HL Deb 10 April 1856 vol 141 cc763-72

, in moving that a message be sent to the House of Commons, requesting them to communicate to this House a copy of the Report of the Select Committee upon St. James's Park, and asking if Government had come to any decision upon the adoption of the recommendations contained in that Report? said, he had no serious objections to the first three of the four recommendations made by the Committee; but that to the fourth—the removal of the Duke of York's column, and the cutting a road from Waterloo Place into the Park—he entertained the gravest and most insuperable objections. In the first place, he found that only two persons had been examined before the Committee upon that question, one of these being Mr. Bowtell, a member of a firm of bootmakers, and no doubt a very respectable man; but the real witness was Mr. Penuethorne, the architect of the Board of Works, and it was upon his sole evidence that the Committee adopted the recommendation. Further, he found that so far from their recommendations being agreed to unanimously, not less than three out of seven divisions were carried by a majority of one, whilst in three instances the members divided equally, and the vote was agreed to solely by the casting vote of his right hon. Friend Sir Benjamin Hall, the chairman. Now, if this recommendation to remove the Duke of York's column, and cut a road from Waterloo Place into the Park was carried out, it could not be denied that the value of the houses in Carlton Terrace would be very much altered and affected. Let their Lordships remember that these houses were not built on speculation, but that the Crown and Parliament were under specific and positive engagements to the owners of these houses; that when Carlton House was taken away a plan was deliberately formed by the then Government, and approved of by Parliament, and that it was not in accordance with the fancies of any speculators, but upon the plan so sanctioned and directed by the Crown and Parliament, that the terrace was built at an extraordinary expense, the Crown at the same time entering into specific engagements to maintain the privacy which the houses at present enjoyed, and also to preserve the gardens in front of them. He granted that those engagements ought not to be allowed to stand in the way of any alteration which was likely to be beneficial to the public; but he thought it would have been no more than honest and right in a public department, when considering the alterations which the scheme involved, had it stated that those engagements did exist, and had laid the whole circumstances of the arrangement before the public. He deprecated also the light and trivial way in which the Committee had treated the question of the removal of the Duke of York's column. It was his fortune to have differed from the politics of the 'ate Duke of York, but it was matter of history that his Royal Highness was not only eminent from his illustrious birth, but that he had peformed for a very long time great professional service to the Crown and country. For thirty-two years he was Commander in Chief, and during that period the improvement effected in the organisation of our army was alike remarkable and creditable to his administration. And when he died, the expression of regret was not confined to his friends, but all parties bore willing testimony to the honesty, impartiality, and assiduity with which he had performed the duties of his office. Now, every nation that pretended to the smallest degree of civilisation had respect for the monuments which were raised to the memory of its great men; and he (the Marquess of Clauricarde) contended that such monuments were not to be treated as an old jibbet or a lamp post; and this particular monument having been erected after an agreement between the Crown, the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, and the subscribers, must be regarded as a national monument. But no consideration of the sort seemed for one instant to have occurred to the mind or been offered to the attention of the Committee. Undoubtedly, he should be the first to assert that if it were absolutely necessary for the convenience of the inhabitants these considerations should not be allowed to prevent the removal of any monument; indeed, if it were essential for the health of the metropolis to run an aqueduct through the middle of St. Paul's, immediately under the dome, however much he might regret the necessity, he should believe for such an important purpose as that the dead must give way to the living. As a matter of taste, too, he condemned the removal of the York column and the statue. Would any man, who had money to lay out, set out with removing the few columns and statues erected in London? He did not mean to say that the statue was a perfect example of art, or that the pillar was one of the most perfect ever raised; but he did say that it was an ornament to the town where it now stood, and that the proposition for taking it away and constructing a sort of railway cutting between two high walls, from Waterloo Place into the Park, was, as a matter of taste, one of the most absurd that was ever propounded. Besides, in a pecuniary sense, the accommodation to be given was nothing in comparison with the amount of money required to be expended in the work. No man could walk from Charing Cross to this palace without discovering, if he had £20,000 or £30,000 to lay out in improving the appearance of the town and the public convenience, that he could lay it out for this object in a far better manner than by removing the York column and cutting a road into St. James's Park. Let them look at the disgraceful state of Downing Street, and the block of houses which stood between King Street and Parliament Street, obstructing the public thoroughfares. Yet a Committee of the House of Commons was prepared to come down and ask for £20,000 or £30,000 for the purpose of sweeping away one of the few ornaments the metropolis possessed, instead of applying the money to the more useful and ornamental work of improving the neighbourhood to which he alluded. He trusted the matter would be carefully and maturely considered by the Government before they arrived at a decision respecting it, and that the House of Lords would have a voice in it. Some of the suggestions of the Committee were good and might be carried out; but he hoped that such a ridiculous plan as this would not be adopted. The noble Marquess then moved—That a Message be sent to the House of Commons, requesting them to communicate to this House the Report of the Select Committee upon St. James's Park.


said, that there could be, of course, no objection to the Motion of the noble Marquess, who had no occasion to apologise for bringing this subject under their Lordships' consideration, as it was one of public interest to the population of this great metropolis. Subjects relating to the ornament of the metropolis and to the public convenience were by no means unimportant or undeserving not only of the attention, but of the very deliberate attention, of their Lordships and the country; and it was with a view to secure that deliberate attention that he felt satisfaction in assuring the noble Marquess that no decision whatever had been taken by the Government with respect to the extent to which the suggestions made by the Committee of the House of Commons were deserving of being carried into effect. Under these circumstances, he did not wish to go into any detailed consideration of the suggestions adverted to by the noble Marquess. Speaking as an individual, and not as a Member of the Government, he must say that, in regard to one of those suggestions, he agreed with the noble Marquess that a memorial erected some years ago to the memory of an illustrious individual whom they all respected, and which was then, together with its approach to the Park by a broad and handsome square, with a fine flight of steps, considered one of the greatest ornaments and most useful thoroughfares in the metropolis, should not be lightly disposed of or set aside, unless there was a certainty that a greater purpose of public utility and ornament would be effected; and he was one of those who very much doubted whether any ornament or purpose of public utility could be substituted equal to that which now existed. The subject would receive the mature consideration of Government, and when a determination was arrived at it would be formally communicated to Parliament.


said, that, as a Member of the Committee who had superintended the erection of the Duke of York's column, he could not help protesting against the manner in which it was now proposed to be dealt with by the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons. He regarded that pillar and statue as one of the greatest ornaments of the metropolis, and certainly we did not possess such an abundance of those ornaments as to admit of our dealing with them lightly. Independently of the object fur which this column was raised, be thought that when the whole British army and the public in general had contributed so liberally and with such cordiality to the erection of a monument of that sort, it became a matter for very serious consideration whether it ought to be removed from its place. The noble Marquess who commenced the discussion had hinted that be would not enter upon the merits of the column and statue as a work of art; but he (the Earl of Aberdeen) would observe that the pillar was precisely of the same dimensions as Trajan's column at Rome, which had always been considered a model of that description of art, whilst the statue surmounting it was executed by one of the first artists of this country, and deserved the admiration of all. The approach, taken altogether, was one of the handsomest street terminations and park-entrances in London. He had, therefore, heard with great satisfaction from his noble Friend (the Marquess of Lansdowne) that the Government had not undertaken to comply with the recommendation of the Committee of the House of Commons, but that the subject was still under consideration. And he trusted that the expression of opinion they had heard to-night, and which he was sure must be shared in not only by this House but by the public at large, would induce the Committee to reconsider their recommendation, and report in favour of preserving that which was clearly one of the most striking and beautiful objects in the metropolis.


was glad that this subject had been brought forward by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Clanricarde), in favour of whose views a great majority of that House would no doubt be found. He concurred entirely in what had fallen from the noble Earl with respect to what might be called the sentimental view of the case; but he thought that their Lordships' attention should also be called, at the end of a costly; war, to the question of economy in such matters. Casting his eye to certain proceedings in another place, he thought they were of a nature which must attract the attention of every one interested in the future welfare of the country, as they were indicative of a certain degree of recklessness as to the expenditure of the country at a moment when the outlay of every farthing on works not positively necessary ought to be considered with great care. The demand for this particular improvement, as it was called, began in rather a singular manner. The complaints in which the proposed changes originated were said to have been first made by the Belgravians; but he did not think that, any meeting of great importance had taken place, or that any petition had been presented to Parliament upon the subject. There was, however, a great pressure from a quarter powerful at all times, especially at present—he alluded to The Times—which had very fairly and truly boasted of being the author of the improvements which were now contemplated. A number of letters appeared in that journal, written, if not by one of the greatest, certainly by one of the largest anonymous writers of the day, signed with different aliases, with the view probably of giving rise to the notion that repeated applications on the subject had been received from various quarters. He did not object to those letters which advocated a passage from the north-east part of the town for the relief of the Belgravians; but, although he did not think it would be inconvenient to Her Majesty to have a thoroughfare opened in front of the Palace, similar to that through the Place du Carrousel in front of the Tuileries, still, a thoroughfare having been opened by Marlborough-house, the Belgravians had, in his opinion, received all the relief they required, and they would in no way be benefited by the removal of the Duke of York's column. Those persons who came to Parliament by way of Regent-street would certainly have a cut across the park, but he did not think there would be 100 yards' difference between that passage and the present one by Charing-cross. The newspapers stated that the public required this alteration. Now, "public," like "aristocracy," was a word of which they required a definition; but if it meant those persons who were not accustomed to drive in carriages, he asserted that the public were to a man against the alteration. Their Lordships must have noticed numberless children of small tradesmen and persons of that class, swarming like ants over the parade opposite the Horse Guards, and none of the parents of those children wanted a thoroughfare between the Duke of York's column and Storey's-gate, fur carriages to run over their children. He was, therefore, at a loss to know for whose convenience the alteration was to be made; and the £25,000 or £30,000 which it would cost would be much better laid out in the improvement of Downing Street or the National Gallery. He felt, however, much relieved from his apprehensions with respect to this matter by the speech of the noble Marquess.


wished to draw particular attention to two plans which had recently been laid before the public. The one was for removing the block of buildings between Downing Street and Parliament Street, and erecting a new set of offices. He must say that if the project were carried out, it would not only be one of the greatest ornaments to the town, but would be attended with immense advantage to the public business of the country. It was absolutely necessary that something should be done; for the state of the public departments was most disgraceful. The other was the plan for the removal of the War Department from its present position. He hoped that time would be given for the consideration of the matter before it was resolved upon to erect new offices for the War Department in Pall Mall. He gave evidence before the Sebastopol Committee, in which he expressed it as his opinion that no alteration would be useful unless the whole of the military departments were placed tinder one roof. Whether that was to be the case with respect to the new offices to be erected in Pall Mall he did not know, but if so, his object would be gained. He considered it of the greatest importance that the War Departments should be in immediate neighbourhood of the other departments of the Government; but while they were removing the other departments nearer to the Houses of Parliament, they were removing the War Departments further off. The interval between Pall Mall and Downing Street would be very inconvenient, in confirmation of which he would appeal to the noble Lord the Secretary for War. It had been stated that the erection of the buildings in Pall Mall would be open to general competition, while the much larger and grander scheme in Downing Street would be entrusted to the ordinary architects of the Board of Works. Without wishing to detract from the ability of the persons employed by the Board of Works, he considered that this was a grand and national work, which it would be exceedingly improper to undertake without obtaining the very highest architectural talent.


said, that the additions to the Ordnance Office were intended to enable the Government to concentrate the whole of the civil departments of the War Office in Pall Mall, leaving the military departments at the Horse Guards. Hence, although the whole of the military departments would not be under the same roof, they would be sufficiently contiguous, as there was a short and easy communication across the park. He could not agree with the noble Duke that, even in time of war, any inconvenience could result from the office of the Prime Minister being in Downing Street, and that of the War Minister in Pall Mall, for the distance between these two localities was, across the Park, very short. The great object of the Government in purchasing the new premises in Pall Mall was to concentrate the different branches of the War Department, and to remedy the existing inconvenience of having each branch obliged to send to a separate building for the purpose of communicating with another. It was considered more economical to add to the present buildings in Pall Mall than to give them up and erect an entirely new set of offices for all the branches in another place. However, it was quite competent to the Government to reconsider the matter; for, although the houses between the Ordnance Office and the Carlton Club had been secured, they had been purchased at such a, price as to be easily resaleable at a profit. It was quite true that the Board of Works had invited competition for the plan. He was not aware that any particular plan had been determined upon; but he hoped that the work would be speedily commenced and executed.


wished to express his concurrence in the opinion given by the noble Duke relative to the inconvenience caused by the distance of the public offices from each other. He agreed with him, also, in thinking that it ought to be the policy of the Government to concentrate the public offices between the Horse Guards and the Houses of Parliament. There was space on that, piece of ground to bring together all the Government departments by degrees, and he therefore thought that it would not be desirable to incur a large expense in adding to the War Office in Pall Mall. The ground in Pall Mall was far more valuable for private than public purposes, and it would be more economical as well as more convenient to bring all the Government offices together. He hoped that the scheme now in contemplation would be reconsidered, although the noble Lord at the head of the War Department was right in saying that there was a pressing necessity to bring the War Department together.


said, that their Lordships could not but feel great satisfaction at the unanimity which had characterised the short discussion which had taken place. He was gratified to hear that the Members of the Government had not yet made up their minds about the proposed road through the Park, and he trusted they would reconsider the propositions of the Select Committee. The only scheme for a road across the Park that seemed likely to be satisfactory was that for a road from Pall Mall to Buckingham Palace. The road from Waterloo Place to Storey's Gate was liable to great objections, whether the column were allowed to stand or to be removed. It was also a question whether it was justifiable thus to remove public monuments which had been erected by public subscription with the consent of the law or of the Crown. The effect of a deep cutting would he most unsightly. It ought also to be considered that the road between the column and Storey's Gate would run parallel with the range of public offices and under the windows of gentlemen who were engaged for the greatest part of the year in the transaction of public business. They would thus be exposed to the roll of heavy and continuous traffic during the day, which in itself constituted a serious objection to the construction of a road at this point. He agreed very much with the noble Earl (the Earl of Malmesbury) that this question had not yet been very fairly argued. He believed that the question was really between those who were rich enough to afford cabs and those who were content to walk. He was glad the question was to be reconsidered, because the Government, in consulting the convenience of a single class, might be intrenching upon the enjoyments and recreation of the labouring classes of the community.


said, that Mr. Nash's original plan provided for the construction of iron gates at the steps of the Duke of York's column, but this was objected to by His Majesty. He thought the removal of the column to a spot a short distance from its present site would add to its effect.


was anxious, before the conversation terminated, to express his own opinion, and he believed the opinion of the Government also as to the immense advantage that would accrue to the public, setting aside the mere question of ornament, from the concentration of every official department in that space which commenced at the Horse Guards and ended at Palace Yard. He doubted whether in this or any other metropolis in the world there was a space so small as that circumscribed by the Park on one side, the Houses of Parliament and the river and bridges on the other, in which so much public advantage, public ornament, public convenience, and, ultimately, of public economy might be combined as in the skilful arrangement, by a judicious architect, of the public offices on this spot. The concentration of the Government offices in this space might be made to form one of the finest features and grandest approaches which this or any other metropolis could produce.

Motion agreed to; and a Message sent to the Commons accordingly.