HL Deb 23 May 1856 vol 142 cc576-87

LORD RAVENSWORTH rose and said: My Lords, I have risen, in pursuance of notice, for the purpose of calling the attention of Her Majesty's Government and of your Lordships' House, in the first place, to certain circumstances of some importance in connection with the approaches which are proposed to be made from Pall Mall to St. James's Park; and also to point out to your Lordships what I consider to be the present existing defects in the east front of St. James's Palace; and, in the second place, to the inappropriate sites which have been chosen for some of the public statues in this metropolis. Your Lordships will remember that frequent discussions have taken place, both in this House and in the other House of Parliament, upon this subject; but in the course of these debates several omissions of considerable importance have been made, which I consider it my duty now to supply, and to which I beg leave to request the attention of your Lordships. Your Lordships are aware that when public improvements of any magnitude are contemplated in this country, it is not only desirable but necessary that public attention should be called to the project. We are all aware that in countries governed by despotic sovereigns this is not so necessary, for in countries so governed the sovereigns have an unlimited and uncontrolled power to do as they please; and the result is, that they commonly engage the services of the best and most talented engineers and architects, and hence we observe an unity of design and a harmony and perfection of execution in all the great public works of the Continent, which I am grieved to say is not recognisable, and apparently not attainable, in the public improvements which, up to the present time, have been made in this country. In this country, my Lords, we find that where any public improvement is proposed by which any property of the Crown is likely to be interfered with, the consent of the Crown must be had before such improvement can be commenced; and as to the expense to be incurred in accomplishing the work, we all know that not one shilling of the public money can be expended until the Estimates shall have obtained the sanction of the House of Commons. However, that is no reason why the merits or demerits of any such project should not be discussed in this House when an opportunity offers, and opinions expressed in regard to it—and it is upon that ground that I, even though an unprofessional individual, have risen for the purpose of now calling your Lordships' attention to a project which has been for some time before the public, for the purpose of giving the public increased accommodation, and greater facilities for passing through St. James's Park. Your Lordships will find that a new road through St. James's Park is to be afforded by a communication to be opened at the west end of Pall Mall, and that it should pass through the present site of a building known as the German Chapel, and thence into the park, so that the public should have facilities for passing on through the park from that point, to the right past Buckingham Palace and to the left to Charing Cross through Spring Gardens. It has been alleged that one great object to be accomplished by this new thoroughfare is to relieve, to some extent, the enormous traffic which is now daily carried on through Pall Mall to Charing Cross; and it must certainly be admitted that such an improvement would be very desirable. But my Lords, to effect this more completely I may suggest to the Government the expediency of buying up the tolls levied upon Waterloo Bridge, and thus to relieve the public from a charge which is now almost the only remnant of that ancient system of toll-bars which formerly obstructed every approach to this great metropolis. I am assured that a vast amount of traffic is induced to swell the great stream which rolls over Westminster Bridge and its approaches for the purpose of avoiding this toll—traffic which otherwise would find its way towards its various destinations over the more direct and far more convenient line of Waterloo Bridge. And I hope that the present and future Governments will bear this subject in mind. But, my Lords, my main object in directing your Lordships' attention to this particular alteration—namely, the contemplated road through St. James's Park—is, to show what an opportunity it will afford for making a very great improvement also in the external appearance of a most important building, while, at the same time, the British nobility and gentry would be greatly accommodated thereby. I am now referring to the present state of the east front of St. James's Palace; and I do think it would be extremely desirable, in the event of the proposed improvement being undertaken, to consider the expediency of altering and improving that portion of St. James's Palace which is situate between the eastern extremity and the centre of the building, for I believe it cannot be denied that some alteration and improvement in that portion of the palace would be most desirable. My Lords, I am far from advocating any lavish or unnecessary expenditure of the public money. I am not by any means enamoured with palace-building, having seen in my lifetime far too great sums of money unprofitably expended; and I may here be permitted to make an observation or two in reference to the building in which we are now assembled. A more gorgeous or magnificent structure it would be almost impossible to conceive; but, my Lords, I am decidedly of opinion that the proportions of this palace are in themselves so vast and imposing, that about one-fifth of the enormous sum its construction has cost the country might well have been saved, by a judicious retrenchment and more sparing use of the exuberance of its external decorations and that redundancy of ornament which is by no means essential to the general effect. But just let me ask your Lordships to take a look at the central gateway and east wing of St. James's Palace. The gateway is, perhaps, so far as proportion is concerned, a tolerably fair specimen of the architecture of the time of the Tudors; but I think it should be characterised by some features of strength and durability, being the main entrance to a castellated building supported by two flanking octagon towers. Now, the original design of such towers was for the purposes of defence and strength, in which characters these are utterly deficient. They are perforated with innumerable windows of the meanest description—on one side no less than six, one above the other, in a single face of the octagon—and in the corresponding tower eight of these holes, five on the one face, and three on another—thus detracting entirely from all ideas of defence or strength. There is, however, a certain old-fashioned rusty dignity about them, with which so many associations are connected, and it would be so easy to remedy these manifest faults, that I should be sorry to see the day when they would be taken down. But what have we on the east side of that central gateway? A piece of building the most paltry that can be witnessed in any city or country, fitted with windows of so mean and shaky a character, apparently so rotten that every storm of wind threatens to blow them out of their casements, surmounted with chimney stacks and chimney-pots such a description, that I am sure not one of your Lordships would ever think of putting such unsightly objects your farm-houses or cottages. Now, is it not possible, in connection with the new approaches about to be made, to have a auitable addition to the palace of a design something similar to that noble hall which has been recently erected in Lincoln's Inn Fields? I believe that such an addition might be made without at all interfering ultimately with the accommodation given to those who, by favour of Her Majesty, occupy apartments in that portion of the palace. I may here state that I have thought it my duty to communicate with the right hon. Baronet the Chief Commissioner of the Board of Works on this subject, and I can assure your Lordships that no expression was used by me in the course of that interview that was not cordially concurred in by the right hon. Bayonet. So much with reference to the exterior of the palace. But what is the internal accommodation given to the British public, and especially the ladies of this empire, when they attend Her Majesty's Drawing-rooms? I am aware that noble Lords opposite have so long enjoyed the privileges of the entrée that the points on which I now endeavour to speak will not, perhaps, in their eyes, possess that importance which others attach to them; but, nevertheless, I think it by no means an unimportant question to ask what the ladies of this great kingdom have to encounter when they attend Her Majesty's Drawing rooms? It is a well-known fact, that the society of London is now so large that, excepting in the noblest houses of the metropolis, proper accommodation in ordinary life can hardly be provided. There are exceptions—such, for example, as that provided by the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne) when he—as is his wont—generously opens his house to the public. But what is the accommodation of the Royal Palace of St. James's? Those who wish to show their duty to Her Majesty on such occarsions—and it is almost the only act of duty and loyal attention which it is the privilege of a subject to pay to the Sovereign—are set down in the open air by an uncovered cloister, and thence find their way into a passage both long and narrow, at least 100 feet in length. When they reach the end of this passage they run their heads against a wall, and are turned short round into another passage, exposed to the wind from the north and south, from two doors that are constantly open. Another sharp turn leads to the staircase. Now, when ladies are attired in the full court costume of the present fashion, a good sized staircase at least is required for their accommodation; but here they are exposed to all the inconvenience and pressure encountered on a narrow staircase, with a turning in the middle; and as there is only one staircase for ascent and descent, your Lordships, even had you not witnessed it, may conceive the embarrassment of this crowding together of full-dressed ladies and gentlemen, encumbered with cocked hats, swords, and spurs, and all this before even the threshold of the court is attained. Your Lordships must be aware how much extent of ground at St. James's Palace is wasted in needless courtyards, and ill-devised communications; therefore I ask, whether the Government ought not to take into consideration, when a fair opportunity presents itself, the expediency of effecting for the public accommodation such alterations as I have intimated. It is my opinion, us far as regards expense, that if the matter were placed in the hands of a competent architect accustomed to consider the adaptation of modern buildings to ancient remains, the alterations might be effected, not only handsomely, but at a very moderate cost. And now, my Lords. I propose to call your Lordships' attention to some of the public statues of this metropolis, and I feel myself the more entitled to do so because, by an Act of Parliament passed the year before last, when the late lamented Sir W. Molesworth was at the head of the Board of Public Works, the repair and maintenance of public statues in the metropolis were intrusted to the keeping of the Government. First, I hope some steps will soon be taken to fill up the vacuum on the pedestal in Trafalgar Square, by erecting an equestrian statue in a position corresponding to that of the statue of George IV. There is at present resident in this country one of the ablest and most talented sculptors that ever lived, especially in regard of equestrian statues (Baron Marochetti); and it will be well for the Government to consider whether it is not now time to fill up this vacant pedestal with a work worthy of the country. There is a schedule attached to the Act of Parliament enumerating the statues placed under the superintendence of the Government, but the statue I am now about to notice is not contained in that schedule. However, when I point out certain circumstances in connection with the statue, I think there will be no indisposition on the part of those having the property of it to consider the criticisms I shall venture to make. In Hanover Square there is a statue of Mr. Pitt on a lofty pedestal, occupying a commanding position, similar to that which he filled in the political world; and in a direct line with that statue, going northwards, there stands in Cavendish Square another very good modern statue, representing my late noble and lamented Friend Lord George Bentinck, which is also placed on a loft pedestal. But following the same line, and immediately beyond, there stands in the midst of Cavendish Square an equestrian figure of a fat man upon a still fatter horse, supported upon a pedestal so low and mean, that nothing is visible to tin spectators, except the cocked hat and round shoulders of the rider, and the rump and clumsy croup of the Horse. This, my Lords, is the figure of the Conqueror of Culloden, William Duke of Cumberland—a statue not in itself without merit, bearing, probably, much of the likeness and character of that royal hero, although, from the ill-balanced posture of the horse, the quadruped is only prevented from falling by the most clumsy and inartificial props to such of his feet as are supposed to be prancing in the air. Now, my Lords, we all know that the object in erecting monuments of this description in public thoroughfares is, firstly, to commemorate the public and private virtues and services of illustrious individuals; and, secondly, to place them in such a manner as to adorn and embellish the respective localities in which they are seen; but it cannot be contended that such is the effect of the statue in question, for that statue as it now stands is, in my opinion, at least, nothing less than ridiculous. It is completely overshadowed by the pedestrian statue I have alluded to, and, therefore, if it is to be left where it is now placed, it should be turned volte face, and elevated to such a height as would enable the public to get a proper view of it. I would also wish to direct your Lordships' attention to another statue over which the Government can exercise control as to the site which it should occupy. I allude to the statue of His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, which now stands at the northern extremity of Portland Place; that statue, I venture to affirm, is never seen unless people take the trouble to look about for some time in search of it. That statue has been placed by way of forming a termination to the vista of, I believe, one of the widest and finest streets in Europe, and is so utterly disproportioned to such a position, that it really appears to be the figure of a little black man, hiding himself among the bushes, reminding one only of the nymph in Virgil—" Quæ fugit ad salices, —with the change of a single word— Nee se cupit ante videri. Now, unless it be that the inhabitants of Portland Place are so enamoured of that statue as to insist on retaining it, although it can hardly be visible to most of them without a telescope, I certainly consider that it would be very easy to find a more appropriate site for it; and I think that the Government would be only paying to Her Majesty a becoming compliment if the statue of Her Royal Father were to be placed in the centre of that court which now forms the entrance to Buckingham Palace from Pimlico, the proportions of which would be in very just keeping with the scale of this statue. Now, my Lords, I trust your Lordships will excuse me for occupying your attention for a moment or two longer, while I direct your notice to another matter in connection with the fine arts. I allude to the collection of no fewer than sixty noble pictures which were bequeathed to the country by that unrivalled painter, the late Mr. Turner. It is well known that those pictures are not only inimitable as works of art, but are almost inappreciable as to their value; and yet, it will scarcely be credited, that these valuable paintings are actually at the present moment stowed and hidden away in one of the storerooms of the National Gallery, where, if they shall be suffered to remain much longer, they must become seriously deteriorated in condition and value, for want of light and air, and thus be lost to the nation. Your Lordships are probably aware that those pictures were, some time ago, the subject of a suit in Chancery, in consequence of the heirs at law of Mr. Turner having disputed the right of the trustees of the National Gallery to them; but the result of that suit was, that the Court of Chancery came to the decision that the pictures were the property of the nation. The conditions of Mr. Turner's bequest were that a fitting receptacle for his pictures should be provided, and the suit in the Court of Chancery being now terminated, I think it is high time that the Government should forthwith provide a fitting receptacle for those noble works of art, for I have not the least hesitation in saying that they are positively worth their weight in gold; and I cannot give your Lordships a stronger proof of the value set upon the works of Turner than by stating the fact, that I myself saw three of his paintings put up at public auction the year before last, and they were sold for no less a sum than five thousand guineas. I repeat, then, my Lords, that the Government should no longer defer the restoration of these pictures to the public, instead of suffering them to lie concealed in a cellar, for they are a most valuable collection, and have been bequeathed to the nation by a most eminent artist. If a suitable building cannot at once be erected, at least the Government could assuredly find, without any difficulty, a room which could be hired for a time for the exhibition of those noble pictures, where they would not only be preserved from injury, but would be a source of instruction to artists, and excite the admiration of the world, instead of being, as at present, wholly inaccessible. My Lords, I shall not trespass longer upon your time, with any further observations upon the subject, and I beg to thank your Lord-ships for the patience and attention with which you have been so kind as to hear me.


said, he shared the anxiety of the noble Lord with regard to the fate of these fine paintings, which had till lately been consigned to that worst of all receptacles—the Court of Chancery. The suit, however, had at last been decided; the pictures now belonged to the nation, and from henceforth it would be the fault of the Trustees of the National Gallery if they were not removed to some place where they could be seen and where they would be safe from injury; even if they were not able to provide them with an abode worthy of their own importance and the fame of that great artist from whose pencil they had proceeded.


said, that of the three plans that had been laid before Parliament for the proposed road through St. James's Park, that proposed by the Committee was the worst, whether for beauty or convenience. He did not see why the road should not be taken straight into Pall Mall. The truth was, the plan had been designed on the assumption that it was necessary to make a road through the Park. He (Lord Redesdale) did not see any such necessity; but, on the contrary, he thought it would be for the interests of the public that the privacy of the Park should be preserved.


said, he thought that an entrance into Pall Mall to the west of the Green Park would be a greater improvement than the plan suggested by the Committee. As allusion had been made to the state of our public edifices, it might not be inappropriate to observe that the dignity of the Sovereign and the comfort of such of Her subjects as were in the habit of attending Her Majesty's drawing-rooms alike required that some alterations should be made in St. James's Palace. The Palace contained some fine rooms; and the regulations prescribed for observance on State occasions were, no doubt, excellent, but the hurry and noise that prevailed in departing, and the difficulty that persons experienced in finding their carriages, caused a degree of confusion that was exceedingly unbecoming.


took occasion to remark that the river front of Somerset House was disgraced by two red rows of chimneys of irregular form, and devoid of all style; and he had attempted three times, with three successive Commissioners of Public Works, to obtain a reconstruction of them, and the removal of a great eyesore, but with no success. The late Sir William Molesworth had, indeed, agreed that the change was much called for, but he had been unable to carry it out. With respect to the buildings devoted to public offices, he (Lord St. Leonards) sincerely trusted that, before Government entered into any new scheme of building, they would finish those which had been already begun. He thought it must be a matter of regret to every man to see how the public money was frittered away in this matter. In St. James's Square some of the best houses were occupied by public offices—as the offices of the Copyhold and the Charity Commissioners; and it was unfortunate to see splendid drawing-rooms, in houses which were fit for the residences of the wealthiest noblemen, exposed to dust and neglect. Then let their Lordships look at the state of the two Houses of Parliament. The building had been confided to the charge of an architect of great reputation, but a dispute had arisen as to the rate by which he should be paid. He thought it perfectly disgraceful to the country that this dispute should be allowed to remain unsettled for another twenty-four hours. And at the very moment, while they were disputing about the old building, they were erecting new ones. Then the clock-tower of the Houses of Parliament had been left unfinished, manifestly with the intention that the clock-tower should be continued on that side of New Palace Yard. Really the Government seemed to have created eyesores for the purpose of compelling Parliament to acquiesce in their schemes. The clock-tower obviously could not be left in its present state; it should be continued and New Palace Yard should be enclosed with handsome gates to admit the carriages of Members, and suitable accommodation should be provided for both carriages and horses, instead of the present ugly coal-shed, which any one could get put up for £10, and which, if they did, they would be glad to give £20 to pull down again.


wished to know what chance there was of the Government commencing the rebuilding of the Government offices in Downing Street. The residence of the Foreign Minister was in such a condition that he could not give a party without having his house shored up, and people were then in peril of their lives. In fact, the Minister who, from his official relations, was obliged to give some receptions, had no house in which he could receive. Generally speaking, the office was held by persons who had an adequate fortune; but still one might be appointed who was without large private means; and he (the Earl of Malmesbury) could only say that the salary was not equal to the necessary outlay which the acceptance of the office entailed. It was not every one that was able, like the noble Marquess opposite (Lord Lansdowne), to receive distinguished guests accredited to them from foreign Sovereigns—such as he was himself obliged to receive on the occasion of the Duke of Wellington's funeral. Formerly the official residence of the Foreign Minister, though it was never very handsome, was fit for an official residence. It had, at least, kitchens and bed-rooms which the present had not; and when a person was appointed to the office, the first thing he must now do would be to hire a house, at an expense to him of not less than £1,000 a year. He agreed with the noble and learned Lord in what he had said with respect to the engaging of extraneous buildings for the public service; but it was not always possible to get suitable premises at the moment they were required. Still it was no doubt a great pity to see Pembroke House, for instance, with its staircase and ceilings which money could scarcely buy, occupied by clerks and scriveners.


said, that since this subject had been last discussed in their Lordships' House about a month ago, not a day had been lost in endeavouring to lay down some scheme for the attainment of the desired object. He was happy to say that a plan had been agreed upon, which was about to be submitted to a Committee of the House of Commons, of which notice had been given, and it would rest with that House to say how far it would sanction that plan. He entirely agreed with the noble Earl in his condemnation of the present Foreign Office. There was not a more gloomy, unsafe, unsightly building of its size in all London. He was convinced that the concentration of all the public offices, if well carried out, would not only be ornamental to the metropolis, but would lead to a great saving of expense.


said, before the discussion was brought to a close, he would beg to offer a suggestion with respect to the statues and public buildings with which the metropolis was adorned. Forty years ago there were only three statues in London—namely, that of Queen Anne, opposite St. Paul's, that of Charles I., at Charing Cross, and that of James II., at Whitehall. Now, there were upwards of forty statues, which were a great ornament to the open spaces and thoroughfares of the town. He had observed that few of the statues raised in London within the last forty years to eminent men bore upon them any inscription beyond the name of the person to whom they were raised, and the date perhaps of his birth and death. That was not the case with the statues in foreign cities. Many of their Lordships, no doubt, would remember the inscription on the base of the statue of Joseph II., at Vienna, aptly and tersely setting forth both his short life and his active mind—"Publicæ saluti vixit non diù sed totus." The inscription in front of the Military Hospital at Berlin, "Læso sed invicto militi," was no less happy. He saw no reason why a suitable English inscription should not be placed on any statues which might be erected in London for the future, and he hoped the Government would bear his suggestion in mind.

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