HL Deb 11 July 1861 vol 164 cc693-5

inquired, Whether the Attention of the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Works or of the Metropolitan Board of Works has been directed to the manner in which the Garden in Leicester Square, in the City of Westminster, is now and may be hereafter occupied? The noble Lord said he had thought it right to call their Lordships attention to the subject, because some facts had come under his notice in his official capacity which he thought ought to be generally known. Their Lordships would remember that some years ago the centre of this square was a garden—certainly a very neglected one, but still a good open space. About ten years back there arose up in the middle of it a building for the exhibition of what was called "the Great Globe," but no one knew by whose authority. However, very little inquiry was made about it, and the building was erected without any opposition. It was said that the place had become a nuisance, and that it would be greatly improved by what was being done. In 1852 a private Bill was introduced into Parliament entitled "Leicester Square Improvement and Ownership of Square or Garden Bill." It provided for the improvement of Leicester Square, and secured to "James Wyld the unconditional enjoyment of the enclosed garden or area of the said square." It was set forth in the preamble that Mr. Wyld had purchased the fee simple of the ground, and that the same was duly conveyed to him, but that "nevertheless divers persons claimed to be entitled to some right over the same." The Bill provided that Mr. Wyld should have power to maintain or pull down the existing building, and to erect another for a literary institution, or a bazaar, or for other purposes connected with science and art, public instruction, or public amusement. This Bill was introduced, but proceeded no further, and was dropped; but it proved distinctly that Mr. Wyld, whatever limited right of possession he might have acquired, did not possess a right or title to do that which he had done upon the property. Two years afterwards another Bill was introduced, to enable the "Cosmos Institute" to purchase Mr. Wyld's interests in the area of Leicester Square. This Bill in like manner was dropped; but during the present year another Bill was introduced, called the "Leicester Square Gardens Company Bill," enabling the "Owners of Leicester Square Gardens to place them in the hands of Commissioners who should have the power of erecting a museum or other exhibition buildings on the site." This Bill was also withdrawn. These private Bills showed that the parties in the occupation of the centre of Leicester Square felt that they had no title to the property, or at any rate that they were conscious of some defect in their title. It was for the public interest that the square should be cleared, as it was the only open space between Hyde Park and Lincoln's Inn Fields. It was of the utmost importance that where there were open spaces in densely populated neighbourhoods, as was the case of Leicester Square, the enjoyment of them should be secured to the public. The parties resident in the locality were not indifferent to what was going on, for since his notice appeared upon the paper he had received several communications on the subject. He yesterday received a letter signed by what appeared to be a majority of residents in the square, thanking him for having taken up the subject, and mentioning that the encroachments on the enclosure had long been felt to be an injustice by the surrounding inhabitants, and that the state of the building in the centre was a disgrace to the locality. They also expressed a hope that his timely intervention might be the means of restoring the square to its unencumbered state. He understood that some years back the property in question was the subject of litigation in Chancery, and was divided among various claimants. He was unable to give any positive information on the matter, but he had no doubt that the residents were practically, though, perhaps, not with sufficient precision, secured in their right to the enjoyment of the gardens under the original covenant when the houses were built, and that nothing had occurred to deprive them of that right. By one of the clauses of the Metropolis Local Management Act persons were not permitted, without the sanction of the Board, to encroach with buildings upon their own gardens when they were within a short distance of the highway, and there ought certainly to be some means of preserving open spaces, such as these gardens. He did not know what power the Government had of interfering in the matter, but he begged to ask the noble Earl the President of the Council whether the attention of the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Works or of the Metropolitan Board of Works had been directed to the manner in which Leicester Square was now or might be occupied?


said, that the public were much indebted to the noble Lord for calling attention to this subject, which was really of some importance. He was sure their Lordships must all agree with the noble Lord in holding that it was very desirable that open spaces in the Metropolis should be secured against encroachment and occupation as much as possible. The state of Leicester Square had been for some time under the consideration of the Chief Commissioner of Works; but it had not yet been decided whether the Board could interfere in the matter, or what measures it was necessary to take. He had no doubt, however, that some decision would be arrived at before long.


said, that as one the churchwardens of the parish of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, in which two sides of Leicester Square were situated, he had that morning been waited on by his brother churchwarden and several respectable inhabitants of the Square, who had requested him to render any assistance which he could to the noble Lord opposite in regard to this matter. Leicester Square was becoming every day more of a public thoroughfare, and, in addition to the unsightliness of the structure which had been erected in the centre, and the accumulation of everything that was filthy, unseemly, and improper which existed in the enclosure, scenes took place there at a late hour which were most discreditable to the Metropolis, and for the prevention of which it was absloutely necessary that some measures should be adopted.