, would in his opinion be of public benefit. Under all the circumstances, he trusted the House would affirm the unanimous decision of the Committee.


could not agree with his right hon. Friend who had just spoken. He had visited the site of the proposed works, and heard all that the officials of the company could say in its favour; but the result was that he felt the Bill was not one which ought to pass. The River Lea ran by one side of the site; there was a small ditch at another of its boundaries; and in another direction there was some stagnant water, caused, he believed, by a railway embankment; but he could not concur in the accuracy of his right hon. Friend's description of the place. London was rapidly spreading in the neighbourhood of the site; and that House ought to look to the future as well as to the present. He did not always attach importance to the evidence of persons who had grown up in the region of a gas works and had become used to the nuisance. Only that morning he was visited by the chairman of the gas company near the Temple, who assured him that every one in the neighbourhood liked the works there. More than that, the gentleman to whom he referred produced letters from learned lawyers stating the same thing. Having taken the pains to make inquiries among them, he could state that there was a unanimous feeling among the inhabitants of the neighbourhood against the proposal to bring the gas works to their locality. They were proud of their park, from which they derived much moral and physical benefit, and he trusted the House would consult their wishes, and insist upon the company spending a few more pounds in planting their works in a locality on which no public injury could be inflicted.


said, that respect for the decisions of Committees might be carried too far, for if all such decisions were to be considered binding it would practi- cally deprive the House of the opportunity of reviewing the conduct of its Committees. The parishes affected by the Bill had placed themselves under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Board of Works, who had decided that the erection of gas works on the site proposed would be highly prejudicial to the neighbourhood. The question was, whether the House would sanction the concentration of a great number of gas works, and authorize an unlimited manufacture of gas, for there was no limit in the Bill to the extent of the nuisance and the amount of injury that might be created. He trusted the House would not allow the promoters of the Bill to create such a nuisance on a spot which had been devoted by Parliament to the recreation of the people. It had been stated that there were other nuisances in the neighbourhood in the shape of vitriol and other works; but that fact only furnished a stronger argument that there should not be one more. All London, of course, must be supplied with gas, but he maintained that it would be dangerous in the highest degree to aggregate gas works to an enormous extent in any one place. If they did so, and any accident occurred, the consequences might be terrific. If, on the contrary, they allowed each neighbourhood to have its own moderate supply of gas in its own district there would be no danger. He would like to hear some expression of opinion upon the subject from the Chief Commissioner of Works.


must say, from his acquaintance with the Victoria Park, that the passing of a Bill for the erection of those gigantic gas works near the Park would be objectionable. Having regard to the interests of the Victoria Park, he felt bound to oppose the Bill. The vegetation in the Park had already been seriously injured by the noxious manufactures carried on in the vicinity, and if, in addition, these gas works were erected, he believed that the people who went to the Victoria Park to enjoy the advantages of health, recreation, and fresh air, would be liable to inhale sulphur, gas tar and ammonia, and would be deprived of some of their enjoyment. The Committee had not had the case against the works before them, and, considering the pains taken with, and the sums expended on, Victoria Park, the House should not run any risk by approving of the erection of these gas works; and that there would be risk no one could deny. Every one must admit that the evil would be sensibly felt, but it might, in fact, be seriously felt; and it was right on public grounds to protect a place that was a source of immense enjoyment and of health and happiness to the people at the East End of London. On public grounds, therefore, and for the purpose of protecting the Park, he thought it right to oppose the Bill. It was urged that the gas company could not find any other suitable spot for the erection of their works, and that the ground sought for in this case could not be made available for any other purposes. But if the marshes could be rendered fit for the erection of these gas works, they could also be rendered fit for the erection of ordinary habitations; and with regard to the other objection, why could not the company go to a place where some other gas works had been proposed, seven miles from London and on the banks of the Thames. It was said that in the proposed site the company would have the benefit of railway accommodation; but was not the advantage of river accommodation more important? The river would prove far more economical for the carriage of coals than the railway. He was sure the House ought to take means to prevent the establishment of noxious works in the vicinity of a place of public resort, where the public hoped to have as little contamination of the air as was possible.


said, he had no knowledge of the localities in question, and therefore had no local prejudice, but he felt deeply interested in the welfare of an admirable hospital for the treatment of consumptive cases that was situated very near Victoria Park. He had received a strong representation from those who took an interest in the subject, and had presented a petition from the authorities of the hospital stating that if the gas works should be established they would produce an injurious effect on the unhappy inmates of that hospital. He must attach more weight to the statements of persons possessed of local knowledge than to the evidence given before the Committee. He should therefore oppose the Bill.


opposed the Bill on the ground of the injury which it would do to the Victoria Park. He hoped that Victoria Park might be preserved for the thousands of toiling artisans who lived within a short distance of its boundaries. Already offensive trades and manufactures were carried on in the vicinity of the Park, and he desired to get rid of them, not to add to them. Those hon. Gentlemen who were in the habit of occasionally visiting the Park must be fully aware of the cruel effect which would be produced by the erection of these colossal gas works, which would be more injurious than all the other works in the vicinity put together. Besides, if the works were erected, a colony of houses would, in all probability, be built for the stokers and workmen, and those houses must necessarily be erected on that side of the Park from which all the pure air was derived. After the statements which had been made by hon. Gentlemen, and in particular by the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners), he should not go into the matter at any length, but he must implore the House not to inflict on the people so great a calamity as this Bill would bring about. This was an exceptional case, as it related to the enjoyment of hundreds of thousands of our fellow-creatures. Frequently, he might remark, from 20,000 to 50,000 persons were collected within the boundaries of the Park. If this measure were passed, vegetation would be destroyed. ["No, no!"] Well, that, at all events, was a matter of opinion, and for his part he thought it would be destroyed, and that the Park would be deserted. Nearly £200,000 had been spent in forming the Park, and he hoped the House would not now throw so large an expenditure to the winds.


having been a Member of the Committee, desired to say a few words on this subject. It was a most unfortunate thing for hon. Gentlemen who bad served on Committees to be called upon to defend and justify the decisions which had been come to, for they appeared before the House as advocates after they had been discharging duties of a purely judicial character. In cases like this, however, it was right for Members who had served on the Committee, and had given every attention to the subject, to remind the House what was the evidence on which the decision of the Committee was arrived at. If the House desired to do justice and to uphold the dignity of its own judicial tribunals, it ought now to be guided by the evidence by which the Committee had been guided. As regarded the site, for instance, some Gentlemen seemed to think it was easy to find one within a reasonable distance of London. The evidence of the engineer to the company, however, showed that this was far from being the case, and that no place could be found near the metropolis so eligible as Hackney Wick. It was, he believed, less populous and more remote from habitations than almost any part of the suburbs of London could be, and it was almost certain that it would remain so. As had been stated, the site called in the Bill the gas lands were marsh in summer and a sea in winter. On the one side it was bounded by the River Lea, on a second by a canal, on the third by marshes, and on the fourth by a railway, the Great Eastern, with which it would have direct communication. On the land there was a reservoir which had been abandoned by a water company, and there was a very large area that was perfectly useless for habitable purposes. The site was the more eligible for gas works because there was water communication on one side and railway communication on the other, so that, in addition to facilities for getting coal cheaply, there were facilities for getting rid of the residuary products of gas manufacture. The House ought to consider that the matter had been inquired into by a Committee of twelve at sixteen sittings, and that the promoters had had to bear the additional cost of this inquiry, whereas, if the Bill had been referred to an ordinary Private Bill Committee, it would have gone before the Chairman of Ways and Means, and would probably have been disposed of in a short time. Indeed, it was practically unopposed before the Committee, and if there was so much objection to the site being taken by the gas company, why was it that more evidence was not adduced before the Committee? He had asked the hon. Member for Bath to give evidence, but the hon. Member did not do so. While the clergymen of the parish abstained from opposing the Bill, one whose parish was a mile off, and who described himself as the "popular clergyman and agitator of the neighbourhood," gave evidence; he was the only one who had anything to say about probable injury to the Park, and that not from vapours or noxious effluvia, but simply from smoke, which would be prejudicial to the flowers and trees in the Park. But did Hyde Park and St. James' Park suffer from the smoke of the surrounding houses? The gas works would be 600 yards from the nearest corner of the Park, the chimneys 800 yards, and the purifier 1,000 yards, and the process of purification to be adopted would prevent the escape of noxious vapours. Because a little smoke might be blown over the Park sometimes, was the House to say that so great an accommodation as the works would be should be denied? Why, the Bill would remove two of the largest gas works from London, so that the balance was in favour of the new works. Chymist after chymist told the Committee that the vapours and smoke from gas works were not prejudicial to health or vegetation; and he had visited Victoria Park which was not injured by the contiguity of works, the smoke and vapours arising from which were of a far more deleterious character than any that arose from gas works.


who had no interest in the corporation nor in the Metropolitan Board of Works, took an interest in the decisions of Committees appointed by that House. The hon. Gentleman who last spoke was hardly audible, owing to the noise that prevailed. If the popular—or as the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Paull), in the heat of debate, called him the "populous"—clergyman of whom he spoke had happened to be under the gallery and heard the mention made of him, he would have been fully justified in exclaiming "Paul, Paul, why persecutest thou me?" He would urge the hon. Member for Stoke, to whom Spitalfields, as he said, was as dear as his own drawing-room, to attend to the borough he represented, to support a Motion to be brought on that night, and to endeavour to abate the nuisance at his own door. He (Sir Robert Peel) kept his eyes on the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Tite), and protested against that hon. Gentleman always standing up in the House on matters of taste. For the last five years he had submitted to the overbearing conduct of the Metropolitan Board of Works, which, through the hon. Member, now sought to overturn a decision of the Committee of that House, on the plea of protecting the interests of the poor. If there was a body that had done mischief to the poor by the destruction of their dwellings, and that had ruthlessly destroyed time-honoured sites, it was the Metropolitan Board of Works, and in his own person he had suffered from the arbitrary conduct of that Board. Therefore he watched jealously the lion. Member for Bath when he brought his great intelligence to bear on a subject of taste. When a Committee of that House had decided that a site was a suitable one for gas works, were they to follow the advice of the hon. Member for Bath? Rather let them be guided by their own better judgment. A great deal had been said about destroying the public parks; but he would ask whether gas works were not already near Battersea Park, and whether arguments of that nature would not go against every improvement? He protested against the House following the taste in this respect of the hon. Member for Bath. He believed that as many as six miles would be covered by the illuminating power of the company, and he was sure that no better or any more suitable spot could be selected. Why an hon. Gentleman had just told him that he had erected gas works in his own park, and that they in no way interfered with the beauty of the scenery which, as he assured him, surrounded his mansion. Could there be a more beautiful town than Bath, and had it been destroyed by the proximity of gas works? He trusted that the House would accept the decision of the Committee, and that they would not listen to the ill-advice or submit to the arbitrary proceedings of the Metropolitan Board of Works, under the guidance of his hon. Friend the Member for Bath.


said, that it had been proved before a Committee of which he was a Member, that the metropolis paid more for its gas than was paid in any other part of the country, and that in return they obtained gas of the most impure and inferior description. The Committee consequently recommended that Government should bring in a Bill on the subject. He opposed this present Bill, and he appealed to the House not to be indifferent to the feelings on this point of the poor people who lived near Victoria Park, although they were unable to appear before them by counsel thus to establish their grievance in the most forcible manner.


when a Committee of the House had examined into this question, did not like to go against that Report without stating the grounds upon which he did so. If the House listened to the arguments of the promoters, they would come to the conclusion that gas works were no nuisance at all, and that it was rather pleasant than otherwise to have them close to you. Now he did not think that even the Chancellor of the Exchequer, fond as he was of grouping, would have the face to propose to bring a group of gas works within 600 yards of Hyde Park. Well, the present Bill was for the purpose of bringing a group of gas works close to a park for which they had paid £100,000, and he should vote against it on the ground that if it was improper to place gas works in close proximity to Hyde Park it must be equally so in the case of Victoria Park.


who obtained a hearing with difficulty, on account of the impatience of the House, trusted that this question would be decided upon its merits, and not merely from a feeling of deference for the Committee. Now, the result of the Bill would be to place gas works as close to Victoria Park as gas works on Primrose Hill would be to Regent's Park, or gas works on the old Exhibition ground would be to Hyde Park. The intention was to remove all the gas works in Horseferry Road, the Temple, and various other places, to the vicinity of Victoria Park. Was this a fair proposition? Was it just towards the classes who frequented Victoria Park? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincolnshire appeared to justify the proposal on the ground that there were already so many stinks on the spot that one stink more could not be of much consequence; but he (Mr. Alderman Lawrence) protested against the project, and he called upon the House to reject it.


as a Member of the Board of Works, begged to differ from the conclusion arrived at by the hon. Member for Bath. He had carefully examined the spot on which the gas works were to be erected, and his conclusion was that it was every way suited to the purpose, and that a better one could not be selected. It was already occupied by a number of noxious manufactures, and he was convinced that if the proposed gas works were not erected their place would only be filled by other manufactures of a much more objectionable character, and much more prejudicial to the public health and convenience. The ground was altogether unfit for habitation; it was continually covered with water, and in every respect it was one of those spots on which it would be impossible to prevent the establishment of offensive manufactures.


asked, whether the House were to take the opinion of a certain number of prejudiced Members who had come down here to oppose the Bill, or the opinion of the Committee, who had taken the trouble to inspect the proposed site for themselves? Under such circumstances, he thought that the House was bound to respect and to adopt the opinions of the Committee?


supported the Bill. He begged the House to consider how the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works had acted in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman spoke against the proposed works in the House; but if he thought them so prejudicial as he said, then he was guilty of a great dereliction of duty in not coming before the Committee and giving his opinion, and thus enabling the Committee to test its soundness. The Committee, as had been stated, visited the ground, and the parochial authorities met them there, and notwithstanding all that had been urged to the contrary the Committee came to the conclusion that the place selected was the best site. He hoped, then, the House would support the decision of the Committee.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 169; Noes 138: Majority 31.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered; to be read the third time.

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