HC Deb 07 July 1885 vol 298 cc1829-30

asked the First Commissioner of "Works, Whether he is aware that the National Portrait Gallery is a non-fireproof erection of very slight character, with roof partly of slate with skylights, and the remainder of boards covered either with zinc or tarred felt; whether it is not in an equally hazardous condition with the International Exhibition, which it adjoins; whether this invaluable collection is not exposed to the greatest risk from fire; and, whether this deplorable state of things is to be allowed to continue, or whether he is prepared to adopt such remedies as may secure the Nation from an irreparable loss?


In answer to my hon. Friend I beg to assure him that I fully recognize the importance of the subject to which he has called attention. I have for some days been inquiring into it, and I am glad to be able to inform him that the actual danger to the National Portrait Gallery is not as great as his Question seems to imply. The building is of ordinary construction, with brick walls and wooden joists and floors; the roof is slated, and has skylights; it is not covered with tarred felting; and it is separated from the wooden corridors outside by brick walls and iron doors; it cannot be said in any sense to be in an equally hazardous condition with the International Exhibition, which is built entirely of wood, covered with asbestos paint. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the risk of fire has been to some extent increased by the proximity of the Exhibition; and I am not satisfied with the condition of the building, which contains a collection of such immense value to the nation. I have asked Mr. Scharf, who is the keeper of the collection, and the secre- tary to the Trustees, to give me the great advantage of his advice, and I hope within a short time to be able to make some further statement to the House, should my hon. Friend be inclined to put another Question on the subject.


wished to know whether the information the right hon. Gentleman had just given to the House was derived from the Board of Works; whether he had sent anyone to make a special inspection of the building; and whether he would assure the House that his statement really and accurately described the building? He was astonished at the answer of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.


in reply, said, the information he had given was, of course, received from official sources; but he hoped in a day or two to examine the building himself. He had no doubt in the world that the information which he had already given was perfectly correct.