HC Deb 25 June 1868 vol 192 cc2138-49

said, he rose to make a Motion which had stood in his name for a long time. When Parliament met last February, the first thing that greeted hon. Members on their way to the House was a strange apparition in a dirty sheet, standing close to the railings by the carriage entrance in New Palace Yard. That apparition they ascertained upon inquiry to be the Peel Statue, and he ventured to give Notice—for a great many persons thought the site which had been selected for the statue a very bad one—that he would bring the matter before the House. The statue seemed to have been frightened by that Notice, for it one night suddenly disappeared, and remained away for some time. After the lapse of a fortnight, however, it came back again covered as before in a sheet, which was subsequently removed, and it now stood open to the public view, he could not say an object of beauty. The whole subject of the erection of statues throughout the country was one which, in his opinion, was well worthy of consideration. How were statues generally got up? Some distinguished Member of Parliament died, or retired from public life, and his friends and admirers deemed him to be sufficiently distinguished to have a statue of him erected. They formed a committee, collected subscriptions, and selected an artist to carry out that object, and, of course, the size of the statue depended very much on the amount of the subscriptions. The statue completed, they endeavoured to procure the best site in the metropolis in which to place it; and the whole proceeding was conducted in the absence of all system laid down by the Government or any other authority. Some years ago, for instance, there was in Trafalgar Square a statue of Dr. Jenner, which public opinion declared not to be well-matched with other statues in its vicinity, and it was, in consequence, removed to Kensington Gardens. Again, there were the statues of Sir Charles Napier and Sir Henry Havelock, the former of which, persons competent to judge, very generally disapproved; while in the neighbourhood of the United Service Club the admirers of Lord Clyde erected a statue, which represented that distinguished soldier standing on a sort of capstan with an impossible Victory, and a still more impossible lion by his side, and in its vicinity another statue with which it in no way matched. Again, there was the statue erected to the Duke of Wellington at Hyde Park Corner, than which he knew of nothing more monstrous, and which he had ventured to call the apotheosis of bad art in this country. Since he had seen the Peel Statue, however, he felt disposed to admit that there might be something even worse. But that which he rose chiefly to impress upon the House was the absolute want of system which prevailed in this country in connection with our public statues, which were of such a character, and the sites for which were so ill-chosen as to render them a disgrace rather than an ornament to the metropolis. When Lord Llanover was in Office, a proposition had been made to change the pedestal of the statue of Charles I., which he thought was the best thing of the kind in the metropolis. This want of system with regard to statues extended to other matters. Was there any control, for instance, over the construction of railways passing through the metropolis, and as to the nature of the viaducts crossing the streets and river? Cardinal Wiseman gave an interesting lecture some time before his death on this subject, and he drew an analogy between the way in which ancient Rome dealt with aqueducts, and the manner in which railways were allowed to be made in modern London. Cardinal Wiseman observed that if the acqueducts went near any ancient building, the Romans endeavoured to incorporate that building harmoniously with the new work. The little temple of Vesta was preserved, though threatened by three viaducts—while railways cut ruthlessly through any building, however beautiful. When the Commission in reference to the Royal Academy was moved, he ventured to suggest that in a reformed Royal Academy, by the addition of the element of lay honorary members, a sort of council of advice in these matters for the First Commissioner of Works might be obtained. The idea found favour with the Commission; but the Royal Academy had not been reformed in that sense, though the Professor of Architecture suggested that a Committee on public statues and works should be established. In order to avoid the great mistakes which were made, it was desirable to have some control not in opposition to, but as an aid to, the First Commissioner of Works, somewhat analogous, in fact, to that which the Council of India exercised over his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India. The Americans were said to build ships by the mile, and to cut them off as they were wanted, and it appeared to him that Peel's statue was made on the same principle. He was told that a regular system of manufacturing public statues had grown up in this country. When a man died, and his admirers desired to erect a statue to him, a sculptor got notes of his dress, and then clothed a lay figure in habiliments similar to those worn by the deceased, the lay figure being stuffed or not to suit the appearance of the person to be represented. A cast of the whole was then taken, and a head was then modelled and put on the old clothes. No one could maintain that Peel's statue was an ornament to the metropolis; and who it was that placed it in its present position, or what was now to be done with it, he could not pretend to say. It had been suggested that it should be buried, and another suggestion was that it should be put under the "Buxton extinguisher," which was close by. He was a subscriber to the statue, though he had never been consulted about it; and he would venture to suggest that it should be put into the smelting pot, and that another and different statue should be cast, and then they might hope to have a better statue of Sir Robert Peel. The question of a statue to Cromwell had been raised, but it would be a mercy for Cromwell to be without one if it were to be of the kind in question. As regarded the statues in Westminster Hall, he thought it would be much better without them. He had thought of asking for a Return of the statues outside the building in which they were assembled, for they were so numerous that it was almost impossible to identify them. He hoped the House would remove from the precincts of Parliament this disgraceful statue of that great man, Sir Robert Peel, and he concluded by moving "That, in the opinion of this House, the Peel Statue ought to be removed from its present site in New Palace Yard."


seconded the Motion of his noble Friend with great pleasure, and for three reasons. The first was because it led up the general question of a more efficient Ministry of Arts. The second was his regard for the memory of the amiable and accomplished artist, so lately dead, who had unfortunately produced this statue. The third reason was his veneration for the great name of Peel, which was exposed to perpetual ridicule in connection with that unhappy effigy. He did not believe that it was possible to find greater general lack of art, or more overpowering mediocrity and heaviness than in that figure, stuck up in the corner of Palace Yard, as if it were an Inspector of Police taking the numbers of the cabs and seeing that the Members were not run over. He agreed with his noble Friend that it might be a desirable experiment to strengthen the hands of the Architectural Department by a Consultative Council; but, at the same time he must, by way of cau- tion, observe that due care would have to be taken for the infusion of new blood, and the gradual change of its personnel, otherwise it would become a focus of jobbery and prejudice, while it would only conduce to the stereotyping for long epochs of some passing phase of art, if the Councillors who had been named at the mature ages of forty or fifty years were to hang on as effete septuagenarians. But there was a further reform equally needed, which he had already advocated, and which he would continue to urge until he had won for it the attention which it deserved. The Science and Art Department must be separated from the Department of Elementary Education with which it is now so ill-mated, and must be combined with the cognate Commissionership of Works, and then the new office of Works, Science, and Art should be raised to the position of a first-class Ministry, whose tenant should be capable of sitting in the House of Lords. The last consideration was very important; for the other House is a body which has leisure to attend to such questions, and yet perpetually finds itself pulled up from never having within itself any Official charged with this responsibility. There would then be an Under Secretary, who would probably belong to the House of which the Minister himself was not a Member; so that both Lords and Commons would possess a Member of the Government charged with the official care of questions which were every day increasing in importance. In this case the Metropolitan Board might also be relieved of somewhat of its overgrown power, and the Imperial Government resume, as it ought to do, its general supervision of the improvement of the Imperial capital. In conclusion, he was surprised that his noble Friend had not pointed his case with a reference to Leicester Square, out of which the Court of Exchequer had a few days before ousted the Metropolitan Board, by a decision which affirmed that the garden, with its wooden-legged statue and all the accumulated abominations was private property.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the Peel Statue ought to be removed from its present site in New Palace Yard,"—(Lord Elcho,) —instead thereof.


said, he was not one of those who pretended to any particular understanding of matters of art, and therefore his few words would be directed to the facts of the case and to the arguments of his noble Friend (Lord Elcho). The way in which the statue originated was this—when Sir Robert Peel died his friends naturally met and subscribed to pay him that tribute of respect which no man ever better deserved, and a Committee was appointed to carry into effect the wishes of the subscribers. Of that Committee his right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Colonel Wilson Patten) was now the only survivor. The other members were the Earl of Aberdeen, Lord Hardinge, Lord Canning, Sir James Graham, Mr. Sidney Herbert, and Lord Ashburton. He (Mr. Cardwell) had the honour to be the honorary secretary. The Committee unanimously selected Baron Marochetti as the sculptor; his model was publicly exhibited at the Crystal Palace, and he made a statue in conformity with it; but when it was completed it was the opinion of Sir Charles Barry that it was too large to be placed in the immediate neighbourhood of the Houses of Parliament, which was the only suitable locality. Baron Marochetti most handsomely offered at his own expense, to make a new statue, and accordingly executed the one which was now in Palace Yard; but he did not live to see it placed on the site first selected, though he approved of the site. The Committee asked the late Commissioner of Works to give them a site, and he gave them the one on which the statue was first erected with the sanction of Baron Marochetti. When, however the railings, the pillars and lamps were erected, the Committee were of opinion that the site was not a suitable one. The present Committee, consisting of the Duke of Buccleuch, Lord Stanhope, Lord Hardinge, Mr. Gladstone, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster consulted Mr. Barry as to the most suitable site, and he selected the one on which the statue now stood, and the Chief Commissioner very handsomely gave it to the Committee. The argument was that there should be some control in these matters; but would they have more responsibility by having a Minister in that House or by having some Council such as that which had been suggested by his noble Friend? If they were to have such a Council they would have a number of amateurs who would give very good or very bad opinions; and no doubt everybody would object to what everybody else had done, but there would be no responsible authority.


explained that he did not wish to alter the responsibility; he only wished that the Head of the Department should have a Council.


said, he thought that a Minister who chose his own advisers was much more responsible than one who had a Council sitting by him with a sort of quasi authority, and whose own authority was only partial, imperfect, and, undefined. He thought that the best course was to leave the matter in the hands of the responsible Minister, and not to establish an amateur committee to advise him.


agreed as to the miserable system on which art matters were managed in the metropolis between the Metropolitan Board of Works on one hand and the Government Office of Works on the other. The statement of the First Commissioner of Works showed that there was no sympathy between the two Departments, and consequently no great work was carried on properly, while, at the same time, the expenditure incurred was enormous. According to the Report on Public Buildings they were about to spend £4,000,000; and surely a system of management ought to be adopted which would be satisfactory to the House of Commons and the country. Let them look for a moment at the ornaments round that House—they were perfectly absurd. Mr. Ruskin had written a book called The Seven Lamps of Architecture, but in that neighbourhood they had seventy lamps of architecture, and the whole plan which had been adopted was very different from that of Sir Charles Barry. But he would not make any lengthened remarks on the subject now, as he had given Notice that he should in the course of next week call attention to a Report which had been laid on the table in reference to the Public Departments. He would then take the opportunity of going into the whole question.


said, that he would confine himself to the matter before the House. He quite agreed with what had been said by his noble Friend (Lord Elcho); but when, some time ago, in Committee of Supply, he made a few remarks on the Peel Statue, he was quite ignorant that Baron Marochetti was the sculptor. Having been on terms of intimacy with the Baron, and being acquainted with his good qualities, both social and artistic, it was with very great pain that he felt called upon to protest against the statue. This was a question of even more importance than the memory of the sculptor. The statue was, in his opinion, entirely unworthy of the site it occupied and of the person to whom it had been put up. It was ill-formed and clumsy, and possessed no artistic qualities whatever. He thought that the site first chosen was not a bad one; but then the architect put up railings and lamps and detroyed the effect of the statue, and thus the statue was made to be subordinate to the lamps and the iron railings. As to the new site, everyone would admit that they should not place a statue upon sloping ground, which gave the impression that the whole thing was sliding down. He did not agree that a Council was necessary for matters of this kind. The sculptor should know the site upon which his work was to be placed, so that he might study it with the view of producing a good effect. The statue of Lord Clyde was first placed behind the parade ground; but the position was so absurd that the Chief Commissioner was obliged to remove it to its present site. He begged to suggest the desirability of laying down a rule that, previously to the erection of any statue, a model both of the sculpture and pedestal should be placed on the site which it was intended to occupy, so that the opinions and criticisms of the public might be obtained before a final determination was arrived at. The French were about to build another great triumphal arch, and they had gone to the expense of ninny thousands of pounds in erecting a complete model of the edifice, and it having been fully criticized, they could now go to work with some knowledge as to what they were going to do. He trusted the statue would be removed.


said, he wished to observe that his noble Friend (Lord Elcho) had omitted to state that the Wellington Statue at Hyde Park Corner had been placed there in direct defiance of a vote of the House of Commons. What took place was this: the Statue Committee obtained the consent of the Crown to place the statue upon the arch; but an address was voted to the Crown that it should not be placed there. The Committee, however, waited upon Earl Russell, then First Minister, and said that their object was to place the statue on the arch be that the public might have an opportunity of seeing how it would look, and they pledged them- selves to remove it if it did not meet with general approbation. The First Minister assented to the arrangement, and, having got the statue there, the Committee said the House of Commons or the Government might themselves move it if they thought fit. He quite agreed that there should be some responsible authority in reference to the erection of statues in the metropolis.


thought the Peel Statue ought to be removed, and that it was a disgrace to the memory of his late Friend Baron Marochetti. In his opinion it would be well if the noble Lord the First Commissioner of Works would also remove all the statues from Westminster Hall, instead of adding to their number. He hoped that whatever experiments might in future be made, Westminster Hall would be held sacred.


said, he thought his hon. Friend who had just sat down forgot that a short time ago the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Osborne) brought forward the question of the statues in Westminster Hall, and the House decided by an overwhelming majority that the statues should remain there. The noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) had suggested that in matters relating to public edifices and works of art the First Commissioner of Works should be assisted by a Council similar to the Council of India, which he would remind the House consisted of a number of gentlemen who were well paid, and who were debarred from sitting in that House. Probably, however, his noble Friend would wish that the members of his proposed Council should sit in the House; but the only result of that would be that their deliberations would be adjourned from the office to the House of Commons. Not many years ago the office he now held was associated with the Presidency of the Board of Health, and assisted by that kind of council which some were now anxious to associate with the First Commissioner of Works. The result was that when he succeeded to Office in 1852 he found a complete dead-lock. His predecessor, the Duke of Somerset, had taken measures to exclude every member of the Board of Health from his own office, so that no personal communication could occur between the President and the Board of Health. The House found it necessary to revolutionize that Department, and the Board of Health was now placed upon a more sensible foot- ing. If a Council of the nature now proposed were established the result would probably be very much the same. Then, as to advice on æsthetic subjects given by such a body, the House would recollect what happened on the subject of railway bridges. There was one to be taken across the Thames at Battersea Park, near the Suspension Bridge. Many leaders in the world of art—gentlemen who would, probably, form the council to assist the First Commissioner of Works—took the alarm and remonstrated against this monstrous proposal. They presented a protest, but no attention was paid to their aesthetic remonstrances, and the bridge was built. With respect to the suggestions of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Beresford Hope) and the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) be would remark that one of the wisest things the Legislature ever did was to release the Metropolitan Board from all ties to the office of Works, and if they now attempted to make the Metropolitan Board, whose revenues were provided by taxation upon the people of the metropolis, subservient to the Commissioner of Works, or any other Government office, there would be no end to the confusion and complaint that would ensue, and no metropolitan improvement would ever be carried out. When it was argued that there ought to be some strong Government authority to overbear the local authority in such cases as the delay in widening Park Lane, he would remind the House that such interposition would be at variance with the first principles of constitutional government, and that if a despotic authority were established it could only be by means of funds taken from the expenditure of the country. Unless the House were prepared to place the cost of metropolitan improvements on the Votes of that House, it would be unfair to overbear the free decisions of the local bodies. With regard to the removal of the Peel Statue the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford (Mr. Cardwell) had stated so dearly and succinctly the facts of the case that he was willing to leave the matter in the hands of the House. The noble Lord had not said what he would do with the statue. [Lord ELCHO: Melt it.] The noble Lord was a subscriber to the fund, and he might make this or any other communication to the right hon. Member for Oxford. As to the removal of statues in general, he could not defend, nor was it any business of his to defend, many of the statues in the metropolis; but after the public faith had been pledged to the original subscribers a very strong case ought to be made out before the House could sanction such a violation of public faith and induce people to think in the future that Parliament might turn round and order the removal of a statue without finding any fresh site. He thought that the House would do well to accede to the views of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell) and reject the proposition of the noble Lord.


said, he was not sure what the precise view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the city of Oxford (Mr. Cardwell) was. According to what he (Mr. Osborne) heard him say on the subject he was honorary secretary to a committee that had all expired. The right hon. Gentleman had said nothing for the statue, but that it was the work of Baron Marochetti. A most extraordinary speech had been made in reply to the Motion by the noble Lord the First Commissioner of Works. As he (Mr. Osborne) understood that speech the noble Lord's advice to the House was, not to let well alone, but to let ill alone. The noble Lord was desirous to let the horrible abomination remain where it was. He (Mr. Osborne) adjured the House in the name of the greatest Member of Parliament of our time to remove what might have been executed by a "stonemason" in the New Road, but what no one would ever suppose to have been the work of Baron Marochetti. If they had any respect for the memory of Sir Robert Peel they could not allow that dreadful effigy of the great and good man to stand in the place it now occupied. He was not going to enter into the question of the appointment of a Council of Taste or Art. For himself he abhorred all such councils for what they produced realized the "Groves of Blarney"— With Pluto and Venus, and bold Nicodemus All standing naked in the open air. He would appeal to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Hankey), who had taken such an interest in and endowed those precious statues in Westminster Hall, and whom he might call the leader of art in that House, to support his noble Friend (Lord Elcho) in bringing about the removal of this statue. He had known Baron Marochetti privately, and he had a high opinion of his abilities; but it was evident that when he executed this statue he was in his decadence as a sculptor. If the House of Commons was insensible to art—as he believed nine-tenths of the Members were—let them at least be sensible of what was due to the memory of a great statesman. Of this statue he said, in the words used by a right hon. Gentleman on another subject, Pull it down, and let it cumber the ground no longer.


asked whether they were to allow such a caricature of the lineaments of Sir Robert Peel to stand for all future generations because it was erected by private subscription, and because the Government could not answer the question as to what was to be done with it? He would say let the noble Lord hand it back to the subscribers. It was not their fault, but their misfortune that it was a bad statue. At the latter part of his life Baron Marochetti's works were inferior to his earlier productions. If the First Commissioner of Works would not give way, he trusted that the House would divide. But he hoped that the Government would not make it a political question and whip up their followers in a matter of this kind. He hoped the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) would defer to the manifest wish of the House and consent to the removal of an eyesore.


said, he held that no statue ought to be erected until a model of the same size had been put up, so that a judgment might be formed as to the effect of it. The Peel Statue was most objectionably placed upon a slope, a position which no statue ought to occupy. He would suggest its removal to a place where it could not be seen.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 71; Noes 182: Majority 111.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, the Peel Statue ought to be removed from its present site in New Palace Yard.

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