HC Deb 02 February 1949 vol 460 cc1669-71
36. Mr. Henry Strauss

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty on what date an architect was appointed to design the buildings required at Herstmonceux for the use of the Royal Observatory and for the housing of the instruments removed from Greenwich; who the architect is; and when his plans will be submitted to the Royal Fine Art Commission for consideration.

The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Walter Edwards)

The design work in connection with the transfer of the Royal Observatory from Greenwich to Herstmonceux is being undertaken by qualified architects on the staff of the Admiralty. We shall be discussing the designs with the Royal Fine Art Commission at the appropriate stage.

Mr. Strauss

Was this architect consulted from the very beginning of this work? Is the hon. Member aware that the Royal Observatory at Greenwich was the work of Sir Christopher Wren, and does he not think it was essential to employ a first-rate architect from the very beginning of this work?

Mr. Edwards

So far as the work done up to now is concerned, the architect is employed by the Admiralty and he holds the degree of A.R.I.B.A. We have a number of architects with that qualification in the Admiralty and we think that they are very well fitted to carry out this work.

Brigadier Head

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the work so far carried out by the Admiralty architect has made this place an absolute blot on the landscape and made complete nonsense of it? If his Department think the architect is good and is on a level with architects elsewhere, they should think again.

Mr. Edwards

I cannot agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I do not know whether he has been down to see the place—

Brigadier Head

I have.

Mr. Edwards

—or has seen photographs of the place. Some of the photographs which have been printed are grossly misleading.

Hon. Members

Were they taken in 1936?

Mrs. Leah Manning

In view of the beauty of Herstmonceux, would it not have been a good thing to put this out to competition in the ordinary way and thus get the very best that could be got in the circumstances?

Mr. Edwards

I do not think it is necessary for a competition to be held in connection with this matter. We are quite satisfied that, with the architects at our disposal, when the scheme is completed everybody will be more or less satisfied.

Mr. Stanley

Is it a fact that certain permanent buildings have been completed without having been submitted beforehand to the Royal Fine Art Commission and that it is only after the completion of certain buildings that the Commission have been brought into the matter at all?

Mr. Edwards

Only one very small building has been completed. So far as the other buildings are concerned, we intend to discuss them with the Commission.

Mr. Stanley

Would it not have been a good thing to discuss the matter with the Commission before any building started?

Mr. Edwards

That might have been the case, but this is only a small building, 35 feet by 33 feet, and it is not a big part of the scheme.

Sir Ralph Glyn

Was the Admiralty one of the parties to the promise that matters of this kind should be submitted to the Royal Fine Art Commission?

Mr. Edwards

The Admiralty were more or less parties to that promise. As I have said before, the greater part of the scheme will at least be discussed with the Royal Fine Art Commission.

Mr. Driberg

When my hon. Friend says that it is only a small building, is he producing the well-known excuse of the housemaid that it was "only a little one"? Can he say whether this architect is accustomed to designing observatories, or whether he is accustomed only to designing the married quarters and the barracks which are such a pleasing feature of our dockyard towns?

Mr. Keeling

Is the Civil Lord aware that the vandalism of the Admiralty in this matter belies the claim made last Friday that this Government is the most zealous in history in its care of historical and beautiful buildings?

Mr. H. Strauss

Can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether the Royal Fine Art Commission were informed that they would be consulted before my Question appeared on the Order Paper?

Mr. Edwards

I am afraid I must have notice of that question, but I can assure the House that we are getting no complaint from the Fine Art Commission. We have had correspondence with them on the subject and they are perfectly happy with the position as it stands at present.

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