HC Deb 27 February 1984 vol 55 cc113-20

Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. David Hunt.]

10.12 pm
Mrs. Marion Roe (Broxbourne)

I am grateful for the opportunity of addressing the House on behalf of the many people for whom the plight of one of London's old gateways, a unique architectural gem known as Temple Bar, has become a matter of increasing anxiety. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and all hon. Members will agree that a scheduled and grade I listed monument of such undisputed importance should not be left to rot unprotected and vandalised.

The issue is whether Temple Bar should be left in Hertfordshire and the fabric conserved as it stands at Theobald's park, or whether it should be moved back to London to an appropriate site. For more than 50 years there has been much feeling expressed that the gateway should one day return to London, and in recent years many sites have been proposed. including the east end of the Aldwych, on Ludgate hill, in Russell street, off Covent Garden piazza, in Fountain court in the Temple, the original site in Fleet street, or adjacent to the west front of St. Paul's cathedral.

As many hon. Members are aware, Temple Bar is the last of the City gates to survive. It stood at the junction of Fleet street and the Strand for over 200 years, but is now crumbling, far from its former site, standing isolated in a damp wood in my Hertfordshire constituency. I shall come to the detailed arguments related to the moving and siting of Temple Bar later, but first I wish to impress upon the House the beauty and historical importance of Temple Bar. Above all, the House should be concerned to help preserve important aspects of our historical identity. The unique history of Temple Bar makes its present neglected state especially sad and poignant.

Perhaps influenced by the famous Parisian church facade of St. Etienne du Mont, Temple Bar was completed in 1672, when Sir Christopher Wren was the surveyor-general of the King's works. For decades scholars have argued whether he conceived or drew the design. Regretfully this is something of which we cannot be sure, but we can say with certainty that he must have approved the design. Temple Bar, therefore, forms an integral part of one of the greatest periods of architecture in Britain. Joshua Marshall, master of the Masons' company and author of substantial works both in and outside St. Paul's, built the Bar in collaboration with Thomas Knight. Designed and decorated in the high classical manner and constructed in Portland stone, the Bar consists of a main arch, about 19 ft high, 21 ft wide and 17 ft deep, surmounted by a single chamber of similar size and flanked by two narrow pedestrian arches. The addition of a curved pediment on the upper chamber brings the height of the Bar to roughly the same as its width of about 44 ft.

Among the more impressive features of this highly unusual structure are the four royal statues that stand in the niches on both sides of the upper storey. They are of Elizabeth I, Charles I, Charles II and James I, all of them in Roman costume. This is the only monument in British architecture where an intoxication with classical values stripped our sovereigns of their usual clothing and made them caesars, not Tudors or Stuarts.

Beside the statues stand eight Corinthian columns, which I am assured are an architecturally extraordinary contrast to the columns of the Tuscan order which decorate the lower part of the Bar. All experts agree that the Temple Bar is an important and unique work of British architecture, even those who find the flamboyant: mixing of styles less than attractive. However, whatever we think about its purely aesthetic value, we cannot take away from it something that should make it precious to the House: its long connection with our capital and its historic significance.

For a century the Bar was a favourite place for our ancestors to display the heads of traitors or, spikes surmounting the upper chamber. Incidentally, those gruesome extra-architectural features were often surprisingly long-lasting additions. The head of Christopher Layer, a lawyer convicted of treason, remained for 30 years on the Bar, and a gale removed his head eventually.

Those days of prominence came to an end in 1858 when the Metropolitan Board of Works condemned the Bar as an obstruction to traffic. The increasing traffic flow in Fleet street and the requirements of urban planning demanded that it be removed for road widening and to make way for the Law Courts in 1879. The Court of Common Council finally decided to remove the Bar, which was, thankfully, saved from destruction and dismantled stone by stone. The stones were numbered and carted off to a vacant lot in Farringdon street, 1,000 pieces in all.

For 10 years the pieces of Temple Bar remained an embarrassing spectacle to the civic authorities. However., they were eventually unburdened due to the eccentric whim of Valerie Susie Langdon, a one-time pantomime girl at Surrey music hall and a barmaid at the Ho7seshoe tavern on Tottenham Court road. She had the good fortune to marry the brewer Sir Henry Meux, owner of Theobald's park, a fine country estate at Waltham Cross, which forms part of my constituency. She paid for the transportation of Temple Bar to Theobald's park, where it was resurrected a few hundred yards from her mansion on the edge of a woodland glade at a cost of £12,000.

Although not much more than 60 per cent. of the original stone was incorporated in the re-erected monument, it was by then in mint condition. The stone was clean and smooth, the glass and effigies were intact, and all approaches to the Bar were immaculately tended. Naturally, such care could be maintained only at great expense and with the interest and good will of successive members of the Meux family. While Lady Meux was in charge she added a gatehouse for a lodge keeper and entertained guests to dinner in the upper chamber. Famous diners included King Edward VII, when he was Prince of Wales, and possibly Sir Winston Churchill.

Admiral Sir Hedworth Meux inherited the estate in 1910. He played a key role in lifting the seige around Ladysmith during the Boer war and spent many of his final years defending Temple Bar against a variety of campaigns to bring it back to London. On his death in 1929, the estate became successively a hotel, a troop billet, a secondary modern school and the adult education college that it is today. In recent years part of the estate has suffered from increasing vandalism and the most prominent target has been the Bar, which has now stood without its lead roof for 15 years in a terrible state of decay and disrepair. It is smeared with graffiti, open to all the elements, and is protected only by a security fence erected by the Temple Bar trustees. But this is hideous and, alas, an ineffective barrier to those determined to break through.

Chief among the crusaders to rescue the Bar is Sir Hugh Wontner, a former Lord Mayor of London and chairman of the Temple Bar Trust. Now, thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), who inherited it, the trust owns Temple Bar.

Sir Hugh has the support of the American Foundation for Temple Bar, a similar trust in the United States headed by an American lawyer. The altruism of that gentleman and his supporters is exemplified by Sir Hugh's observations that there are those who are willing to take Temple Bar to the United States and erect it there.

The spot on which the trust plans to re-erect the Bar is in Chapter House court, which is part of and astride the ancient passageway that runs along the northern wall of St. Paul's. The gate would be free-standing between the cathedral and Bancroft house, in line with, but well recessed behind, the cathedral portico.

The task of the Temple Bar Trust has by no means been a simple one. In May 1979 the Court of Common Council of the City of London, on the recommendation of its planning committee, approved the proposal to put Temple Bar at the entrance to the churchyard, notwithstanding a report by the GLC's historic buildings committee which did not favour the move.

The views put forward by the GLC brought to the fore objections from interested groups, and opposition to the move was subsequently voiced by several amenity groups such as the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. This has resulted in considerable debate but a singular lack of much-needed action.

The City took into account all comments, favourable and otherwise, and decided to grant full planning permission in 1982, but, because ancient monument consent was required, another opportunity for objections was provided, and in the circumstances my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment ordered a public inquiry. That inquiry was dogged by unfortunate delays, causing Temple Bar to face yet another winter of further dilapidation. For example, when the inquiry opened last October, a postponement was necessitated by the unexpected retirement of the Temple Bar Trust's architect. However, the inquiry reopened last month and all the arguments for and against the move were once more debated.

As the arguments have been aired so frequently in public, detailed discussion would be superfluous. The heart of the matter can be put simply. The three main proposals are: first, that Temple Bar should be moved to St. Paul's in accordance with the wishes of the trust, and for which the City of London has given permission; second, that it should be moved to an alternative site in or on the boundary of the City of London which could be deemed more appropriate; thirdly, that the Bar should be conserved on its present site. It is not for me to tell the Secretary of State which one of those proposals he should adopt. That decision is solely his to make after receiving the report of the inquiry inspector.

My paramount concern is only to save the Bar from irretrievable damage and destruction, because I believe that the controversy has raged for too long. Some people have objected to the proposed siting of the Bar at St. Paul's because they believe that the juxtaposition of Temple Bar and the cathedral would result in a stark disparity of scale, to their mutual detriment. Others are of the opinion that the Bar would look as if it were designed for the spot, because the great St. Paul's and Temple Bar share the great classical style. They speak the language of Sir Christopher Wren: it has always been customary to contrast large with small. As important as those aesthetic considerations is the vital factor that if the Temple Bar gateway is not located at St. Paul's it will be necessary for the City to revoke its decision. The delays involved in finding a new approved site will lead to further decay and damage. It might be argued that the Bar would be better sited in a spot that no one agrees is right rather than be lost for ever to the nation.

Critics of the St. Paul's location stress the inappropriateness of any site not on or near the City boundary. They maintain that Temple Bar's historic significance will be greatly impaired should it not be placed close to its original site. In the past, the GLC historic buildings committee has favoured a site in Temple place, Middle Temple. However, some national amenity societies now favour a site a few yards to the south of this at a point on the City boundary leading into the avenue of trees that fronts the gardens of both temples along the Embankment, if engineering problems of bridging the Circle line could be overcome.

The last option of leaving Temple Bar in Hertfordshire is supported by certain amenity groups. They fear the damage that might be inflicted upon the stonework during the removal and suggest that the cost of looking after the Bar in Theobald's park could be set against the savings in not having to pay for its removal.

Whatever my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment decides, I ask that the Bar is not allowed to continue to decay and deteriorate. While declaring my interest as a freeman of the City of London, I believe that if Temple Bar is left in my constituency it will remain isolated and unvisited, except by enthusiastic parties of vandals. Surely, it makes economic sense to move the Bar to a position of prominence where it will have a wider access to the public and to the private funding necessary for restoration costs, in excess of the £250,000 pledged by the Government in 1981

I seek an assurance from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the funding from the Department of the Environment is still available for Temple Bar's removal and resiting. I ask my right hon. Friend to make a speedy decision so that the Bar can be preserved and protected for present and future generations, for it is only by swift action that this important and distinctive monument can be rescued from further degradation, destruction, collapse and a fate to which most of us are reconciled but which it is unfair to inflict on an artefact of the past—oblivion.

10.27 pm
Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

Do I understand that the hon. Member has the agreement of the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) and the Under-Secretary of State to intervene? That being so, he may proceed.

Mr. James

I shall be brief. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe). I strongly believe, as she does, that this wonderful artefact should be moved to the City of London. St. Paul's is the appropriate site to place it. Having said that, it is appropriate to listen to the response of the Under-Secretary of State.

10.28 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) on her eloquent plea for the conservation of Temple Bar. This is not the first time she has expressed the worry of herself, of the local council and of her local constituents about this monument's future. My hon. Friend has approached me on several occasions to underline her worry about the condition of Temple Bar and its deterioration. I shall not follow too many of her historical appreciations, but I have learned a great deal from her in addition to the information presented to me by my officials for reply.

Temple Bar is not simply the structure that now stands in Hertfordshire. The name belongs to a geographical location—the entrance to the liberty or freedom of the City of London. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, is in the Chamber. He feels as much concern and interest in this subject as does my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne.

The site is nowadays occupied by the line of the widened streets where they meet near the Temple, the Law Courts and the Inns of Court. As my hon. Friend said, Temple Bar was once a symbolic place for spiking the heads of traitors, but it is now best known, happily, for a more gracious background as the customary point at which the sovereign is officially welcomed into the City. The monument we are discussing is the last of the gateways which formerly stood astride the road at that entrance.

The gateway was erected in 1670–72 to replace an earlier timber structure, probably Tudor. It is the last surviving example of any of the former City of London gatehouse buildings. It is of Portland stone in the Wren style, although expert opinion, as my hon. Friend mentioned, is divided as to its actual designer. While we do not know whether Wren designed it, it was certainly built by Joshua Marshall, who worked with Wren on other City buildings. It is decorated with four statues by John Bushnell, as my hon. Friend said.

The room over the archway was at one time used as a muniment room for Messrs Childs the bankers, but, unhappily, this did not ensure maintenance of the exterior. The structure was at that time set in the narrow street between low-rise 17th century buildings. By 1852 the structure was in need of repair and there was pressure for its removal. It had undoubted architectural appeal, but was also becoming increasingly an impediment to the free flow of traffic. This flow increased from about 8,000 vehicles daily in 1850 to about 17,000 vehicles daily in 1865, statistics that will interest my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne as she is also a member of the Greater London council.

The gateway was dismantled in 1877. The stones were then kept in store for 10 years. It is not clear where they were kept, but as you have a keen sense of history, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and an anxiety to know about these things, I shall try to explain where. Some say that it was on a site on the fringe of Plumstead marshes, others that it was in a builders' yard at Farringdon. As my hon. Friend has said that it was at Farringdon, I am sure that the House will accept that.

The City was not inclined to pay for re-erection, and one comment is said to have been that nobody wants a building of such 'bloody memories' to be rebuilt". This no doubt refers to the spiking of heads. The comment went on: there is no site available on which to rebuild it arid the Corporation has no money to waste on such a project". So the stones remained in storage, thus proving that nothing much changes.

It seems to have been Lady Meux who persuaded her husband Sir Henry Bruce Meux to rebuild the stones as one of the entrances to his park at Theobald's park in Hertfordshire. This was done in 1888. At its re-erection missing and damaged stonework of the original building was replaced. The rebuilding was celebrated with a grand party, and the monument has remained on that site. it has also, until recently, remained in the ownership of the Meux family. I understand that in 1912, when the London County council asked for the building to be returned to London, its then owner, Sir Hedworth Meux, refused on the grounds that this would have been contrary to the wishes of its saviour, the then late Lady Meux.

In 1930 the structure was scheduled as an ancient monument in its 19th century form and on its present site, remaining in the care of its owners. The surrounding estate was disposed of in 1938 and the house itself, Theobald's park, changed from a private residence to a hotel, followed by military occupation, then a school, and then to the present use as a training college. Suggestions for the removal of the monument have been made from time to time.

In 1976 the Temple Bar Trust was formed privately with the object of securing the return of the structure to London. The trust sought subscriptions to fund removal from Theobald's park and re-erection with some modifications on a site alongside St. Paul's cathedral, as we have heard. Any proposal to do works affecting a scheduled monument requires the consent of my right hon. Friend under section 2 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaelogical Areas Act, and the trustees applied for scheduled monument consent in December 1982.

The trustees had earlier approached my Department about the possibility of supplementing its private subscription by grant-aid for the removal. It was subsequently agreed that if the move were to take place, and provided always that the trustees could secure a sufficient proportion of private donations, my Department and the National Heritage Memorial Fund would match those donations in the following way. I am grateful to Lord Charteris, the head of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, for his customary generosity. If the total cost of a move were to be less than £1 million, my Department and the NHMF would each contribute one quarter of the cost. If the total cost of a move would be more than £1 million, the trustees would need to secure private donations for all but £500,000, and my Department and the NHMF would then contribute £250,000 each. This was all dependent upon the trustees being able to obtain scheduled monument consent for removal and any other statutory consents which they might need. As I have said, they formally applied for scheduled monument consent in December 1982. On the merits of the application I can make no comment whatsoever tonight, and cannot take delivery of any, as there are statutory procedures still in progress. Hon. Members know the role that my Department plays.

I am well aware that time is not improving the state of the monument and that decisions about it should not be unnecessarily delayed. I want my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne to understand that I fully appreciate that. My officials and I are in no doubt about the urgency involved.

The proposal to move the structure again has naturally attracted considerable public interest and widely divergent opinions. They will have to be assessed over the ensuing weeks. When anyone is engaged on such a mammoth exercise, a wide range of expert opinion has to be listened to carefully.

It was right that the issues should be open to examination at a public inquiry, and my Department last year offered an August date for that, but it was unacceptable to the Temple Bar Trust. The inquiry opened on 11 October, and was then adjourned at the request of the Temple Bar Trust, which was having certain problems. The inquiry reopened and was concluded last month.

The independent inspector is preparing his report and recommendations. I hope that they will be ready soon, and I await the outcome with great interest. Whatever the decision, a substantial duty will continue to rest upon the Temple Bar trustees, who, I understand, have become the owners of the monument. As with any other structure, the responsibility for its care rests first and foremost on its owners. My hon. Friend understands that.

In this case, if the trust received scheduled monument consent to move the structure, it would still need to obtain over £500,000 in subscriptions from the private sector before any works for removal could begin. If the trust were refused scheduled monument consent for removal, it would instead need to make plans for the conservation of Temple Bar in situ.

Those are important points which hon. Members must understand. A great deal of money will have to be raised, whatever the final plan might be. No doubt the trustees have given considerable thought to the matter and considered every possibility. They may wish to seek advice from the newly formed Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, which was set up in the previous Parliament and will start work on 1 April.

Because of the quasi-judicial role of my Department, I cannot take up too many of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne. However, the debate has rightly highlighted the interest of the House in heritage matters and all hon. Members should be grateful to my hon. Friend for introducing the topic. We shall ensure that she, my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South and others who are interested in the matter are kept fully apprised over the next few weeks as the inspector's report comes to light.

I regret that I cannot say much more and I am confident that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne will understand that my Department still has roles to play, and if I say the wrong thing that could be deemed to have had an effect on those roles. I hope that she will have no doubt that we attach great importance to this ancient monument. Many people are taking a detailed and close interest in its future and I hope that all who have a role to play will note what she has said. I thank her for her eloquent pleas.

Mr. Rhodes James

Will my hon. Friend give us an indication of the Government's view?

Mr. Macfarlane

The Government's view has been one of wholehearted interest over the past three or four years and I have outlined our financial contribution. I have also told the House of the interest of the NHMF, which is fulsome. We have a part to play, but the independent inspector will be reporting to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I am sure that the House would not expect me to embark on too detailed an appraisal of the strategy over the next few weeks. We have other parts yet to play.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes to Eleven o'clock.