HL Deb 11 July 1851 vol 118 cc505-16

presented a petition from Mr. Joseph Paxton, of Chatsworth, an individual of many and great merits, and one of the highest authority upon all matters connected with the science of horticulture, but also well known for other acquirements. When that individual asked him to present his petition, of which the object was to prevent the taking down of the Crystal Palace, he told him that he (Lord Brougham) was the last person who ought to present such a petition, as he had taken a prominent, though a very ineffectual, part in objecting to the Exhibition being placed in Hyde Park. It was a gross mistake to represent that he was against the Exhibition itself; on the contrary, he had been highly favourable to it, believing it to be not only of national, but also of European utility. He had, however, opposed the erection of any building for the purpose in Hyde Park, because he believed that any such structure would be an encroachment on one of the spiracles of London, and because he thought there would arise a question as to the legality of that encroachment; and he strongly objected to the course taken by the present Master of the Rolls, then the Attorney General, in intercepting an application to the Courts on the subject. It was unnecessary for him to enter on this occasion into the questions which had been raised upon that point during the last Session of Parliament, and upon which he retained his former opinion; but what he had already mentioned made it necessary for him to state at some length the objects of Mr. Paxton's petition, in order that that gentleman might be convinced that he was not prejudiced by the opinions which he had previously expressed on this subject. Retaining as he did his former opinions, it might appear to some that he was prefacing his statement of Mr. Paxton's petition by an argument against it; but he reminded their Lordships that there was a great difference between the question of placing the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park before it was erected, and the question of taking it down now that it was erected. He thought that nothing could be more useful to this great metropolis than to retain the Crystal Palace as a great horticultural garden for the recreation of the people. In that point he fully agreed with his friend Mr. Paxton. He likewise concurred with him in thinking that the retention of the Crystal Palace would also be beneficial to the instruction of the people by the collection of plants, minerals, birds, and animals which might be deposited there, and by the transfer from the British Museum of the numerous specimens illustrative of natural history which were now either hidden in its vaults or perishing in its apartments from the want of proper ventilation. Mr. Paxton had no doubt that, for a much less sum of money than that which was already at the disposal of the Commissioners, the whole arrangements for converting the Crystal Palace into a museum and winter park and garden under glass might be carried into effect. He was also of opinion that the different museums which might be formed under its roof would remain sufficiently stable with very little additional expense, and that by an annual payment of a small sum the current expenses of the park and garden might be well provided for. Mr. Paxton, therefore, implored their Lordships to protect the Crystal Palace from destruction, and from what was tantamount to destruction—removal. It would be premature for him (Lord Brougham) to say that he had made up his mind on this question. Mr. Paxton called for immediate decision. He (Lord Brougham) only called for inquiry into the subject of Mr. Paxton's petition. He only wished for a full and fair investigation of the claims which some parties made to have this magnificent structure removed, or, what he believed to be the wish of a majority of their fellow-countrymen, to have it retained. There might be some difficulty arising out of the pledge given by the Royal Commissioners to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests that it should be removed within a certain time; but he thought that it would not be difficult for one branch of the Government to procure from another a release from that pledge. Besides, public opinion set in a strong tide in that direction. After this Exhibition had succeeded beyond any man's expectation, and after the people had become absolutely enamoured of the building, he must say that, if the same people were to turn round and cry out, "Let us have it removed—let it no longer cumber the earth—break it up, smash it to pieces," they would give the world an exhibition not only of the industry of all nations, but of the fickleness of the most fickle of all nations, showing that if they had less refinement, they had more levity than the Athenians themselves; breaking in pieces their great toy as soon as they had begun to play with it. He had already declared the high opinion which he entertained of Mr. Paxton's eminent merits. He called Mr. Paxton a public benefactor, on account of the inestimable benefits which he had conferred upon the Exhibition itself. He retained the opinion which he had originally expressed respecting the Exhibition, namely, that though it might be beneficial to the country at large, it would not be without injury to the shopkeepers and retail dealers of the metropolis. He believed that they had already suffered considerably. He was, however, convinced that their sufferings would be put an end to if the Crystal Palace were converted from an exhibition into a winter garden. He repeated his conviction that Mr. Paxton was a public benefactor; for without Mr. Paxton and his Crystal Palace the Exhibition neither would nor could have taken place. He gave the Royal Commissioners the greatest credit for having adopted so immediately the plan of that gentleman, for he must say that when his excellent friend first submitted it to his consideration—and he believed that he (Lord Brougham) was one of the first persons—if not the first—to whom it had been submitted—he examined the plan, and declared his opinion that it was favourable; but advised Mr. Paxton to hasten before the Commissioners, and not be suprised if they deemed it fanciful; because, though he (Lord Brougham) had long ago erased the word impossible from his vocabulary in all proposed improvements of science and art, more practical men might not take the same view. However, he must fairly admit that the Commissioners showed the greatest liberality and the most judicious spirit as well as acuteness in so easily adopting the plan. Indeed their whole conduct had been most praiseworthy, and he also must, in passing, bear his testimony to the good conduct and mild proceedings of the police, and of the Chief Commissioner, Mr. Mayne. But he now came before the House not only as presenting the petition—he (Lord Brougham) had the honour of presiding over a very important society—he meant the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. That society, acting upon the views on which it was instituted, would probably present a petition in favour of the same object as that of the petition which he then had the honour of presenting. They regarded the Crystal Palace as an ally of their friend the schoolmaster, against their enemy the gin palace. The delight which the people of late years had been taking in innocent amusements would draw tens and hundreds of thousands to contemplate the stores of instruction which would soon be congregated in that beautiful structure—stores which would not only please but enlighten them, and which would be remembered with enthusiasm, even when they were withdrawn from their sight. He had been told that more than two millions and a quarter of persons had already passed through the Crystal Palace, and that of that number only a quarter were foreigners, the rest being, for the most part, the tradesmen and operatives of this metropolis, and those, too, not of the lowest classes. He only wished more of the lower classes had enjoyed it. He could not but remember the answer which his lamented friend Dugald Stuart had once given, when he (Lord Brougham), with other friends, now no more, Lord Webb Seymour and Mr. Horner, who had been actively engaged in circulating a practically useful work among the poorer classes of this country, and who had apologised for the bad paper on which the work had been published—which, perhaps, his noble Friend opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne) would remember too—"I only wish your paper and printing had been ten times worse"—and worse it could not easily be—"if it would have given to your object wider circulation." So would he say with regard to the Exhibition. He had been told, that upon an average, 2,500l. a day had been taken from the persons who went to visit the Crystal Palace. He would much rather that the proceeds of the Exhibition had been only 200l. a day, provided that amount had been taken in pence. He hoped at any rate that, before the Crystal Palace was destroyed, due inquiry would be made into the subject-matter of this petition.


said that, in his humble opinion, this Crystal Palace, the wonder of the world, might disappear without any reproach to the Royal Commis- sioners, and without any charge of fickleness against the public, as it had already fulfilled and was fulfilling its destiny in the most admirable manner. Though his noble and learned Friend had with his usual ingenuity stated both sides of the question, he had, like other advocates, been carried away by his zeal for his client, and, from a fear lest he should be thought not to be doing full justice to his interests, had somewhat blinked and distorted his own former opinions. His (Lord Campbell's) conviction was, that for the honour and glory of Mr. Paxton, and of all concerned in the Crystal Palace, it would be much better for them not to run the risk of failure now, and the certainty of incurring the charge of broken faith hereafter, by embarking in any such scheme as had just been propounded to their Lordships. He most fully concurred in all the many eulogies which his noble and learned Friend had bestowed on Mr. Paxton. Mr. Paxton was an honour to his country. He would not say a word against the Exhibition. It was one of the most wonderful, if not the most wonderful spectacle, that the world had ever beheld. It success had been splendid and unexampled. His noble and learned Friend had said that two millions and a quarter of persons had visited the Crystal Palace. He (Lord Campbell) believed that the number of visitors to it had been still larger, and that all who went there had received information, and had had their minds enlarged. He believed that the Exhibition itself had been and would be of the greatest benefit to our manufactures. He believed that it would promote the cultivation of the fine arts. He believed that it had had, and would have, a tendency to harmonise and civilise the world by bringing together in friendly intercourse all the nations of the globe. The idea and execution of it conferred the highest glory on his Royal Highness Prince Albert—it had secured to him the admiration, confidence, and love of his adopted country. He applauded the conduct of the Royal Commissioners, and more especially that of his noble Friend (Earl Granville), the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, who had shown such industry and good temper in superintending the arrangements of the Exhibition. But, after all, the question before the House now was simply this:—"What ought we to do with the Crystal Palace?" He concurred in the general feeling that that palace was one of the most striking and interesting features of the Exhibition; but the question was, whether their Lordships should make a vain attempt to continue as a permanent building that which was only erected for a temporary purpose? The fame of the Exhibition would be eternal, but the structure in which it was displayed was but frail and transient. Even his noble and learned Friend had some misgivings as to the structure. Perhaps Mr. Paxton had none; but then he was a man of genius, and like all other men of genius did not see any of the difficulties in his way. Why, Mr. Paxton had actually wanted to have admission to the Exhibition free, and a grant of public money for its expenses; and had declared that otherwise it could never succeed, which showed that his opinions were not to be implicitly depended upon. Now, indeed, Mr. Paxton saw no difficulty in preserving the Crystal Palace. But he (Lord Campbell) had been informed by persons who had due information on the subject, that the first step which must be taken to preserve the Crystal Palace, must be to take it down and rebuild it. For what was the fact? Only one-third of the uprights which supported it were of iron; two-thirds of them were of wood. The roof was of wood and glass. The girders were of wood, and would not stand beyond the present summer. Therefore, if the building were to be a permanent one, it must first be taken down and afterwards reconstructed. We were, therefore, in the same situation as if we had now to consider for the first time whether we should build it. The expense of the reconstruction would be enormous, and whence the money was to come from Mr. Paxton had not been kind enough to inform them. Supposing, however, that the building was to be continued, let them now consider to what purpose this building was to be applied. The journals were one and all for converting it into a museum, and for transferring to it the treasures of natural history now contained in the British Museum. Now, he had himself seen the Crystal Palace, and knew its capabilities; and Mr. Paxton had told him personally that it was not fitted to become a museum. Then his noble and learned Friend opposite said, "It is to be an aviary and a menagerie." Then it was to be a depository for minerals, and models of small improvements, and all the German improvements, of which some of their Lordships had expressed such horror. But none of these objects were the objects of Mr. Paxton, for his friend Mr. Paxton—and he, too, was proud to call Mr. Paxton his friend—had told him, and not in confidence, that his only object was to create a winter park and garden under glass in this metropolis. The petition of Mr. Paxton was nothing more than a copy of the pamphlet which he had published under the title of "What is to become of the Crystal Palace?" Now, if he looked to that pamphlet, he found it stated that the Crystal Palace was to be continued for the formation of a new and better climate in our own—"one which, even under opposite influences, may be rendered healthy and suited to the wants and requirements of man." Mr. Paxton further said— It is desirable that something on a large scale should be done to counteract the effects of the outer air, which, in this country, and in the neighbourhood of London especially, is often, during many months in the year, impure, murky, and unfit for healthy recreation and enjoyment; and it is to meet this want that I offer the present recommendation. All hitherto erected structures, however great and noble some of them are, fall far short of answering this end, and I cannot but recommend, now that we do possess a building like the Crystal Palace, which in its dimensions is the best adapted for such a purpose of anything that has been hitherto attempted, that it should be so appropriated. He would read to their Lordships another sentence from that pamphlet, which would show not only that Mr. Paxton was a great architect and horticulturist, but that he could also be when the occasion required it, a consummate poet, for he wrote thus:— In the winter park and garden I propose, climate would be the principal thing studied; all the furnishing and fitting-up would have special reference to that end, so that the pleasures found in it would be of a character which all who visit could share; here would be supplied the climate of Southern Italy, where multitudes might ride, walk, or recline amidst groves of fragrant trees; and here they might leisurely examine the works of nature and art, regardless of the biting east winds or the drifting snow. It was clear, from these passages, that Mr. Paxton did not propose that the Crystal Palace should be continued for the purpose of future exhibitions, but for the purpose of erecting bowers, in which our tradesmen could be supplied with "the climates of Southern Italy," and might be able to disregard "our biting east winds and our drifting snows." But his excellent friend, Mr. Paxton, had not told their Lordships how they were to get all these advantages. Our countrymen must encounter the "biting east winds," if they trudged on foot to the Crystal Palace, and must be saluted by rude Eurus Boreas as they trudged on foot from it. In the midst of our "drifting snows," too, how were our middle classes to get there and back again? They must be drenched before they could get to the sunny climate of Southern Italy, and, after they had got well dried there, they must be drenched again before they could reach their homes. The rich, indeed, might drive there and back in their carriages; but, while they were breathing all the amenities of an Italian climate, were their servants and their horses to be exposed to all the injuries accruing from "biting east winds and drifting snows?" "These my Lords," said Lord Campbell, "are the dreams of an able but enthusiastic man, who forgets all the practical difficulties and inconveniences with which he has to contend. For my own part, I prefer the trees, and water, and air, which I have been accustomed to enjoy in Hyde Park, to all the foreign luxuries with which Mr. Paxton would provide me." How was the expense of all these luxuries to be defrayed? Did Mr. Paxton, or his noble and learned Friend opposite, expect that they would obtain from Parliament, for such objects, a grant of 100,000l., in the first instance, and of 20,000l. a year for ever afterwards? No; they expected no such thing. Then money must be taken at the doors to defray such a costly experiment. People could not be admitted there without paying some small sum—say 6d.—for each admission. Then the poor would be entirely excluded from this winter park and garden, or museum, or whatever you may call it; and not only from that, but also from that Hyde Park which their fathers and their forefathers before them had enjoyed in full liberty. His noble and learned Friend opposite had spoken of the usefulness and kindness of the police employed in the Crystal Palace and its vicinity. He (Lord Campbell) admitted that in the fullest degree, and thought that Mr. Mayne deserved the thanks of the country for the excellent police arrangements which he had made. All the apprehensions which some persons had entertained—in his opinion, very unreasonably—about the occurrence of riot and disorder during the Exhibition, had turned out to be false and groundless; but, supposing the police were not present, what scenes of disorder would in all probability occur. The praise which the people had obtained on account of the decorum of their behaviour would no longer continue, and perhaps might be converted into re- proach. Were their Lordships, then, prepared to continue in the Crystal Palace after it was converted into a winter garden the same additional amount of police which was employed there at present? and, if so, from what quarter were the funds to come out of which they were to be paid? When they considered that many thousands would be excluded from Hyde Park by the adoption of Mr. Paxton's scheme, and when they reflected that a great building would permanently remain there, after a direct pledge given to the vicinage that it should be removed within a given time after the close of the Exhibition, he thought that the neighbouring proprietors had a reason to object to this newfangled project. The Crown had refused to grant to the public a small slip of land in Hyde Park when it was wanted as the site for a new church, and would they now grant many acres to it when it was only wanted for the purposes of pleasure? He had now to mention the inconvenience which had been felt by a large neighbourhood in consequence of the presence of the Exhibition in this part of Hyde Park. It had not been felt so seriously as was originally apprehended, but still it was a serious inconvenience. The inhabitants of that district did solemnly, through his mouth, protest against the continuance of that grievance. A solemn compact had been made on the point between the Royal Commissioners and the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. The neighbourhood of Hyde Park was interested in the due observance of that compact, for a solemn pledge was given to them that as soon as the Exhibition was over the building in the Park should be removed. That pledge could only be done away with by the operation of an Act of Parliament. Such an Act might render that lawful which was now unlawful; but it could not obliterate the moral obligation entered into at the time. Those who petitioned against the building were first of all defeated in the House of Commons, and afterwards, when they wished to appeal to the courts of law, were told, "No, you shall not; we cannot give you permission to set aside the decision of the House of Commons." He was willing, to use a phrase of his own country, "to let bygones be bygones;" but he implored their Lordships, for God's sake, not to repeat the injury which had been already inflicted upon them. He contended that the Crystal Palace had already fulfilled its object. He trusted that Mr. Paxton would not taste of death until he had received some public testimony and reward for his valuable services; but he must regret that he had made this attempt to prolong the existence in Hyde Park of that which, splendid as it now was in appearance, was still an inconvenience and an injury to the neighbourhood. For these reasons he hoped that the petition of Mr. Paxton, that their Lordships would interfere by legislation in this matter, would not meet with their Lordships' approbation.


would not have addressed their Lordships on this subject at all had not a petition from the inhabitants of Ashburton been put into his hands since he entered the House that evening, with the same prayer as that of Mr. Paxton's petition. Those respectable persons were not aware that from his position as one of the Royal Commissioners he was the very last man to be intrusted with such a petition. The Commission of which he was a member had no discretion whatever on this subject. They were bound to redeliver Hyde Park to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests within a given time after the close of the Exhibition. The subject of retaining the Crystal Palace had never been discussed by the Commission; he only knew the private opinion of three or four of the Commissioners on the subject, and they were not unanimous. He was glad that he was not called on to give a vote on this question. Certainly it was for the credit, and he might also add for the comfort, of the Commissioners, that the Crystal Palace should be destroyed. If he had been called on to give a vote, he should have weighed to the best of his ability the advantages and disadvantages on both sides of the question. As for himself, he was inclined to think that a winter park and garden would be a wholesome and desirable luxury for the inhabitants of the metropolis. The strongest point which could be urged against it was the feeling of the gentlemen who occupied the houses opposite to the building; they might exaggerate the inconvenience to which they would be exposed under the scheme of Mr. Paxton; but upon that point he would give no opinion now. He might perhaps be permitted to concur in the eulogy which had been bestowed on the excellent conduct of the police, and to say that the Commissioners were most anxious to acknowledge the obligations which they felt themselves to be under towards Mr. Mayne, and the police gene- rally. He was happy to add, that great facilities had been rendered to the police in the execution of their difficult duties by the exemplary conduct of the people. It was a great satisfaction to him to have heard Mr. Paxton spoken of in the terms which had been used by his two noble and learned Friends. There was, however, one eulogy which his noble Friend the Lord Chief Justice had passed upon Mr. Paxton in which he could not concur, and that was his eulogy on Mr. Paxton's poetical talents. He thought that his noble and learned Friend had, in his speech of that evening, proved himself far superior to Mr. Paxton in poetical talent, when he spoke with so much gusto of the trees, and water, and air of Hyde Park, and the luxurious amenities of an English summer; and if he had shown himself not less poetical in what he had said respecting the police employed, and the nature of the materials of which the building was erected; yet he (Earl Granville) must be permitted to say, that it appeared to him that his noble and learned Friend had most wofully neglected the opportunity which his residence in the vicinity of the Crystal Palace had given him, to watch from day to day over its construction. Had he been more attentive to its construction, he might perhaps have escaped some of the errors into which he had fallen that evening.


said, that the noble and learned Lord had not given the least answer to his statement, and had not with quite his usual fairness summed up the evidence in the case. With respect to the matter of finance, into which he (Lord Brougham) had abstained from entering, there would be no difficulty, for there was already a large surplus in the hands of the Commissioners. Then, with respect to the enjoyment and recreation of the people in a winter garden, it was not proposed that the atmosphere should be of a sultry heat, but temperate; and when the noble and learned Lord described the sufferings of the servants and horses of the wealthy waiting outside in bad weather, had it never struck the noble and learned Lord, that, whatever the learned Judges might do, their Lordships were generally in the habit, under such circumstances, of sending home their servants and cattle, to return only when wanted? He concurred in what the noble Lord had said with respect to the conduct of the multitudes who had visited the Crystal Palace. He was one of those who, undoubtedly, had not at one time thought it a safe experiment to congregate on one spot hundreds of thousands of people from all quarters of the town; but, partly owing to the admirable conduct of the police, to whom great credit was due, and still more to the admirable conduct of the people, all those apprehensions had proved without foundation. With regard to Mr. Paxton, he looked upon that gentleman as a great public benefactor, and it was to be hoped and trusted that he would not be added to the number of those who, before they tasted death, tasted the public ingratitude.

Petition read, and ordered to lie on the table.

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