HC Deb 09 March 1876 vol 227 cc1760-6

rose to move— That this House ought not to be asked to vote the first instalment of £100,000 for the proposed reconstruction of Knightsbridge Barracks without the plans prepared by Mr. Wyatt being first produced and sufficient time being-allowed for their consideration by Members. The hon. Member observed, that it might be that Mr. Wyatt, the architect, would be able to carry out the improvements of which his right hon. Friend the Secretary for "War had spoken on Friday last; but he failed to see how hen. Members could fairly be expected to vote the money for a purpose which was so unlikely to be attained until they had seen the plans of the architect. It was true that yesterday certain plans had been presented, but they did not include an elevation; and, besides, the House had only 24 hours to consider even the small instalment which had been produced. The right hon. Gentleman wanted the House to pass a Vote which virtually prejudged the question, and asked them to do this on his assurance that the wonders he described would be brought about. When he raised this question last year he asserted that the barracks were in a very bad condition, having been assured that they would not last another year. The right hon. Gentleman, however, put him quietly and firmly aside, and said that many years hence we should see the barracks still standing securely on the same site, and that only some slight repairs were required. This year the right hon. Gentleman had been obliged to confess he was wrong. He must remind the right hon. Gentleman that if he failed in this matter the failure would be most conspicuous, and that every time he rode in the Park he would he exposed to the criticisms of his friends. He did not wonder at the right hon. Gentleman not being in a hurry to produce the plans, because it was not an agreeable thing to submit details involving artistic questions to a miscellaneous body of Gentlemen like the House of Commons. Earlier in the evening the right hon. Gentleman had replied to a Question about a plan of a model Cavalry barrack, designed many years ago by Mr. Wyatt. He understood it was in consequence of that plan that Mr. Wyatt had, in his right hon. Friend's opinion, attained a position which entitled him to be selected as the architect of the new barracks. He thought it desirable that hon. Gentlemen should have an opportunity of comparing the old with the new plans of Mr. Wyatt, in order that they might see how far the ideal differed from the actual, and how far that departure had become necessary owing to the restricted site on which the building must be erected.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House ought not to he asked to vote the first instalment of £100,000 for the proposed reconstruction of Knightsbridge Barracks without the plans prepared by Mr. Wyatt being first produced, and sufficient time being allowed for their consideration by Members,"—(Mr. Reginald Yorke,)

—instead thereof.


said, he could not conceive why his hon. Friend, with the assistance of some elderly ladies and gentlemen at Knights-bridge, should have taken such an antipathy to the barracks, and should have got up an agitation against them, both as they were and as they would be. He had attended one of the hon. Gentleman's meetings, when he heard an elderly general officer, who never was quartered at the barracks, denouncing them, but no "model private" appeared on the platform, and he had heard another old officer taking an entirely different view. He might mention that his hon. Friend had seen the plans and had them explained to him by an eminent Engineer officer. If the barracks were to be rebuilt on the present site— and he saw no reason for their removal—the best use had been made of the land according to the plans. Mr. Wyatt had been selected not merely because of the model plan which had been referred to, but because he was also the architect of many ornamental buildings in London. If barracks were to be agitated against, they would have agitation for the removal of the Wellington and the Regent's Park Barracks. They must have barracks; and, considering the high character the soldiers received, he did not see why the inhabitants should wish for their removal. He had lately seen a letter in The Pall Mall Gazette, signed by the well-known name of "Henry Cole," suggesting that in place of the three acres on which the present barracks stood, three acres should be taken from the Park on the other side of the road; a suggestion which was highly worthy of attention.


said, it might be true that Knightsbridge was the proper site for Cavalry Barracks, but they were going to put 450 horses upon the ground-floor, and above them they were going to quarter a great number of men and women and children. Some years ago there had been a Commission of Inquiry into the proper mode of constructing barracks. The mortality which had occurred in our barracks in India and at home was not creditable to us, and was due to the construction of these barracks in violation of the principles of common sense. The Commission he referred to was, therefore, appointed, and condemned, on sanitary grounds, the placing of men over horses in barracks. It was said that shafts were to be constructed in order to carry off the foul air from the stables; but there would be windows in the stables, and if these opened, the foul air would rise into the quarters above, and what would be the use of the shafts? If the barracks were to be placed at Knightsbridge, a slice should be taken from the Park, the road diverted, and proper barracks constructed, not such as would be a disgrace to the sanitary science of the present day, and would embody every evil protested against by the Sanitary Commission.


said, the proposed barracks would be erected upon the best sanitary principles, combined with architectural fitness. Sir William Muir, the Director General of the Army Medical Department, had carefully inspected the plans and had been satisfied with them from a sanitary point of view. In the model barracks which had been proposed by Mr. Wyatt, comprising 22 acres, the horses were to be put underneath the men's quarters; and Shorncliffe and Colchester, which were our most recently-constructed Cavalry Barracks, were both built in the same way. At Colchester it was found that the men were, in some respects, more healthy over the horses than in separate rooms, and the sanitary results were much the same either way. In London, where the coachmen, with their wives and children, slept over the stables, he did not hear of any excessive illness or mortality among them. But the new barracks would not be treated in this way. The stables would project beyond the rooms above, a larger space would be given to the horses than was required by the Sanitary Commission, and so it would be with the rooms above, and the ventilation of the stables would be quite distinct from that of the rooms over. Thus overcrowding would be avoided and proper sanitary provision would be made. Unless these precautions were taken he should not sanction the construction of the barracks. A deputation had waited upon him today, and nothing could be more comical than their various suggestions and differences. In the first place, Millbank was abandoned by everybody. Then it was recommended that he should put the barracks where the Hanger's house was, and thus exhibit his architectural skill in the middle of the Park. But if people doubted his power to build anything worth having at Knightsbridge he was not prepared to run the risk on the site of the Ranger's house. Sir Henry Cole, a gentleman of enlarged ideas and great æsthetic taste, said—"Don't talk about estimates, but place your barracks where you have now the exercising ground." He did not think, however, that the best site for such a building would be where it would obstruct the view of the Albert Memorial; and, besides, it was a place which on Sunday was the most frequented part of the Park. Then as to Chelsea, if he built there he must build on concrete, which would add greatly to the expense, the boys would have to be removed to another building, and the pensioners of Chelsea Hospital would have to be sent to the country, which would also add greatly to the cost. Then Kensington was spoken of the other night; but if he set about building a barrack there, what reception would the owners of the palatial residences in that quarter be likely to give it? In short, the question came to this—he wanted to build; at Knightsbridge was a site ready, and, according to high engineering, architectural, and medical authorities, he could raise a building there which would be picturesque in appearance and would meet every sanitary and military requirement. When hon. Gentlemen talked of the health of the Horse Guards, they usually seized on the year 1873 to prove their case; but it was enough to say that the Horse Guards were not in Knightsbridge Barracks at all in that year. The proper thing to do, however, was not to take one year; and if a period of 10 years was taken, it would be found that the health of these troops was very much the same as that of the other Cavalry. But the fact was, the Horse Guards were bigger men than the rest of the Army, and bigger men it was alleged were more liable to consumptive diseases than smaller men. Allusion had been made to the part which an officer of high position had taken in this matter. He would not say that the officer in question had literally infringed the Queen's Regulations. But here was a colonel on full pay discussing questions under the consideration of Government in public, and suppose instead of one colonel 20 or 100 had gone to the meeting and expressed their opinion, where would the discipline of the Army be? With regard to the position of Mr. Wyatt, he wished to say a few words in explanation. Some years ago, when sanitary matters were beginning to be understood, there was a great competition for building barracks. The Inspector of Fortifications, however, reported that of all the plans sent in there was not one which could be adopted as a model, though some had merits in one way and some in another, and he recommended that no prize should be awarded, but in the end one was given to Mr. Morgan for Infantry Barracks and to Mr. Wyatt for Cavalry. Mr. Morgan had built infantry barracks, and since that time every Secretary of State had admitted that a pledge was given to Mr. Wyatt that when Cavalry Barracks were to be built he should have the contract. We were now, therefore, in this position—there was a site, he had laid before the House the plans which would fulfil every sanitary and other requirement, and he called upon them, therefore, to put him out of his misery and say what he was to do.


said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not try to construct a picturesque barrack, but would erect a plain building, without ornament, in good proportion, and adapted to its purpose. The picturesque buildings which they had lately had were an example of what ought to be avoided.


said, the public feeling was against the right hon. Gentleman in this case, and such feeling should not be ignored. The public did not want a barrack at Knightsbridge; but he must confess he sympathized with the right hon. Gentleman, because wherever he might take the barracks nobody wanted them and every one would protest.


said, that whether the new barracks would be ornamental or not there was no doubt but that our magnificent Household Troops were highly ornamental, and ought not to be buried in the slums. He lived at Rutland Gate during the Session and could testify that their conduct was admirable on all occasions. He thought the neighbourhood of the barracks objectionable, but the licensing magistrates were chiefly to blame. Since the debate of last Session in the other House he had made a point when passing and repassing of occasionally looking into the public-houses there, and he had not seen a Life Guardsman or a man of the Blues in one of them. Questionable characters of the other sex were there in large numbers, but he never saw any of the Household Cavalry speaking to one of those women. He saw a number of horsey-looking, slangy fellows in tight trousers, and felt puzzled to know how they got into them or how out of them. He believed that Tatter-sail's was, next to the magistrates, most responsible for what they saw at Knights-bridge. It was not for him to say where the barracks should be built; but if ever the Household Cavalry should be wanted to act in support of the civil authority, it was not desirable that they should have to march through streets to gain the place of assembly.


believed that the only public opinion which was against the proposed site was that of gentlemen living in the immediate vicinity. The reason given by the hon. Baronet (Sir Andrew Lusk) was, to his mind, conclusive that the barracks should remain on or as near as possible to their present site. The hon. Member was an economist. What would he say to a demand for perhaps £100,000 for a new site, when improved barracks could be erected, as proposed, without the cost of purchasing a new site? The Mover of the Resolution suggested that they should place the barracks near the powder magazine. If they did that and a flash of lightning fell on the powder magazine, they would have the whole of Her Majesty's Life Guardsmen blown up.


said, it was conceded that in a strategical point of view Knightsbridge was the best site they could have for those barracks, and also that if they were erected anywhere else the inhabitants would raise the same objections as were heard at present. If any one class more than another ought to set the example of placing the soldier on an equality with themselves and showing that they thought him fit to live with the rest of the community, it was men of high social position as Members of that House.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 195; Noes 46: Majority 149.