HL Deb 04 February 1856 vol 140 cc148-50

THE MARQUESS OF CLANRICARDE moved for Papers and Correspondence relating to the huge piece of machinery shortly intended to be placed in the clock tower of the new Houses of Parliament. The affair was, he said, the most amusing clock case he had met with from the days of Tristram Shandy down to these of Sam Slick. It might appear to be a trivial matter, but it disclosed a system of blundering, conflicting authorities, and contradictory orders that might well astonish their Lordships, and that ought not to be passed over entirely without remark. In the year 1844 somebody appeared to have thought that the clock tower was in a sufficiently forward state to justify steps being taken for the construction of a clock for it. Accordingly, Sir Charles Barry was directed to put himself in communication with Mr. Vulliamy; and eventually Mr. Vulliamy was requested to make a set of drawings on the understanding that he was to receive 200 guineas for them; but that if he should be employed to execute the work, he was only to have half that sum. The drawings were completed in the course of a year and a half or two years; but no progress having been made in the tower by 1848, Mr. Vulliamy took steps to obtain his money. The Commissioners of Woods and Forests would only pay him 100 guineas; but in the following year Mr. Vulliamy represented to the Commissioners that as he was seventy years of age it would be unreasonable to make him wait any longer; he, therefore, requested that the other 100 guineas might be paid him, with the understanding that if after all he made the clock, 100 guineas should be deducted from the price of it. The Commissioners of Woods and Forests referred the matter to the Committee charged with the superintendence of the works, who reported that they could see no pros- pect of fixing a time by which the tower would be completed. Under these circumstances the money was paid to Mr. Vulliamy. In 1850 the clock was actually ordered. It would hardly be believed, but, although the Commissioners of Works had had the advice of the architect, the Astronomer Royal, and a gentleman of very great ability in such matters, Mr. E. B. Denison, the contract was so made that the clock, if it had been completed according to the specifications, could not have been put into the tower. At this juncture the contractor died; whereupon the Commissioners informed the gentleman who succeeded him in his business, that they had taken the opinion of the law officers of the Crown, and that as they found the contract was no longer binding, they intended to repudiate the existing arrangement. The gentleman who had taken the contractor's business, however, resisted, and the Commissioners were obliged to give way, at the expense of some humiliation to themselves. With respect to the bells, it seemed that the matter had been placed in the hands of Professor Airy, who had declined to act with the Chief Commissioner, because, in point of fact, the right hon. Gentleman knew nothing about bell founding. The right hon. Gentleman had attempted to relieve Professor Airy from any further trouble; but the Professor declined to give up the responsibility which had been entrusted to him. The bell-founder was, in fact, bound by his contract to furnish a bell to the satisfaction of the Astronomer Royal; and when he did that the Government were, in their turn, bound to pay him the sum agreed to.


said, he had no objection whatever to furnish the papers moved for by the noble Marquess; though he did not think they would be found of that amusing character described by the noble Lord. Not having himself perused them, he was not able to say anything with respect to the accuracy of the noble Lord's narrative. It certainly appeared from that statement to have been a transaction not very creditable to successive Governments; but it did so far redound to the credit of the right hon. Gentleman who at present held the office of Chief Commissioner of Works, that he had been able to bring the affair to a conclusion. The clock was finished, and would be erected as soon as the room was ready to receive it; and he hoped that they would be able to hear its chimes before the end of the year, if not before the end of the Session.

House adjourned till To-morrow.