HC Deb 21 November 1884 vol 294 cc183-7

in rising to call attention to the present condition of Westminster Abbey, and to ask Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Whether Her Majesty's Government have undertaken to make any money grant to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster for the general repairs of the Abbey Church and the renovation of the North Transept; and whether any plans and estimates relating thereto have been submitted to the Office of Works? said, he had heard that it was proposed that a sum of money should be advanced by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. He hoped, if that was the case, no money would be given to the Dean and Chapter without adequate guarantees as to how it would be spent. He was a strong supporter and a great admirer of the Church; but, at the same time, he had no confidence whatever in the aesthetic tastes of the clergy. He, therefore, protested against any question of taste being left to the Deans and Chapters. They had already seen in Westminster Abbey the result of such a policy. He regretted to say that in the so-called restoration of cathedrals in England the work of the old masters was, in too many instances, destroyed and replaced by workmanship of an inferior character. The late Dean of Westminster was a man of great piety and popularity. Unfortunately, he knew but little of the works of the old masters, and fell a prey to the late Sir G. Gilbert Scott, who had induced him to undertake work which had much better been left undone. At the same time, he quite agreed that it was absolutely necessary that assistance should be given to the Dean and Chapter in order to prevent the Abbey tumbling down altogether.


said, he thought it was right, in the first place, to ask whether the ground upon which money might be asked for such a purpose as this was that Westminster Abbey was a national institution, and, therefore, an object of concern to the British Parliament? If that were so, it might then be asked whether there were not sufficient funds in the hands of the Dean and Chapter that were available for the repair of the fabric of the cathedral? If his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not aware of what was taking place in regard to their cathedral funds, he (Mr. Illingworth) might refer him to Manchester, where, after a serious litigation, the Dean and Chapter found themselves in the wrong box in dealing with property. On the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone of the new towers of Peterborough Cathedral, the Bishop of Peterborough had expressed thankfulness that no public money was to be expended on the restoration of that cathedral, and that, therefore, the matter had been kept entirely out of the hands of the Government and of Parliament. Was it asserted that Westminster Abbey stood upon an entirely different footing from any other cathedral, because, if it were to be regarded as a public building belonging to a national institution, he (Mr. Illingworth) would remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) that there were some 40 or 50 buildings of a similar character in this country to Westminster Abbey, whose case was equally as well deserving of consideration for a grant of the public money; and before the House committed itself to a grant from the public funds the ground on which it was asked for ought to be stated. He held that the granting of public money for the restoration of cathedrals was altogether out of the question; and he should also object to the funds in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners being applied for that purpose as long as there were sufficient funds in the hands of the Deans and Chapters to defray the expenses of the restoration of those buildings. Doubtless, the Deans and Chapters throughout the country were most worthy men; but they were the most unsafe custodians of public money, large sums having been jobbed away under the pretence of restorations under their management. In his opinion, the question was, whether it would not be well that the repair and maintenance of such buildings should be taken out of the hands of the Dean and Chapter and placed under the control of a distinct authority? Would it ever enter the mind of any sane man, if the matter were now under consideration for the first time, to place the control of these funds in the hands of Bodies like the Deans and Chapters? Such control should, in his opinion, be placed in the hands of some authority who would be responsible to that House. In Scotland the custody of such buildings was not placed in the hands of any ecclesiastical authority, whom he did not consider the proper persons to be entrusted with such a duty; but it was in another Body—he believed the Office of Works. He thought they had neglected a national duty in leaving this property in the hands of the Dean and Chapter.


said, he agreed, to a great extent, with the observations of the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck), as to the fitness of Deans and Chapters for these duties; but he must forgive him if he (Mr. Childers) did not follow him through his dissertations on Gothic and Classic architecture. But no doubt, a large sum of money had been expended by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster on the fabric of their cathedral in a manner which would not meet with universal approval. As to the question itself, the main fact was that when their estates were resettled a few years ago these Ecclesiastical Bodies, by their own desire, instead of receiving a fixed sum, preferred to have landed and house property of fluctuating value assigned to them; and, as salaries and other expenses had to be met, the sum available for the repair of the fabric and the houses occupied by the Canons and others had sometimes fallen, to an extremely small one, when rents fell or could not be got in. The question came before the Government last year; and the result arrived at, after inquiry, was to recommend Parliament to reverse the recent practice of re-assigning estates to Chapters. Of course, they did not dream of granting to these Bodies anything out of the Votes of Parliament. Accordingly, last Session it was the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill, the leading principle of which was that, instead of estates being given to Deans and Chapters, they should receive an annual fixed sum out of the moneys in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and that this money should be ear-marked for special purposes—so much for salaries, so much for services, and so much for fabrics; and that when large works of restoration were to be carried out the Dean and Chapter should have power to mortgage their fabric fund, repaying the amount by an annuity spread over a series of years. That was the proposal which the Government would have brought in at the end of last Session; and he undertook now that it should be introduced in the Sittings after Christmas, so that it might be passed in the course of the year. The Government, however, could not assume the additional responsibility of supervising the repair of ecclesiastical buildings throughout the country, as suggested by his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford; but he thought that the peculiar character of Westminster Abbey entitled Her Majesty's Government to require any large works there to be subject to their approval.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


said, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the whole of the necessary repairs on the fabric of cathedrals ought to be provided out of the funds' at the disposal of the Ecclesiastical Com- missioners, and not by means of grants of public money. As he understood that a Bill was to be introduced next Session in regard to this matter, he would suggest to the Government that in the new arrangements which would be effected by the proposed enactment there should be provided a suitable person as Representative of the Government, who, in some way or other, should have a voice in the management and in the expenditure of those funds. In that way the powers of the Ecclesiastical Authorities might, to a great extent, be kept under control.