HC Deb 04 June 1912 vol 39 cc84-7

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £64,300, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which, will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1913, for Expenditure in respect of Art and Science Buildings, Great Britain."—[Note.—£40,000 has been voted on. account.]


This Vote contains a charge for the Bethnal Green Museum concerning which I desire to make a suggestion to the hon. Member for St. George's-in-the-East. The Bethnal Green Museum is the only museum of its kind in the East End of London, and therefore supplies, or attempts to supply, the needs of something like 1,000,000 persons. If my hon. Friend were to visit the Bethnal Green Museum I think he would find there serious reason to be dissatisfied with the present arrangements of the contents, and with the contents themselves. I was often struck myself with this, and with the fact that most of the curiously assorted and very ill-arranged contents of the museum bore a label, "Lent by the South Kensington Museum." The Bethnal Green Museum in the past appears to have been regarded as a sort of dumping ground for articles that could not be properly used at South Kensington and other great museums, and are at present arranged without any regard to the special needs of the district itself. It is a most curious jumble, and there is no attempt made to present the contents of the museum, or very little attempt—


I think the hon. Member is under a misapprehension, because the Office of Works has no control over the exhibits at Bethnal Green Museum.


Before this charge is continued I should be glad if some inquiry can be made into the manner in which this museum is administered.

Captain MURRAY

I wish to enter a protest against the site which has been chosen in the Cromwell Road for the erection of a new Spirit Museum in South Kensington. There is a very strong opinion that the new Spirit Museum should be close to the original site, and not placed near the Cromwell Road, where, I submit, it must be a source of danger to the public, considering the inflammable nature of its contents. I do not know whether it is possible now to make any change in regard to the site, but I enter a very vehement protest against the site which has been selected, which must be a source of public danger.


I am a strong believer myself, so far as national collections are concerned, in two principles. In the first place, I believe in the concentration of a collection according to their character. We are in this curious position at present in regard to the relation between the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Owing to the want of sufficient accommodation there are a great many exhibits in the British Museum which ought properly to be in the South Kensington section, and I should like some assurance that during the ensuing year the Office of Works will consider what further accommodation will be necessary at South Kensington in order to get our great national collections sorted on a more scientific basis according to their character. I do not wish to particularise, because I should need a great deal of time to do so adequately. There is, however, another great principle involved, and that is when you have concentrated and sorted your national collections, you should lend sections out on loan to different parts of the country. I submit that that is a question which comes within this particular Vote. In this Vote you are spending all the money at your disposal on certain main buildings. I think the Office of Works, ought to spend a portion of the money at. their disposal in erecting small galleries in different parts of London and in some of the less fortunate manufacturing districts, to which large sections of the great national collections could be sent on loan, very much on the principle which prevails with regard to the Bethnal Green collection. I think if the First Commissioner-would consider that he would be conferring a great boon upon some of the industrial districts in the provinces as well as upon some of the other Metropolitan boroughs, and he would be also extending the sphere of usefulness of these great national collections. After all, they receive very large subsidies out of the taxpayers' pocket, and their enjoyment ought not to be confined to the citizens of London. I hope the hon. Member will give his attention to these two questions, which are of the very first importance, and that at the same time he will take into consideration the question whether the precautions against fire, both in the Wallace Collection at Hertford House and in the National Gallery, are really adequate and up to date. During the past four or five years enormous strides have taken place, not merely in the appliances for extinguishing fires, but also in the science of the prevention of fires. I do not feel confident that the Office of Works has taken the fullest possible advantage of the progress that science and invention have made during recent times in these two departments so far as our priceless national collections are concerned.


I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman representing the Office of Works whether he could make any statement as to what prospect there is of extending the museum in Edinburgh. I have raised this question several times before. I have often been to the museum, and the exhibits there are very congested. Much of the stuff which is sent is buried in? cellars, and they are quite unable to exhibit it in a worthy manner. The people of Edinburgh who have visited the museums and seen its condition have pressed this matter upon my notice, and I should be very glad indeed if we could have some assurance that the museum will be extended without undue delay.


I think the Noble Lord is under some misapprehension about the arrangements of the collections. We only build upon request, and therefore, if the collection requires rehousing, the request must be put forward first of all by the President of the Board of Education. With regard to fires, alterations have been made at the National Gallery, and also at Hertford House, with a view to making them more fireproof. We are doing two things at Edinburgh. First, we are taking money for acquiring property at the back of the museum to extend it; and, secondly, we are taking money to extend the museum on the site already acquired, and both these matters will be proceeded with.

Question pat, and agreed to.