§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now" and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
I feel that some apology is due to the House for interrupting a Debate on a highly technical subject, but the question which I am asking the House to consider now is one which is certainly worth considerable attention. It has already been discussed on two occasions in another place, but so far has never been debated in the House of Commons. Let me begin by asking hon. Members to cast their minds back 900 years—this House is capable of doing anything. Nine hundred years ago this country was held to ransom by the Danes. In the summer sailing season they used to come to these shores and loot and burn, and exact 753 what ransom they could from our people. We used to pay what was known as Dane-geld in order to get rid of them. In those days there was a King called Ethelred the Unready. He was unready to meet the Danes, and so he called in the Norsemen to help him. He called to his assistance a King called Olaf; he was a pagan King. He came to the assistance of King Ethelred; brought his ships up the Thames, mooring them just below the place where London Bridge now stands. The site which is mentioned in this Bill is St. Olave's Garden, and it is called after St. Olave because King Olaf afterwards changed his faith, was killed, and was then canonised.
In return for the services which he had rendered London in saving the city from the attacks of the Danes, which he did by pulling down the timbers of the old wooden bridge, London built four churches to his memory. Only one of these churches remains, and that is St. Olave's in Hart Street, where I believe Pepys used to worship. The church which we are now considering was placed upon the site of King Olaf's camp, and for 900 years there has been a Christian church upon that site. Just across the water on the other side, there is a church of another Norse Saint, an Earl and a martyr, who was foully killed—St. Magnus. These two kings face one another across the Pool of the Thames. Looking from the site of King Olaf's camp, where a church has stood until quite recently, across our famous River Thames, which an old Member of this House has called "liquid history," we see on the one side the beautiful building of the Fishmongers' Hall, then London Bridge itself, then that remarkable new building, a block of business offices, where the Commercial Union is installed, then St. Magnus Church, a few wharves, and custom houses, and then Tower Bridge itself. That is the view you can get from St. Olave's Garden.
Things change in this beautiful world. The church which stood on King Olaf's camping ground for so many centuries at last served no particular purpose. Wharves and warehouses encroached upon it where there used to be dwelling houses, and it was decided that the site might be made better use of than as the site of a church. In 1918 a Bill was introduced into Parliament which provided 754 that the Church should be demolished with the exception of the tower. I would ask hon. Members to particularly remember that point. It was considered that the tower should be preserved. Half the site was to be sold and the proceeds were to be vested in the General Diocesan Church Fund for the building of new churches in South London. That was a very proper proposal. Half the site was sold for.10,000. It was sold to the proprietors of the neighbouring wharf, Hay's Wharf. I desire to call the attention of hon. Members to the Preamble of that Bill of 1918. It said this:Whereas the site of the old church is of antiquarian interest, and it is expedient that provision should be made for the preservation of the tower thereof and for the maintenance of a portion of the site of the old church and of the said churchyard as a public open space and for the perpetuation of the name of St. Olave in connection with such site.Five special objects are set out in that Preamble. The first is the antiquarian interest of the site. If it was of such antiquarian interest 10 years ago, surely it possesses more antiquarian interest now. The next point is the preservation of the tower. This Bill seeks to demolish the tower. The third is the maintenance of a portion of the site of the old church, and the churchyard as a public open space. The present Bill seeks to avoid this and proposes to sell the site and provide another open space in another portion of the borough. Another point is that the name of St. Olave was to be perpetuated in connection with the site. If the Bermondsey Borough Council provide another site half a mile away they may call it what they like, but it will not perpetuate the name of St. Olave in connection with the old historic site. The 1918 Bill went on to provide that no building should be erected on half the site, which should be vested in the Borough Council and maintained and managed by the Council as an open space under the name of St. Olave's Garden.
The tower was not to be demolished but was to be preserved as an access from Tooley Street to the open space. That is a very suitable idea. The old tower stands on the street, and a doorway and entrance could have been made into the open space abutting on the River Thames. The Borough Council of Bermondsey were also to use their best endeavours to secure the removal of the obstruction be- 755 tween St. Olave's Garden and the River Thames. I should like to ask what the Borough Council have done in this matter. As a matter of fact, they have done nothing. I admit that for a variety of reasons the site did not come into their hands until 1926, but I do not believe that they took very active measures to get it into their possession, and it is quite clear that when it came into their hands in 1926 they did nothing whatever except to place a hoarding round the site; and a, more neglected, shameful and miserable spot, you cannot imagine in the whole of London.
The site itself is covered with a whole lot of building material belonging to the proprietors of Hay's Wharf, who are anticipating the action of this House and are preparing to build on this site before they have even obtained possession. I think it is very necessary that this matter should be thoroughly considered by this House before private proprietors can presume to take this land into their possession as though they can proceed to build upon it before the House has given leave and before Parliament has relieved the Borough Council of Bermondsey of the obligations placed upon it. The tower itself has never been attended to. It is now in a far worse condition than it was 10 years ago, and this is one of the reasons which the Bermondsey Borough Council put forward for pulling it down altogether. The duty was placed upon the Borough Council of keeping the tower in repair, and they now suggest that it should be pulled down altogether because it is out of repair. Let me draw the attention of hon. Members to the Bill now before the House. In the Preamble it is stated:Whereas the area so vested in the Council as aforesaid (which did not come into their possession until the year One thousand nine hundred and twenty-six) has not hitherto been laid out as an open space on account of its limited extent and of the cost which would be involved in such laying out and the maintenance thereof and of the fact that owing to its remoteness from dwelling houses and the inconvenience of access thereto the said area is not used by the public to any considerable extent, and would he of but little public benefit if so laid out,What an extraordinary thing to put into the Preamble of this Bill. Why is this open space of no use? It is simply because there is a hoarding round it; it is 756 covered with rubbish, and this is given as a reason why the site is not to be used. The next paragraph in the Preamble says:And whereas the said area abuts on the River Thames and it is expedient in the public interest that it should be made available for the construction of wharves and accordingly that the Council should be empowered to sell the same to the proprietors of Hay's Wharf, Limited.The promoters of this Bill are the proprietors of Hay's Wharf. That is perfectly clear. They purchased one half of the site, and now they wish to purchase the other half. We must not forget that in the Act of 1918 Parliament placed on the Bermondsey Borough Council the obligation of keeping this site for ever as an historic site for the use of the citizens of London. The purchase price which has been agreed to between the Borough Council and the proprietors of Hay's Wharf is £10,000, and the manner in which this money is to be applied is provided for in the Bill.
In Clause 7 it is provided that:As soon as practicable after the passing of this Act (and in any event before the expiration of two months from the date of such passing) and whether the said sale and purchase shall then have been completed or not the purchasers shall at their own expense demolish the tower (now standing on part of the scheduled lands) of the former Church of St. Olaves, Southwark.The very first thing to be done is for the purchasers at their own expense to demolish the tower, and this has to be done within two months from the passing of this Bill. They are permitted to demolish a tower which the House of Commons 10 years ago said was to be preserved as an antiquarian memorial. It is a monstrous proposal. In this Clause also the purchasers of the site have to provide a parking space. I should like any hon. Member to visit this site and see how many cars it would be possible to park there. One of the reasons which the borough council have given for not keeping it as a site is that it is a narrow tunnel, just a little window out of which you can see nothing. How can you possibly park 100 cars there; which I believe the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) in a letter recently said would be possible. The site is only about one-sixth of an acre in extent. It is certainly a congested neighbourhood, as it is at the top of 757 Tooley Street, but it will not relieve the congestion by making provision to park cars in this small and narrow site.
Further than that, after all these provisions and conditions which the purchasers have to meet, there is an exception which permits the purchasers to set apart loading bays for the loading and unloading of goods and merchandise. If, on the one hand, you are to try to get rid of congestion by allowing cars to park there, on the other hand, it looks as if you increase the congestion by allowing the purchasers to provide loading bays for goods and merchandise. One thing is required of the purchasers. The purchasers may pull down the tower, build wharves on the site and shut out the view, have loading bays to load their cars and lorries, but they must put up a tablet. The application of the purchase price is as follows: The law costs come first, and they will be about £1,000. Then the human remains have to be removed, with the monuments and tombstones, and that work will cost another £500. About £2,000 goes to the Church. I could have understood, if the whole site was being disposed of, the whole of the money going to the Church. The balance of £6,000 goes to the Bermondsey Borough Council. They say that that sum will be very useful to enable them to purchase another site, and also, after allowing Hay's Wharf to build on this site, to obtain rates from the site of the old church. We shall have, instead of a historic site, Bermondsey Borough Council enjoying the fact that it is getting rates from the site and applying the money from the sale of the site, by the sale of the trust placed upon them, to purchase another site of no historic interest whatever half a mile away.
Finally, let me refer shortly to the statement that has been put forward by the promoters of the Bill. On page 2 they state:That the area available for the public would be practically a narrow tunnel, shut in between high walls of adjacent buildings, dark, sunless and useless for recreative or other purposes. The view from the river front and from the tower would be extremely restricted.If you have a small window looking over a magnificent view, is it any reason, because the window is small, that you should block it up altogether? This is a window that should be most carefully 758 preserved, for along the whole of that side of the river, for 3½ miles, there is not one single opening on to the river itself. This opening gives a most beautiful view over a very historical part of the river. Another statement is:That there are no houses or residences in the immediate vicinity and, in consequence of the extremely heavy traffic in Tooley Street the area could not possibly he employed as a playground for children.It was not particularly suggested that it should be used as a playground for children, but there are older people who would like to enjoy the opportunity of sitting there. There are plenty of workmen round the docks who would be only too glad to sit there in the dinner hour and get a little sun and air from the river instead of having both cut off by the high walls of warehouses.Under these circumstances the Borough Council have decided that the site would be not only quite useless as an open space, but would, in fact, be a source of danger and probably a nuisance.How on earth that has been arrived at I cannot think. Why should they say that this site, if properly opened and tended, would probably be a nuisance? I fail to see the argument altogether. I shall be only too glad to learn from the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) why a properly cared for site, with nice benches looking over the river, should be a nuisance. They go on:The Borough Council are anxious that the land should be disposed of to the best advantage, and have entered into a provisional arrangement, with Hay's Wharf, Limited.That is the whole basis. Hay's Wharf have meant all along to get this site, and they have got round the Bermondsey Borough Council, and they think they have got the site. But they have to get round Parliament first. The promoters say:The Borough Council will acquire for the purposes of an open space a very desirable but expensive site in Tanner Street, which is not very far distant from the St. Olave'a site in Tooley Street, and which will be an immense boon to a large number of children and residents generally.The site referred to is undoubtedly a larger site. It is about half a mile away, a long way from the river, and is the site of an old disused workhouse. Half of it belongs to the borough council and the other half they propose to acquire. It is a desirable thing to turn 759 it into a garden, but there is no reason why they should not do that without disposing of the St. Olave's site. Added to this is the fact that, quite close to the proposed new site, there are already no fewer than six open spaces. I was in one this morning, the old churchyard that has been laid out as a garden with beautiful trees and seats, at the very back of this site in Tanner Street, not 100 yards away. I ask hon. Members how they would regard the proposal if they were asked to exchange 10 yards of frontage of the Terrace here for an acre of land in Rochester Row? You cannot compare the two things. Now we come to the Ministry of Transport. I see that the Minister is present to see what fortune the Bill will have. The approval of the Ministry of Transport has been obtained for this proposed legislation.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
I will read what the promoters say:The Ministry of Transport strongly support the proposed legislation,
§ Colonel ASHLEY
You said our approval had been obtained. I said the promoters had got our support, which is a different thing.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
Rather a fine distinction, but I do not want to quibble over words. I want to take what the promoters say:The Ministry of Transport strongly support the proposed legislation because the sale to Hay's Wharf, Limited, includes an arrangement by them with the Ministry to provide a parking place for the purpose of relieving the congestion of vehicles at the London Bridge end of Tooley Street.I have already dealt with that, but if the Ministry of Transport would support a proposal for parking cars at St. Olave's Church they would support a proposal for parking cars in the Crypt of this Palace, and with just about as much reason. The promoters go on:The church tower itself (which is to be demolished by the purchasers) does not possess any particular architectural interest.760 The church tower is a typical tower of the 18th century, and is very charming.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
It is a ruin. Why? Because the Bermondsey Council has allowed it to become a ruin, since 1926, when it came into the hands of the Council. Apparently the sooner it falls down the better the Bermondsey Council will be pleased. The promoters say further:The principal reason for the restriction imposed by the Act of 1918 upon the right of building on the western portion of the site was that it was considered undesirable to destroy entirely an existing open space.Hon. Members will remember that I have read the Preamble. It does not fairly state what the Preamble of the Act of 1918 states. The object was to keep this as an open space connected with the name of St. Olave's on an historic site, and that it should be kept perpetually for the recreation and benefit of the people of London. It may be said that the people in Bermondsey support this proposal. I admit that there has been a public meeting and so forth. We have heard before now of the famous Three Tailors of Tooley Street who represented the nation of England. At this public meeting the chair was taken by one of the employés of Hay's Wharf, and the resolution proposing the sale to Hay's Wharf was seconded by another employé of Hay's Wharf. The meeting was called for three o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon in January. We can imagine the number 9f people interested who had an opportunity of attending and objecting. The resolution was carried, if not by all present, at least nemine contradicente.
Finally, I would like to remind the House that in this matter the Bermondsey Council were made trustees of this historic site not only for London but for the nation. They have not carried out their trust. By this Bill they are endeavouring to avoid the obligations which were placed upon them by Parliament. The education authorities to-day are endeavouring to interest both young and old in the great historic associations that are to be found in all our old cities, and especially in London. The day may yet come when Macaulay's New Zealander will sit on one of the broken arches of London Bridge and sketch the 761 ruins of St. Paul's, and—should this Bill pass into law—if he turns his eyes to the south side of the river he will look in vain for even the ruins of St. Olave's Tower, and will wonder what manner of man sat in the Parliament of 1928.
§ Sir MARTIN CONWAY
I beg to second the Amendment.
If this Bill, the second St. Olave's Church Bill, had been brought forward at the same time as the Bill of 1918, there is not the smallest doubt that it would not have passed. If the proposal had then been made to knock down St. Olave's Church and Tower and to build over the site wharfage buildings, and to give some of the money to a diocesan fund and some to the Bermondsey Town Council, there can be no doubt that it would have been laughed out of the House and thrown aside with scarcely anyone to defend it. But by dint of bringing the proposal on in two stages, the promoters are able to pretend that they have a case which they never could have pretended they had if the whole proposal had been brought forward at once. A few years ago my attention was called to something happening at St. Olave's, and I went down to Tooley Street to find the church. I found it in the hands of the housebreakers, and half of it had already been pulled down. What remained was sufficient to show that the church had had no inconsiderable architectural merit. It certainly was a church which ought not to have been destroyed without a great deal more public attention having been directed to the proposal. The way in which the church was knocked down was indeed a grievous shame. I am told that to-day the tower is in a ruinous condition. When I went there it was not in a ruinous condition, and if it is in such a condition now, then the fault is entirely that of the Bermondsey Town Council, and is probably the purposed fault of that body. It was not merely a question, on their part, of not being anxious to maintain the tower; they were actually desirous that it should not be maintained. In view of their inaction, with the tower falling into decay before their eyes, I say they have wilfully and continuously neglected their statutory duty, which was to maintain the tower. They come before us with unclean hands, in consequence. This church belonged to the Church of 762 England, and the Church of England is going to get something out of it, supposing this transaction is carried through, but they will not get anything like what they would have got had this proposal been brought forward in a straightforward manner at the start. In that case, the whole of the proceeds of the sale would have gone to the Church, but, as it is, they are only to get £2,500, or some amount of that sort.
The Bermondsey Borough Council had a present made to them of this open space which they now propose to sell. They ought to give it back to the people who presented it to them. They have no business to sell it. I will not go over the history of the site, which has been so excellently told by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton). Nor do I propose to repeat his very cogent arguments. He has analysed the Bill and has put the House in possession of all the important facts and I cannot help thinking that any impartial person listening to his speech must see that we have a very strong case against the Bill. I do not know anything about the proprietors of Hay's Wharf, but it seems to me they must "have a pull" on the Bermondsey Borough Council. I am told that several people connected with Hay's Wharf are on that Council and that they have considerable local interests. There is no reason why they should not. There is nothing wrong in that; but that makes it all the more necessary for us in this House to look carefully into a proposal which comes from that source. As to the public meeting held at 3 o'clock on a January afternoon and attended, I suppose, by half a dozen or a dozen people, that is mere eyewash, If you want a public meeting in Bermondsey you must have it in the evening. If you do not want anybody to be at your meeting, then have it at 3 o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon. It is perfectly easy then to say that you have had a public meeting and have received the approval of the people.
Of course this proposal received the approval of everybody connected with Hay's Wharf and the other people would not go. The kind of man who would like to go and smoke his pipe sitting in this open space by the riverside on a summer day, does not foresee what may result if he does not attend a public 763 meeting on a January afternoon to protest against a proposal of this kind. Such people do not understand what is going to happen and, obviously, the people who would attend such a meeting would be those associated with Hay's Wharf. No doubt they were there, and carried their resolution without opposition but that kind of thing should have no weight with us. To my mind, the most important thing in connection with this matter is to deliver a blow against the Philistinism of borough councils in general, all over the country. The business of a borough council is to look after the immediate and material interests of its people and, I dare say, from that point of view, the Bermondsey Borough Council may have something to say, but our business is to look to the broader aspects of these questions. We are a great historic people and this City of London is a city with a monumental history of the greatest interest to the world. Our business is to maintain the evidences of that history, to keep alive the continuity of the past with the present and to show how our people have come, generation after generation, from the great tide of humanity that has in successive waves passed through this great city, each wave leaving its mark. If we are to knock down first one historic monument and then another, because in the monstrous phrase of this Bill,it is expedient in the public interest that the land should be made available for the construction of wharves,then we may take any part of either bank of the river, and say that it is in the public interest that such things should be done there. It is in the public interest, as defined by the people who own Hay's Wharf. It is, of course, very important to them that they should get this site, but those of us who do not own wharves and have no interest in wharves but who have an interest in St. Olave's ancient church, want to see this memorial preserved. We are told that the Bermondsey Borough Council will put up an inscribed tablet. I presume they propose to put it in the wall of a warehouse, but how long will that last? When they did not take care of the tower, will they take care of the tablet? Perhaps one day there may be a change in the movements of commerce. Perhaps some day 764 Hay's Wharf may go and that warehouse will be pulled down, and then what will happen to the tablet and the inscription? I myself have known three cases of historical inscriptions which were put up on walls and which have since disappeared, two of them being in London. That happened because it was nobody's business to maintain them. If the wall is pulled down the inscription goes.
I trust that this House, the guardian of all the broad and big interests of this country, will take note that the point involved in this Bill—a small point if you like—is still a point of principle and that the proposal of the Bill is a vicious proposal, from the point of view of the interest of this country and its historic past. What is the difference between England and the Dominions? Why are our fellow citizens of the Dominions anxious to come to England Because this is the home of the ancient institutions and the ancient life from which they have sprung. If we destroy our old monumental buildings, that interest will perish. Who will care about England without its monuments? This particular monument is one little link in the long chain which it is our duty to preserve. I am sorry that the Minister of Transport has given any co-operation in this proposal. He seems to have been thinking only about a place for the parking of cars, but I am thinking about the history of Great Britain. It may be said that, in any case, it is a matter of small importance, but I ask hon. Members to think of this little garden on the banks of the Thames with a glorious view across to the stately buildings on the other side. I ask them to think of this little garden, reached through the tower which, if not a very old tower, is one of respectable age and one which was built by the people of that part of London no doubt with pride. I ask them to remember that it is the only spot in three and a-half miles of the river bank where one can see across the Thames from an open space; and I suggest that, from that point of view, this is really an important matter, and I beg the House to refuse to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Dr. SALTER
It is with great diffidence that I venture to oppose my opinion on archæological matters to that of the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Sir M. Conway). 765 I think, however, if he knew all the facts of the case he would regard the position taken up by the promoters of the Bill as unanswerable. I am as jealous as he for the preservation of memorials of the past, but I would ask him to consider again what this church tower is and what it represents. Before going into that part of the question, I turn first to the attacks on the Bermondsey Borough Council for their alleged failure to fulfil their duty since they came into possession of this trust. In fact, although the St. Olave's Church Act was passed in 1918, the Bermondsey Borough Council did not come into effective possession of this piece of land and the tower until late in 1926. Before they came into possession, they gave consideration to the ultimate appropriate disposition of the property. They took excellent advice, but time was necessarily required for the development of the scheme and the promotion of this Bill. No time whatever has been lost by the borough council since they came into possession.
§ Dr. SALTER
The Act of 1918 placed the original church in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Trust, which was not constituted until some time after the passing of the Act. When it was constituted, its first duty was to dispose of the four-sevenths of the site which had come into its possession. It put up the site for auction. I believe the site was withdrawn from auction and put up again. Negotiations with potential private purchasers went on for a long time and, when all these preliminaries had been completed, the conveyance of the property was not concluded until 1926. When all the preliminaries had been finished, the remaining half of the site, including the tower, was handed over to the Bermondsey Borough Council late in 1926. No possible fault rests with the council in that respect. As far as the people of Bermondsey are concerned, we have been able by diligent search to find one person, and one person only, who is opposed to the project of the Bill. The borough council is unanimous. The Bill is not promoted by any party. Liberals and Conservatives are as enthusiastic in 766 its support as the Labour members of the council. Every local body that we know of is in favour of the Bill, particularly the University Settlement, the missions and the juvenile organisations of all descriptions. They are waiting eagerly and anxiously for the passage of this Bill and for what will follow as far as the alternative site is concerned.
With regard to the town's meeting, it is true that an employé of Hay's Wharf took the chair, but he happened to be the mayor of the borough and the Statute requires that the mayor of the borough shall take the chair on such an occasion. It so happens that he is an ordinary labourer at the wharf, and he is mayor for this year. It is a pure accident that this year, when we are promoting the Bill, the mayor happens to be an employé of Hay's Wharf. An interesting fact relating to this town's meeting is that, with the exception of this one person, all those who were opposed to the Bill attended, including the Rector of the parish and the Chairman of the Liberal party in Bermondsey, and after hearing the statement of the case by the promoters, they not only withdrew their opposition, but said they would give their support to the Bill. Since that date we have been able to discover, as I say, only one person who is opposed to this Bill, and he happens to be a gentleman who has got Hay's Wharf on the brain. It is a particular bee in his bonnet, as it happens to be a bee in the bonnet of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton).
The hon. Member for the Combined Universities suggested that the whole of the proceeds of this sale ought to go to the Church. The Bishop of Southwark is an enthusiastic supporter of this Bill, and when the Bill was in the House of Lords he was in his place, ready to defend it and to express his approval of it had it been necessary so to do. The Bill is supported by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, which has been at considerable pains to secure assistance on the financial side in order to obtain the alternative site; by the National Playing Fields Fund Committee; by the Carnegie Trustees, who have given us some financial assistance; by the City Parochial Trustees, and by the London Traffic Advisory Committee and the Ministry of Transport; 767 and I venture to say that when I have finished my statement in support of the Bill, hon. Members of this House who are impartial will regard the case for it as quite unanswerable.
The hon. Member for the Combined Universities talked about the Philistinism of the Bermondsey Borough Council in wishing to destroy this beautiful old tower. The tower has not the slightest architectural or artistic value, and if my voice on that matter is considered suspect, I would like to quote the opinion of the late Marquess Curzon, who, when the original Bill was being discussed in the House of Lords, said:Nor, again, am I very much interested in the preservation of the tower alone. The tower has no beauty apart from the church; it has uncommon little with it, and apart from the church it will have absolutely none at all. To take down the church and invite the people of Bermondsey to sit, with the wharf on one side and a few tombstones on the other, to enjoy a quiet summer afternoon with this miserable relic looming in the air behind—I would not condemn anybody to a penalty so extreme.I would not go so far as the late Lord Curzon in his unqualified denunciation of this tower, but, as a matter of fact, it is a late eighteenth-century tower, and it has no historical interest at all. We do not know whether it is on the site of the original St. Olave's Church, and we do not know whether it, is on the site on which Olaf pitched his camp. The great probability is that this particular area where the tower is situate was marsh or under water at that time, and the camp to which the hon. Member referred was much more likely to have been in the immediate vicinity of the alternative site, a quarter of a mile away, which the borough council proposes to acquire.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
Is it not a fact that the memorial church—not this particular one—has stood on that site for the last 900 years?
§ Dr. SALTER
No one is at all sure that the church which was erected in about 1440 or 1450 occupied the site of the original church. There is not a particle of evidence to show that that is the case. I have been into the historical aspects of the matter as closely as I could, and I have searched all the authorities on the subject, but I can find no evidence that that is the case. I am 768 given to understand that it is practically certain that the particular area occupied by the church and churchyard was marshland at the time when this particular event took place, and when London Bridge was pulled down by the vessels of Olaf. In any case the camp itself was certainly a little further inland and was very much nearer the alternative site which we propose to acquire. The tower is now in a ruinous and dangerous condition, and that is not the fault of the borough council, but the fault of the people who pulled down the church. We had no control over those persons.
The hon. Member for the Combined Universities has suggested that the Bermondsey Borough Council has had some malign and sinister design upon this building, that it promoted a Bill in two stages, and that when it could not get all that it wanted at first, it waited a few years and then promoted a second Bill. The hon. Member is entirely misinformed. The borough council was in no way concerned with the original Bill, which was promoted by the Church of England itself. The authorities of the Church of England ascertained that the parishioners of the original St. Olave's church had completely disappeared. I understand and believe it is the fact that 13 persons, all of them caretakers of warehouses, were the sole resident parishioners of that district. Steadily London had been encroaching on the old residential area, the houses had been swept away, their places had been taken by offices and warehouses, and there was no resident population left. The Church, therefore, promoted a Bill for the demolition of the building, the sale of the site, and, with the proceeds, the purchase of some alternative site elsewhere in the suburbs, where a new church edifice was required.
We have had the tower examined by our experts, and we are advised that it would cost the borough council between £3,000 and £4,000 to stabilise the tower and make it safe for the future. We suggest that that is not a fair charge to be levied on an extremely poor borough like Bermondsey, and we are not in a position to raise the money. There is no view from the tower. When the adjacent warehouse buildings, nine storeys in height, are completed, nothing will be visible from that tower of the river or of the view of which we have heard 769 so much this evening, except the front of a warehouse on the opposite side of the river. I have been to the top of the tower myself and have examined the position very carefully, and that is not merely my own opinion, but that of others as well. The cost of care and maintenance, caretaker, and so on, would be quite prohibitive from the point of view of a borough situated as Bermondsey is at the present time. This site is less than a sixth of an acre in extent and quite valueless from the borough's point of view. If it were to be taken over by the nation or by the London County Council and maintained by them, that would be another matter, but this poor borough cannot take over this site and maintain it and be involved in considerable capital expenditure for a purpose which, from its own point of view, is quite useless. When the adjacent buildings are completed, it will be simply a tunnel, a sunless, airless tunnel, and a very draughty tunnel in which to sit; and it will not be used, as far as we are able to ascertain, except possibly by some odd people who may work in the vicinity as a place in which to eat their lunch. It is unapproachable by children, because there are no residences in the neighbourhood, and it is cut off by the extremely congested main arterial road. It cannot be used by our young people, and we, from our point of view, cannot consider that the cost of maintaining it as an open space would be justified.
It is an interesting fact that the proposals which are incorporated in this Bill are the very proposals which the London County Council put forward when the 1918 Bill was before the House. The county council put forward proposals in these very terms, and they condemned the use of this area as an open space on the ground that it would be shut in and unfrequented by the ordinary public, and would become the resort of undesirable persons. We shall acquire, for the money obtained by the sale of this space, an open space one acre in extent situated 450–480 yards away, in the middle of a residential district, surrounded by a densely crowded and overcrowded population. There are any number of young people who have no playing place whatever. We shall acquire this area, which is the site of the old workhouse and has already been put up to auction and withdrawn at £16,000. Half of it belongs to 770 the borough council, and the other half to a body of charity trustees, and they are selling their half to the borough council, on condition that it shall be used as an open space, for £8,000. We ascertained from our technical advisers that the cost of the lay-out and so on will be another £3,000 to £4,000 so that, in order to acquire this alternative open space, we are obliged to raise a sum of not less than £11,000 to £12,000.
The rates in Bermondsey are over 18s. in the £. We are an extremely poor borough, and have no middle-class residential element whatever. We are an entirely working-class borough, and we do not feel that we are in a position to raise all that money. The offer has come to purchase this St. Olave's site for £10,000, and a sum of anything from £5,000 to £6,000 net will accrue to the borough council by the sale. With a grant from the National Playing Fields Fund of £2,000, a grant from the Carnegie Trustees of £1,000, and another grant from the City Parochial Trust, we shall have almost enough to purchase the other site and to lay it out as a playing field. We propose to utilise the ground exclusively as a recreation ground for children and adolescents. We have a large child-population, which is densely overcrowded, and most of the houses in that vicinity have no gardens, many of them even not having backyards. There is no playing place nearer than Southwark Park, which is a mile away, except a little old disused burial ground, which the borough council have purchased, and which is used for net-ball and cricket practice. That space is less than half an acre in extent. The other spaces are churchyards, in which games are prohibited under the faculty by which they are used.
In the whole of that area, with an immense population—an area of half a square mile—there is no space whatever in which children can play, with the exception of this little disused burial ground, which is now caged in. We propose also to cage in the other site. We should like to grass it, so that it should be like one of the playing fields of the public schools, but that is impossible in view of the number of children who will use it. We propose to allocate its use in the evenings and on Saturdays between the various clubs, such as the Boy Scouts, 771 the Toc H, the Cambridge Mission, and other similar philanthropic bodies, which are doing magnificent work in that locality among the adolescents. During the daytime, we propose that it shall be used by scholars from the adjacent London County Council schools. We suggest that there can be no question from the point of view of the life and health of the coming generation as to the relative values and importance of these two sites. We beg the House not to disappoint the thousands of eager and expectant children who are looking forward to having this new open space.
§ Sir W. BULL
I viewed with grave apprehension the passing of the Bill in 1918. If a church sells part of its property, it generally lives to regret it. I thought, however, that when certain safeguards were put into that Measure, they would be carried out. Now 10 years later, a second Bill is brought forward, whereby those promises and guarantees have absolutely been abrogated. I speak as a lover of London, and I am strongly of opinion that this nibbling which is going on in all our points of interest, is hurtful to the Metropolis. A large number of visitors come here to find out the spots which are of interest to them, and I am certain that the site of St. Olave's must be of interest to Norwegians, Scandinavians and some of our colonists who come over here to seek out spots of interest. The hon. Member who has just spoken boldly stated that he did not believe that this was the site of the church. He has admitted that London Bridge was there—the wooden bridge—and it is admitted in history that the Danes camped there. It is suggested that London Bridge went further back. I do not think history shows that; it was very carefully built upon two spots of ground and there is no other space, up and down the river for a mile or two, where good foundations could have been laid for a bridge. It is well known that there were on either side geological formations either in chalk or in stone, whereon that bridge was laid, and to pretend that this was not the spot where Olaf started to pull down the bridge is absurd.
§ Dr. SALTER
The bastions of the original bridge lay at least 20 yards inland from where Tooley Street now 772 stands, and are covered by the present site of the London Bridge railway approach.
§ Sir W. BULL
Twenty yards is very different from the area of Tanner Street, or the Tanner Street site.
§ Sir W. BULL
—and we are going to destroy all remembrance of it. I implore the House to consider this matter from a sentimental point of view. Think what it would have meant if we could have preserved the site of the old Globe Theatre close by. I believe it was sold for some What a treasure it would have been if we could have preserved that site instead of its being amalgamated in Barclay Perkins' Brewery. Then, again, for 31 miles in Bermondsey the whole of the river is blocked out by wharves and buildings, so that it is impossible to see an inch of the river.
§ Dr. SALTER
Again I must correct the hon. Member. That is not the case. There are a large number of what are called stairs leading down to the river—not. of course, along the whole of the 31 miles—from any of which infinitely better views can be obtained than from this site.
§ Sir W. BULL
Those are small stairs, and this is a site on which the people can sit when enjoying the view. I am a little surprised at the Bermondsey Borough Council selling this precious site for a mess of pottage; and in any case I think the money ought to go back to the Church. In another place the Third Reading of this Bill was passed without any discussion at all about it, and it is left to a few of us here who, while not living in Bermondsey, are still fond of Bermondsey and take an interest in Bermondsey, to ask this House to consider carefully what. it is proposed to do in this Bill. It has to be remembered that all the undertakings which were given when the Bill of 1918 was passed are going to be entirely swept away.
§ Dr. SALTER
But the promoters of that Bill were the Church of England, not the Bermondsey Borough Council.
§ Sir W. BULL
I do not care whether they were the Church of England or anybody else. If the Church of England has not fulfilled its undertakings, so much the worse for the Church of England. There is no doubt this House would not have passed that Measure in 1918 if those undertakings had not been given; indeed, the promoters of the Bill of 1918 would not have dared to bring it forward if they had not given some undertakings of this kind. With regard to the saving of this piece of ground to the poor, I understand that one of the uses to which the ground is to be put is a parking place for cars. The space is about the size of this House, or rather less. How many cars can you park in such a space? Secondly, it is to be used to provide bays for loading. How are you going to park cars at a place where vans are loading for Hay's Wharf? Then, again, it is said the project will be useful as a means of relieving traffic in that area, but I understand the Ministry of Transport have just given permission for a new line of omnibuses to be run past the end of it. It is said that if the Round House at the corner could be removed there would be a great improvement in the traffic arrangements, but how can that be when the Ministry of Transport are allowing another line of omnibuses to run past this very spot? Another wharf is to be built upon it, which will bring more traffic—more lorries and more carts—and yet we speak of this alteration being made for the sake of improving the traffic facilities. The story does not hang together for a moment. I do not know that there is anything more I wish to say, except that as an old Member of the House I would urge Members carefully to consider the position before giving a Second Reading to the Bill, and I support the Amendment.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I suppose I ought to say one word on this Bill, seeing that the Ministry of Transport has been brought into the discussion. From the transport point of view, obviously the Ministry must support the Bill.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
From the transport point of view, the Ministry must obviously support the Bill. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friend will allow me, I will make my case, and then he will know whether it is a good one or not. First of all, I am advised in this case by the Traffic Advisory Committee, one or two members of which I see present—
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The Traffic Advisory Committee are quite clear, as I am myself, that there is great traffic congestion in Tooley Street, and if we can remove from Tooley Street a certain number of the vans which now stand there, and place them somewhere else, it will make a very considerable difference to that congestion. The area which we are discussing to-night is about one-sixth of an acre, which is about twice the size of this Chamber. It is estimated officially, though my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Sir M. Conway) seemed to doubt it, that from 90 to 100 vans can be accommodated on the ground floor of the building which Hay's Wharf will put up there if this Bill becomes law. I submit that to take 100 vans out of the present congestion in Tooley Street will make a very considerable difference. Therefore, I am quite clear that the Ministry of Transport, as a Ministry, must advise the House, for what our advice is worth, that this is a good Bill from the London point of view.
Perhaps I might add a word or two expressing my personal point of view. I came into the House this evening without any preconceived ideas on the general merits of the scheme, and have listened to the Debate. We must try to avoid falling into the error of putting undue importance upon antiquities, while at the same time not omitting to give lovely and old things the consideration which is due to them. The House ought to consider carefully whether those who oppose this Bill on æsthetic 775 grounds and historic associations have made out their case. Obviously, everybody must be in favour of the idea of substituting one acre for one-sixth of an acre as a place for the recreation of boys and girls and the enjoyment of young people. They must prefer to have this large area in place of an area of one-sixth of an acre, especially when this latter is hemmed in with high buildings and is far removed from where the people live. What is the case made by the opponents of the Bill? They say this is an historic site and that this tower is a beautiful tower, from which one can get a nice view of the river.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
But it is said the tower is beautiful, and that it ought to be preserved. With great respect, I cannot agree. It is quite a commonplace tower, of a type of which we see many scores up and down the country, and from the esthetic point of view, I think, nothing will be lost. Finally, I would say that in a matter where such a doubt arises, the House of Commons will surely always give the preference to human beings over dead associations. We must consider the younger generation who are coming on, and see whether what is proposed will give them an opportunity for healthy recreation and games and a wider outlook. Let us not allow old associations, however excellent they may be—and I always support them when I am dealing with old bridges—to cloud our minds to the realities of the situation. I think the Bermondsey Borough Council are doing what is sound and right by their own inhabitants, and what is right as regards London as a whole.
§ Mr. B. SMITH
It is said that when you have a bad case the best course to pursue is to abuse the other side. I deprecate the statements which have come from the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) and the hon. Member for the English Universities (Sir M. Conway). It has been argued that Hay's Wharf has a pull on the Bermondsey Borough Council. It has been asserted that the chairman of the town's meeting which considered this question was an employé of Hay's Wharf, 776 and that he was doing something contemptible. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] At any rate, that was the implication. It was argued that the Bermondsey Council came to this House with unclean hands and that this Bill had not been brought forward in a straightforward manner. I think such epithets and such accusations are unworthy of those hon. Members.
As a matter of fact, the Bermondsey Borough Council have not come to this House on their own volition. The Minister of Transport knows very well that I, as a member of the London Traffic Advisory Committee, as far back as 1925, in conjunction with my colleagues, had to make many investigations into the traffic conditions at the top of Tooley Street. There are tramcars in that part of the road which are not permitted to deposit their passengers between nine o'clock and five o'clock for a distance of over 300 yards. If the improvements suggested by this Bill are carried out the workpeople will have the right to a full ride on those tramcars, and this will be a great saving of their energy during inclement weather, and will be a great convenience to them. At one time we met the proprietors of Hay's Wharf and considered with them the whole question of the congestion of the traffic. The suggestion for the improvements asked for under this Bill emanated from the London Traffic Advisory Committee, and not from the Bermondsey Borough Council at all. The council only took up this question 15 or 18 months later, under pressure from the London Traffic Advisory Committee. Hay's Wharf is said to have a pull on the council, but we had to negotiate with Hay's Wharf and they objected to the Minister of Transport laying down that the whole of the ground floor should be used for the parking of vehicles.
Anyone who knows Tooley Street is aware that the congestion is greater there than in any other area of its size in the whole of London. It is not realised that 60 per cent. of the total of the perishable articles of London's food supply goes over the bridge near Tooley Street. The site we are dealing with is at the back of the Butter Market., and if it is going to be used for the purpose which hon. Members opposite desire, the playground would be in damp surroundings of the dirtiest character. Therefore, we urge that that particular site should be used for the parking of vehicles. Much play 777 has been made of the fact that there is a possibility of loading bays being erected there. Surely, if you can have loading bays in the main streets, you can have them as suggested under this Bill in order to relieve congestion. That is the reason why it is suggested that loading bays should be constructed there.
It is estimated that 100 cars or lorries might be parked on this site. I am told that in Tooley Street it is not an unusual thing for vehicles to remain for eight hours and then go away without having been able to load. Under the conditions imposed by the Minister of Transport we shall be able to eliminate that congestion in Tooley Street, bring order out of chaos, and confer a great benefit upon the public. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has asked us to put our minds back for 900 years. I want hon. Members to project their minds into the future, and see that this old site is taken away. I want the House to consider the joy this change would bring into this very congested area in Bermondsey. The ecclesiastical people in the district have agreed to our proposals, and in return we have agreed to give six or seven times the area, we are taking away for the recreation of the children in a very congested and overcrowded area. I think that fact ought to appeal more to the Members of this House than the retaining of a very ugly old site which may have historical associations so far as the site is concerned, but so far as the Church is concerned it has very little historical interest.
There is hardly any borough in London where the people suffer so much from ill-health because of overcrowded conditions and limited open spaces. This Bill will make it possible to give recreation to a large number of young children. When it comes to a choice of retaining an archæological relic and giving health to the children, then my preference will go for the children all the time. Having regard to the fact that the House of Lords has passed this Bill and the fact that the opposition of the Public Gardens Association and the Noble Lord the Earl of Meath has been overcome; in view of the fact that people who usually oppose such changes as those suggested in the Bill are now not only supporting this Measure but giving it financial aid, I think that is the strongest evidence that the Bermondsey Borough Council are tra- 778 velling in the right direction. For these reasons I ask the House of Commons to give a Second Reading to this Bill, and assist us to do the right think by the children and the people of London.
§ Sir BASIL PETO
My only excuse for troubling the House on this occasion is that in 1918, when the St. Olave's Bill was before the House, I seconded the Motion for its rejection on the ground that it was a proposal which was neither one thing nor the other, because it proposed to cut in half a very narrow site, and make a recreation ground for the children in a locality where there were no children to use it, and which, in fact, would create a narrow tunnel under 50 feet wide in frontage, which would be no use for the purposes suggested. At the same time, the Bill would be sacrificing a very valuable business site in Tooley Street close to London Bridge which would be absolutely unsuitable for the purposes suggested. We were defeated 10 years ago, and all that has happened since has been that that valuable site has remained practically unremunerative ever since, and there has been no recreation ground for children. When I see a Bill introduced now, which proposes to make a recreation ground seven times the size of this site, in a suitable position, where there are children to enjoy it, and where they will be able to get to it without being run over by the Juggernaut cars of commercial traffic which go up and down this narrow thoroughfare, I cannot conceive of any reason why any hon. Member of this House should oppose this Measure at all.
This tower only dates from 1730, and is not even an example of Wren; it was designed by one of the pupils of Wren. At the time when I opposed the Bill as it was then, 10 years ago, I made a suggestion, which is not included in the present Bill, namely, that the tower or the church—which then existed—should be taken down and re-erected in one of the populous suburbs of London, where a little historical connection with the past would be valuable, and where it might save some of the cost of erecting a new church. That is not proposed here, but, from the purely aesthetic point of view, I cannot conceive of anyone disagreeing with the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. B. Smith) as to the relative value of this supposed historial association—a tower buried between warehouses in 779 Tooley Street, where no one goes to see it, and where, if anyone did go to see it, it would only be thought to be horribly in the way of modern commerce, while its existence means that there are so many children who are not enjoying themselves on a site suitable for their enjoyment. If we pause longer to consider this Bill, it will really be an abuse and waste of the time of the House. I support the Bill, which is exactly what I asked for 10 years ago, as heartily as I opposed the Bill which was before the House at that time.
§ Mr. HARRIS
The case put forward for the provision of a new playground for Bermondsey is a very strong one, and if the sale of this site would afford the opportunity of providing a playground for this overcrowded area, I would put aside my antiquarian prejudices and support this Bill; but the two things do not hang upon one another. As the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) will recollect, the London County Council was asked to embody this proposal in its General Powers Bill, but it did not feel justified in doing so, knowing the history of the site, and the conditions attached by Parliament to its sale. There was a conference between the Bermondsey Borough Council and the London County Council, and the County Council made it quite clear that, as far as they were concerned as the open space authority, they would be quite willing to assist the borough council financially to acquire the site.
§ Dr. SALTER
I am afraid the hon. Member is misinformed on this point. He was not present at the conference, and I have to assure him, as one who was present, that no suggestion whatever was made that the County Council would be willing to contribute to this scheme. Two years ago we did ask the County Council to assist a similar local scheme, and they refused on the ground that it was of local interest and importance only.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. HARRIS
All I can say is that I was present at the public meeting of the London County Council when the matter was discussed with the local representatives, and it was made quite clear that, as far as the County Council was concerned, they would be prepared to contribute. They ought to contribute. After all, the pro- 780 vision of this space which is required ought not to be contingent on the sale of property which really does not belong to the Bermondsey Borough Council. It was given to them as a present for a special purpose, and they never paid a penny for it. It is Church money—stolen plate—and they have no right to use the money for this purpose. If a park is necessary, and I believe it is, as a playground for the children in this part of London, it should be bought, and, if the borough council cannot afford it, London as a whole should discharge its duty to the children of London and help to provide the money to purchase the necessary open space. That, really, is the case against this Bill; the two things are not dependent on one another.
It is apparently desired, for some reason or another, that the people should not see the river. I do not know if it is feared that they will thereby be moved to go out to colonise other parts of the Empire. Why should not the children of Bermondsey have the splendid educational advantages of the sight of the great River Thames, with all its historical associations and all its educational value? I am surprised too, that the Labour party should wish to sell a freehold to a capitalist firm. I always thought it was one of their principles not to part with freehold property; but apparently they do not mind parting with freehold property when it does not belong to them, when it is given to them under a trust. Of course, as everyone knows, if the Church had known that, as soon as its property was handed to the borough council, they would sell it, the Church would have had the right to the whole of the money. They got half the money, but they wanted the whole at the time when the Bill was promoted. Parliament, however, in its wisdom, was convinced that it was not right to take part of the site, with all its historical traditions, and remove the whole of the landmarks connected with the church and its history. I hope that the House will reject the Bill.
§ Colonel APPLIN
I think it is a pity that we have lost sight of the fact that this is not so much an historical monument as a record, although a comparatively modern one, of the first Christian church erected in this country. It seems to me that commercialism and the desire for gain, the desire to go ahead 781 with commerce, make us lose sight of something which is of great value to our people. However modern and however ugly this tower may be, it is the one monument that exists of the first Christian church in this country. If its destruction would give something of value to the people of this country, one might, perhaps, say as a Christian that one would wish it, but it is going to do nothing, so far as I can see, except give a little tiny space which could quite easily be found elsewhere. There seems to be no reason whatsoever for destroying one of our most ancient memorials. We might just as well in another generation say, "Let us take down the Cenotaph. It is out of date; we want more room in Whitehall; after all, the War is over; let us take it down." I wish to enter my protest against the vandalism of destroying this ancient landmark.
§ Mr. RYE
The Minister of Transport, very rightly, made an appeal to Members of the House on behalf of the children, and he put it to the House that, when we had to consider the interests of small children, we should not hesitate in passing this Bill. I do not think there is any Member of the House who would not agree with that, if there were no other site available, but in this case it is on record that there is another site. There is the old workhouse site, which is available at any time, and the Bermondsey Borough Council could acquire and lay out that site for the purpose of recreation grounds for the children of Bermondsey. I do not think there is a very great deal in the point taken by the Minister. He then dealt with the question of traffic. He said that by utilising this small space adjoining Hay's Wharf traffic would be relieved, because 100 lorries or vans could be parked on the ground floor of the proposed building. The parking of those vans and lorries will certainly not make for relief of the traffic but will add to the congestion. Tooley Street is narrow and there is always congestion there. I cannot imagine the state of affairs that will occur when the drivers of these vans and lorries endeavour to get through that narrow street and park all those vehicles in that restricted space.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
It is obviously better that the lorries should stand in a space which is not a public thoroughfare.
§ Mr. RYE
That is not the point I am making. I am drawing attention to the undoubted trouble that will occur when the drivers of these vans get their vans and lorries into this small space, and the same trouble will occur when they come out. I consider, therefore, from the traffic point of view, things will be worse than at present, more particularly in view of the fact that omnibuses now go down Tooley Street. The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) referred to the unsuitability of the site. He said it was narrow and hemmed in by high buildings and was approached by a tunnel which we are now told will be 50 feet in width, so it is not such a very small tunnel after all. He generally made out a case which would lead the House to believe that of all the unsuitable sites for an open space wherein people could sit and enjoy a beautiful view of the river and the magnificent buildings opposite this was the very worst that could possibly have been found. Were all these great disadvantages pointed out in 1918 when Parliament decided that this site should be vested in the Bermondsey Borough Council under the Open Spaces Act, 1906? Did anyone on behalf of the Bermondsey Borough Council say, "We do not want this site. It is wholly unsuitable. It only carries with it the burden of an old tower which is in a dangerous condition. It is about the worst possible site in London for the purpose"?
§ Sir B. PETO
I could not claim to represent Bermondsey, but I put all those arguments before the House.
§ Dr. SALTER
May I add that the Bermondsey Borough Council had no direct say in the matter? It was not their Bill.
§ Mr. RYE
Is it seriously suggested that Parliament would have imposed this burden upon the borough council without some very strong objection on the part of the ratepayers of Bermondsey? "Here is something that is of no benefit at all. Here is something that is going to cost £5,000 or £6,000 to keep up. Here is something which has a church tower upon it that is in a dangerous condition." There is not a mention of the dangerous condition of the tower in the Preamble to the Bill. There is a reference to the narrowness and unsuitability of the site, but it was just as small in 1918 as it is 783 to-day, and yet the borough council were prepared to take it over and to undertake these duties. When we are told the delay is due, amongst other things, to the preparation of the conveyance, that is all moonshine. This piece of land and the church tower became vested in the borough council under the Act of 1918. There was no question of a conveyance. The legal profession bad not even an opportunity of earning 6s. 8d., because there was no conveyance. The borough council were quite prepared to take it. They never objected to taking it, and it is their duty, not merely to their rate payers, but to the people of London, to preserve this small open space adjoining London Bridge, so that people who go to Bermondsey to earn their living may have an opportunity to go to this recreation ground, which was to have been set out under the Act of Parliament and has not been set out, and have one of the finest views in London, and I think their interest should be considered as well as that of the children of Bermondsey. The children of Bermondsey can be looked after by the ratepayers providing an open space on the workhouse site if they so desire.
The solid fact remains that the Bermondsey Borough Council obtained this site for an express particular purpose, and they are now endeavouring to sell it for £10,000. They are not endeavouring to do their duty in the slightest degree. As for the statement that the site is of no value and is not in a proper position for a small recreation ground, I can only give my own experience. Last September I was on a small steamer outside Hay's Wharf and I noticed this site and the remainder of the church tower, which to my thinking is architecturally quite sound and good. I wondered what was going to be done with it and it seemed to me if ever there was an ideal spot which should be retained for the people of London to go to the river side, the one gap we are told in a frontage of 3½ miles, it was that small portion adjoining the wharf. Why can it not be maintained for the people of London? Why should the Bermondsey Borough Council be allowed to barter it away, to ignore their obligations, to sell their mess of potage for a paltry £10,000?
§ Mr. HANNON
I am opposed to the Bill and I am astounded that the Minister associates himself with the proposal that it should become law. He is himself the custodian of one of the most interesting historical monuments of the country and that he should lend himself to the demolition at the instance of the Bermondsey Borough Council of an historical monument which stands by the River Thames and recalls the beginning of Christianity in these islands is something which will take him a long time to get over. There is a general tendency in these days to sacrifice these ancient monuments in the interests of modern convenience, and it is because the Bermondsey Borough Council wish to destroy this ancient tower, recalling the earliest associations of Christianity—
§ Mr. HANNON
The hon. Member's disagreement with me will make no difference whatever. I hope the proposal will have no support in the House of Commons. My hon. Friend who spoke last has stated the case admirably for the retention of the tower. He says, on his own unimpeachable authority, that its architecture is sound. I agree with that contention, and I very much hope this tendency to destroy ancient monuments associated with the beginning of the Christian Church in this great city will not be endorsed by the House of Commons. I respectfully enter my protest in association with the hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of this Bill.
§ Mr. AMMON
I want to say a few words in reply to some of the mistakes to which voice has been given in the discussion on this Bill. In the first place, I think we ought to get our minds clear as to the circumstances surrounding the original Bill in 1918. The Bermondsey Borough Council had no lot or part in it. It was promoted by the Church of England, which desired to get rid of this site, on account of the fact that parishioners had departed, and because money that might come from the sale of it might be used in the erection of new churches elsewhere. The next point is that the dangerous condition of the church tower and all the rest of it were not in evidence at the time the Bill was 785 under discussion in 1918. The church tower only became dangerous after the demolition of the building which supported it, and it has of course, become increasingly dangerous since then. In spite of what the hon. Member opposite has said, not, I hope, with the deliberate intention of misleading the House, the Bermondsey Borough Council were unable to get possession of this tower or of the ground until 1926. The question of demolition was part of the terms of the agreement, and certain deeds of transfer had to be carried through. None of these things was done until towards the commencement of the year 1926. Until that moment the Bermondsey Borough Council had no right of entry or access to the towel under any conditions.
§ Mr. AMMON
There is no need for me to tell the House anything of the sort. The House would be aware that it would take some time for the demolition to be carried through, that it was not started immediately, and that it was not the place of the Bermondsey Borough Council to make application before the whole thing was ready for them to take over. Had I been in the House at the time this matter was discussed in 1918 I would have opposed the passing of that Bill, as I opposed, at a later date in this House, the attempt to pull down certain city churches, which I opposed on altogether different grounds. Those grounds have entirely disappeared. The fabric itself has gone, all the sacred associations have been dispersed and dissipated, and there is not the slightest architectural or historical value attached to the church as a church, or to the tower. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) has already read to the House a pretty strong condemnation from the artistic and architectural point of view voiced by the late Marquess Curzon in another place, and in the discussion that took place quite recently in another place the Earl of Donoughmore gave expression to the fact that the building was a bad example of 786 a decadent and an uninteresting past. Lord Peel also said that it was of no æsthetic importance. Anyway, they are opinions worthy of consideration and should do a great deal to discount much that has been said in this House to-night.
I am interested in this question from another point of view. I happen to be a resident in Bermondsey, and I know something of the conditions by actual experience and association with this particularly congested neighbourhood. Hon. Members should bear in mind that this spot is the centre of the provision trade in this country, and that it is approached through a bottle-neck known as Duke Street Hill leading to Tooley Street, which is so crowded at certain hours of the morning that the trams are not allowed to carry their complement of passengers to the tram terminus. It takes hours, as has already been said, for many of the vans to reach there. It is not an uncommon thing for vans and cars unable to get their loads to have to stand there for long periods during the congested hours of the day. We have heard nonsense talked about opening up the place for the benefit of little children. There are no little children residing within at least a quarter of a mile of the place, and they would have to cross a thoroughfare which even men and women are only able to cross now at the risk of their lives. It is preposterous to think of using the site for that purpose. Surely it does not need a great deal of argument to point out that if you could obviate, say, 100 lorries from the necessity of standing in front of the provision warehouses by placing them in a proper parking place, you would do a tremendous lot to remove the congestion in that area, and, incidentally, do a great deal indirectly in the interests of the commercial activity and prosperity of the people concerned in that particular trade.
As to the historical statements that have been made, really I am sure that the hon. Member for the English Universities (Sir M. Conway) must have shuddered when he heard those supporting him say that on this site stood the first Christian Church. I suggest that it is a long way from Glastonbury, anyway, and almost equally as far from St. Martins, Kent. The promoters of the Bill come with the authority of the support of the Church for 787 this Bill because it hopes to get some measure of financial assistance in order to carry out extensions in other parts. Speaking from an intimate acquaintance of the district extending over something like 30 years, I say that the spot will not give you anything like a view of the river. You simply look down a narrow alley-way across the river to the opposite bank and on to another wharf or building. That is all one can see. It is all nonsense to talk about what can be seen. If one stands on the top of the tower when the buildings which are now being erected are completed, he will be a long way below the top of the walls on either side. That is the actual physical situation. The architectural points stand for nothing, while the history given by the opponents of the Bill is all wrong. I will quote an extract from a report made in 1918 by the Chairman of the Parks and Open Spaces Committee of the London County Council:The Chairman of the Parks Committee was of the opinion that the very small piece of land, containing about 358 square yards, which would be available as a public open space under the scheme now put forward by the promoters, would be useless for such a purpose. We concur in this view and are of opinion that the proposal should be opposed. We think that, if the Bill is proceeded with, the arrangement which was tentatively agreed between the Council and the promoters is, in the circumstances, the only practicable arrangement.This is a very serious matter from another point of view. I know from firsthand knowledge that Bermondsey as a district is one of the most crowded in the whole of London, and one of the poorest. It has not a single open space in it, with the exception of one or two churchyards which have been laid out as gardens. Southwark Park is a long way off. It is of first-class importance, now that they have an opportunity of securing a recreation ground right in the heart and centre of this teeming population, that they should be given the chance to accept it, and, in exchange for it, to give a small parcel of ground that is of no practical value whatever, which cannot afford any recreation to the children, and which will undoubtedly, by its very situation, afford a rendezvous for very undesirable characters. It is not the only opening along that 3½ miles of river front, for the so-called stairs at Cherry Garden and Horsleydown give a very 788 much better view of the river than is obtained from this site. I talk as one who knows something of the situation. We are asked to give that up, and also for the demolition of a tower which is not of the slightest historical value and has no associations, and in regard to which it is very, very doubtful whether it is the site at all of the original church, which was quite probably a little further down, nearer Guy's Hospital. We are asked that this should be given up in order that a larger piece of ground may be secured capable of providing healthy recreation for the children in this teeming population, in a district where there is a continual flow of heavy traffic, bringing danger to life and limb of these little ones. I refuse to think for one moment that there is any considerable section of the House who will not vote for this Bill and come down on the side of the children.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
I should like to ask one question. The hon. Gentleman said it was necessary to sell a site in order to acquire an open space for the children. The hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) also referred to that point, but he told us that there were large subscriptions towards the purchase of another site. Is it necessary to close this site in order to purchase the other one? As far as I can make out, it would only be necessary for Bermondsey to raise £3,000 or £4,000 in order to purchase the other site, and yet not close the site in question. It seems to me a very odd thing that the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken told us that there were no open spaces in this district, or very few, and then proposed to close one of the most picturesque open spaces in the district. The hon. Member for West Bermondsey told us it would be very difficult to find in Bermondsey any resident who was opposed to this Bill. As a matter of fact, I know a resident who has considerable interest there amongst the young people, and he asked me to oppose this Bill.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
I doubt whether this is the same gentleman. He asked me to oppose the Bill on the ground that it is proposed to close this beautiful view of the river, and to close to young 789 children and a number of old people and working folk an opportunity of quiet time. On these grounds, I feel bound to vote against the Bill.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 149; Noes, 87.791
|Division No. 122.]||AYES.||[9.30 p.m.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Hammersley, S. S.||Ramsden, E.|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Hardie, George D.||Reid, Capt. Cunningham (Warrington)|
|Amman, Charles George||Hayday, Arthur||Reiner, J. R.|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Ritson, J.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Hilton, Cecil||Rodd, fit. Hon. Sir James Rennell|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Hirst, G. H.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Baker. Walter||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Hollins, A.||Scurr, John|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Sexton, James|
|Barnes, A.||Hume, Sir G H.||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Barr, J.||Hurst, Gerald B.||Shinwell, E.|
|Batey, Joseph||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Betterton, Henry B.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Smith, H. B. Lees- (Keighley)|
|Bondfield, Margaret||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Broad, F. A.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Snell, Harry|
|Bromfield, William||Kelly, W. T.||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Bromley, J.||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Burgoyne, Lieut. Colonel Sir Alan||Kennedy, T.||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Charleton, H. C.||Kirkwood, D.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Cluse, W. S.||Knox, Sir Alfred||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Lamb, J. 0.||Storry-Deans, R.|
|Compton, Joseph||Lansbury, George||Styles, Captain H. Walter|
|Connolly, M.||Lawson, John James||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Couper, J. B.||Lee, F.||Sullivan, J.|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Lindley, F. W.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Cove, W. G.||Lowth, T.||Templeton, W. P.|
|Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)||Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Dalton, Hugh||Mac Donald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Mackinder, W.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Day, Harry||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Townend, A. E.|
|Dennison, R,||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Dixey, A. C.||March, S.||Viant, S. P.|
|Duncan, C.||Maxton, James||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Edwards. C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Montague, Frederick||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Fanshawe, Captain G. D,||Naylor, T. E.||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Foster, Sir Harry S.||Newman, sir R. H. s. D. L. (Exeter)||Wedgwood. Rt. Hon. Joslah|
|Gates, Percy||Oakley, T.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Oliver, George Harold||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Gillett, George M.||Palin, John Henry||Whiteley, W.|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Paling, W.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Gosling, Harry||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Windsor, Walter|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Penny, Frederick George||Womersley, W. J.|
|Greenall, T.||Perkins. Colonel E. K.||Wright, W.|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Young Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Groves, T.||Ponsonby, Arthur|
|Grundy, T. W.||Potts, John S.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Purcell, A. A.||Dr. Salter and Mr. B. Smith.|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Raine, Sir Walter|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Dean, Arthur Wellesley||Hopkins, J. W. W.|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Drewe, C.||Hore-Betisha, Leslie|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington)||Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||England, Colonel A,||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish-||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Little, Dr. E. Graham|
|Berry, Sir George||Everard, W. Lindsay||Looker, Herbert William|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Fenby, T. D.||Lynn, Sir Robert J.|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E W.||Forrest, W.||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen|
|Briant, Frank||Foxcroft, Captain C. T.||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Gaibraith, J. F. W.||McLean, Major A.|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Makins, Brigadier-General E.|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.|
|Christie, J. A.||Griffith, F. Kingsley||Mitchell, w. Foot (Saffron Walden)|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Morris, R. H.|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Harland, A.||Neville, Sir Reginald J.|
|Crawfurd, H. E.||Harris, Percy A.||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)|
|Crooke, J. Smedlay (Deritend)||Hartington, Marquess of||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Haslam, Henry C.||Preston, William|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Hills, Major John Waller||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Rees, Sir Beddoe||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew, W)||Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)|
|Reid, D. D. (County Down)||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley||Tomlinson, R. P.|
|Rentoul, G. S.||Shepperson, E. W.||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)||Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.||Smithers, Waldron||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)|
|Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)|
|Rye, F. G.||Steel, Major Samuel Strang||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Salmon, Major I.||Strauss, E. A.|
|Sandeman, N. Stewart||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W. R., Sowerby)||Tasker, R Inigo.||Sir Robert Hamilton and Sir Martin Conway.|
Bill read a Second time, and committed.