HL Deb 19 June 1868 vol 192 cc1834-48

rose to put a Question to Her Majesty's Government, of which he had given Notice, with respect to the new Courts of Justice, and said the subject to which he was about to invite their Lordships' attention was not, he was afraid, one in which they would take as much interest as in the exciting topic which they had just been discussing. He desired to make an Inquiry of his noble Friend who represented the Government in that House with regard to the competition for the new Law Courts. The facts of the case were as follows:—The Government issued conditions under which architects were to compete for designs for the new Courts, and a Treasury Minute embodying those conditions stated that the award made would be accepted as final. Very great stress was laid by the conditions on the question of utility in connection with the Courts. They state that— The chief points to be kept constantly in view and to be treated as superseding, so far as they may conflict, all considerations of architectural effect, are the accommodation to be provided, and the arrangements to be adopted, so as in the greatest degree to facilitate the despatch and the accurate transaction of the law business of the country; and in carrying out this design the first object should be to provide ample uninterrupted communication and accommodation for those who have legitimate business in the new building. Again, the arrangement of the Courts and Offices is of vital moment; on it mainly depends the success or failure of their concentration, and its importance cannot be over-estimated. Such were the conditions under which the architects were invited to compete. They did compete, and sent in their plans and estimates. The Judges who were appointed to decide on the comparative merits of those plans and estimates each delivered their award, the result being that in regard to all points of convenience, and in all points of accommodation and of arrangement for facilitating the despatch of business in the new Courts, Mr. Barry's design was declared to be superior to the others; but that on one point alone—that of architectural elevation, which the conditions distinctly stated to be of lesser moment—the design of Mr. Street was deemed to possess greater merit. That was the nature of the Report which was sent in to the Government; and one would have imagined that having issued certain conditions—that having declared that the award of the Judges should be final, and the Judges having informed them who the architect was whose design best satisfied the conditions, they would at once have selected him as the architect of the new Courts. That, however, was not done; and the complaint he had to make was that Mr. Barry's plan having been pro- nounced to be superior in those points which the Government declared to be most important, should have been set aside and Mr. Street's selected in its place. His noble Friend who represented the Government in that House might, indeed, say that he (the Marquess of Salisbury) was displaying the greatest possible ignorance in putting to him the Question on the subject of which he had given Notice, inasmuch as he ought to know it to be the universal practice, whenever Government invited architects to compete, to pay no attention to the award of the Judges, and to select the man whose design was not successful. Such, indeed, he must admit was but too often the case; but then he would venture to say that the practice was one which could not be persisted in without considerable injury to the character of a Government and the buildings which it had to erect. Architects—at least, architects of name and reputation—would not compete if they felt that at the last moment their prize might be taken from them, and that they might be deprived of the employment and pay which they had justly earned by means of a decision due to some occult influence at the Board of Works, whose proceedings their Lordships had been discussing during the early part of the evening, [The Earl of DERBY: Not the Board of Works. The Woods and Forests.] Well, he believed the Board of Works was first cousin to the Woods and Forests, and that at no distant period they would be still more closely united. But, be that as it might, it was a very great injury to architects themselves, and to the character of the Government for fair dealing that all future architectural competitions should be conducted under circumstances of much disadvantage, in consequence of the course which had been taken in the present instance. The conduct of the Government in the matter was, therefore, he thought, open to grave censure, and their decision ought, he contended, to be considered carefully before it was finally adopted. They wisely stated at the outset that utility in the case of the New Courts was the most important feature of all. The competition was made; two designs got a preference the one for utility, the other for ornament, and the Government selected the man who was most successful in the matter of ornament, and putting aside the man who was most successful in mere utility. Now, we had had, in his opinion, a great deal too much of that sort of thing. In countries in which artistic effect and aesthetic feeling had greater influence than in our own, utility could always apparently find a place without difficulty. But here, where that feeling was somewhat of an exotic, and required careful nurture, attempts were constantly being made by enthusiasts in architecture and art to treat utility as a matter of secondary importance. Their Lordships sitting in that Chamber ought, however, he would venture to say, to be the very last persons to sanction such a preposterous mode of proceeding. All those who had occasion to speak or listen in that House bad reason to regret the preference which had been given by their predecessors to the merely ornamental over the useful. Better be-without the ornamentation by which they were surrounded, and have a decent and sober building, in which the Public Business could be more satisfactorily conducted. In the case of the new Law Courts, at all events, he hoped the error would be avoided of causing utility to give way to ornament. The first requisite in such a building it appeared to him was that those whose business took them there should be able to breathe and see, and hear each other speak. "When those objects, and adequate means of communication, were secured, then it would be time enough to think of ornament and architectural effect. Entertaining those views, he most earnestly deprecated the decision at which the Government had arrived, and he trusted it was not too late to re-consider it. As the House was aware, there were serious doubts expressed by competent judges as to the expediency of erecting the new Courts on the site which had been already purchased; and if a final decision as to that point still remained to be come to, he hoped the unfortunate decision in favour of Mr. Street and against Mr. Barry might not yet be regarded as irrevocable; but that a question which seriously affected the future administration of justice in this country might still be left open for the consideration of both Houses of Parliament. The Question which he had to ask of Her Majesty's Government was— If it is true that the Government has rejected the Design which was recommended by the professional Judges and the Judges of Designs as the best for Plan and internal Arrangements, and has adopted the Design which was recommended for Elevation only; and, further, if the Competitors were instructed that Utility and convenient Arrangement were to be preferred to architectural Effect?


said, he hoped that, as he had the honour of presiding over the Commission for the building of the new Law Courts, his noble Friend (the Earl of Malmesbury) would permit him to answer the Question put by the noble Marquess. He must first however be permitted to express his satisfaction that the subject had been brought under their Lordships' notice, for an opportunity was thereby afforded him of correcting a great deal of misapprehension with respect to it which prevailed out-of-doors. Answering the question of his noble Friend categorically, he had simply to say that the Government had neither rejected nor adopted any design; and he would briefly explain to the House how the matter really stood. Some years ago the duty of superintending the building of new Law Courts arid having designs prepared for the purpose was assigned by Act of Parliament to the Treasury, with the co-operation of Commissioners who were to be appointed by Her Majesty. The Commissioners, who were a very numerous body, and composed of various elements, were accordingly appointed, and proceeded to the performance of their task. The question was at the outset discussed of the propriety of throwing open the preparation of designs to unlimited competition amongst architects. That point was decided in the negative; and it was then resolved that six or eight architects should be selected for the purpose of competition; avid that number was ultimately, as the result of a Motion made in the House of Commons, increased to eleven. The architects who were thus selected very naturally felt that a Commission which was very numerous and which was chosen so that it might represent various interests might not be the best body to form a judgment as to the relative merits of architectural designs; and in order to meet their views a select body was appointed by the Treasury, with the consent of the Commissioners, who were called the Judges of the Designs. Those Judges were five in number, and were—Sir Alexander Cockburn, Lord Chief Justice; Sir Roundell Palmer, then Attorney General; Mr. Gladstone, then Chancellor of the Exchequer; Sir William Stirling-Maxwell; and Mr. Cowper, at the time First Commissioner of Works. With those Gentlemen were associated Mr. Shaw and Mr. Pownall, as professional advisers; and there was a third professional gentleman appointed to test the accuracy of the estimates which might be submitted to the Commission. These appointments having been made the competition commenced, the architects competing sent in their designs, which were exhibited to the public for several months. The terms on which the architects were to compete were laid down in a Treasury Minute—that was the basis of the contract which was made. By the terms of that contract each of the competitors was to receive a certain sum as compensation for the time and pains he devoted to preparing his plans; and in return for that sum his plans were to become the property of the Commission, whether he was the successful competitor or not. The Commission took care that the result of the competition should place them in the position of owners of all the plans of every kind which should be submitted to them. The terms of the competition further provided that the five Judges of the Designs should state in their opinion who was the successful competitor; and those terms also stated that the internal arrangements of the Courts and Offices was of vital importance, that on it mainly depended the failure or success of their concentration, and that its importance could not be over-estimated. It was a mistake to suppose it was ever intended that the competition should result in the selection of a particular design, which was thereupon to be the design adopted for the Courts. Its object rather was to test the relative merits of the different plans without pledging the Government to select a particular design, and erect the Courts according to that design. It was conceived that it might very well be that various useful hints might be taken from different designs; and the Judges of the Designs were to decide which of their authors showed the greatest skill and capacity for the superintendence of the erection of the new Law Courts. The Judges of the Designs proceeded with their work, and a very arduous work it was; and they were unable to say which one of the competing architects had been the most successful. They accordingly sent in what was called their "Award" to the Treasury, stating that they were unable to agree upon any one competing architect as being the most successful, but that putting two of the designs together—those of Mr. Barry and Mr. Street—they thought that of Mr. Street was the best for the external elevation, and that of Mr. Barry the best for the internal arrangements. Having received that Report from the Judges of the Designs, the Treasury wrote back to point out to them two matters of great importance. In the first place, the Treasury said the Judges of the Designs had not tested the estimates connected with the designs, on which much might depend; and, in the next place, that the Treasury felt itself in this difficulty—that whereas there had been ten or eleven architects competing singly, one against one all round, the Judges had adopted the designs of two together, and put them jointly in the scale against the single design of each other competitor. After getting that communication from the Treasury the Judges of the Designs replied that since their last Report they had tested the estimates, and that this did not alter their opinion; that they still could not agree upon the design of any one architect if taken singly; that they had done their best; that they were ready to give every assistance in their power, but that they could not alter their award. When these things became public some of the unsuccessful competitors said that it was an entire breach of the conditions of the competition—that they had entered the lists against each other singly, but not against any two men combined, and that they regarded the award as technically informal and invalid. The Treasury thereon consulted the Commission, which recommended that as this difference had arisen it should be referred to the Attorney General as arbitrator, in accordance with another of the original conditions. The Attorney General examined into the case, and no one need be surprised at the decision at which he arrived. His decision was that the reference had failed, that the award of the Judges of the Designs, as far as the competition was concerned, was invalid; that so far as that award was concerned Mr. Barry and Mr. Street could not be entitled to call themselves the successful candidates; and that the whole proceedings by competition were at at an end, because the Judges of the Designs had said that they could make no other award than that which was invalid. It then became the duty of the Government to consider whether they would take the responsibility of saying who should be the architect for superintending the erection of the Courts. They had become the proprietors of all the designs, and they had also before them the statement of the Judges of the Designs, as far as it went, that Mr. Barry and Mr. Street had showed the greatest amount of skill in respect to the points to which he had previously referred. He (the Lord Chancellor) must encumber that matter with another statement which connected itself with what he had already said. About the same time there had been going on another competition for the National Gallery; and, singularly enough, it resulted just in the same way as the other. The Judges of the Designs in that case, presided over by a Member of their Lordships' House, reported to the Treasury that, having endeavoured to exercise their judgment on the competing designs submitted to them, they were not prepared to recommend any one individual design for adoption, but they pointed out the design of Mr. Barry as exhibiting the greatest amount of architectural merit. The Government, having thus cast upon them the double duty of choosing an architect to superintend the erection of the Law Courts, and also of choosing an architect to superintend the erection of a National Gallery, took this course—They certainly had in those two Reports testimony of the highest value in favour of Mr. Street and Mr. Barry; and in the exercise of their judgment, and on the responsibility which devolved upon them, they assigned to Mr. Street the task of superintending the erection of the Courts of Law, and they assigned to Mr. Barry the task of superintending the erection of the National Gallery. The Government and the Commission were in possession of all the designs; they had the right to make any use of them which they might think desirable; they were not limited to those designs as regarded the internal arrangements; and there was much in all the designs as regarded the internal arrangements which was capable of improvement. Therefore, concurring in all that had been said by his noble Friend (the Marquess of Salisbury) about the importance of the internal arrangements of the Courts of Law, and the great advantage of; the three requisites to which he had referred—namely, that those Courts ought to be places in which persons could breathe, see, and hear—attributes which his noble Friend had reminded them could not perhaps be said to be all possessed by the Chamber in which their Lordships then sat; although he was bold enough to say that with respect to hearing, no man had less right to complain of that House than his noble Friend; but while concurring with him that those requisites were vital to a Court of Law, and also, while regretting that the award of the Judges of the Designs had failed in the manner he had described, he yet believed that the course the Government had taken would ultimately prove the one most conducive to the erection of a building which he trusted would secure the end that Parliament and the public had in view.


considered that some of the architects had been unjustly treated. After a short discussion in the other House it was determined to propose to a considerable number of our best architects to send in plans for which they were offered a certain sum (£800), on the condition that these plans were to become the property of Her Majesty's Government. Some of the most eminent among them declined, on the ground that they apprehended a want of fair play: to which it was replied that two professional gentlemen should be added to the list of Judges; and, on their names being mentioned and approved, all, being eleven in number, undertook the heavy task of forming plans for building the Law Courts, and the architects were particularly instructed to consider that light, air, quiet, and convenience in the various Courts were of primary importance, far more so than the outward appearance. After a long and minute consideration of the subject, the professional Judges determined that 41 points were in favour of Mr. Barry, 29 in favour of Mr. Scott; next came, I believe, Mr. Lockwood and Mr. Waterhouse giving to Mr. Street three points of preference, one being the the exterior, and two of minor importance. They added at the end of their Report, that they considered that Mr. Street's exterior was superior to the others, this being the gothic style. This was called no decision, because two architects were named, and Her Majesty's Government slipped out of their agreement. After such treatment, it is scarcely possible to believe that men of eminence will compete for the future.


said, he had considerable doubts as to the course that had been adopted. It seemed to him that they were bound to adopt one or other of the designs, and that Mr. Barry was entitled to the preference. He also thought it very unfortunate that, because of the injustice done to that gentleman in regard to the Law Courts, it had been resolved to adopt his plans for a new National Gallery. He thought there could be no immediate haste for a new National Gallery, when the Trustees were about to have possession of the whole of the rooms in the present building, and he believed that no one was satisfied with any of the plans that had been exhibited, and he regretted, therefore, that Mr. Barry was to receive that commission. A considerable sum must be voted for this new building, while only £12,000 were to be allowed for the new Government Offices, although the public were paying rent for hired buildings, in which the public business was transacted, and which were dispersed all over the town. This was a most unfortunate mode of dealing with these public works. He must express his opinion that Mr. Barry had not been fairly treated in the matter of the Law Courts, and the arrangement which had been come to was in every respect unfortunate.


said, he could not allow the remarks of the noble Lord upon the National Gallery to pass without a protest. He could assure their Lordships that the accommodation provided for the national pictures was very insufficient. It was defective in not providing the best light, in not giving due facilities for the circulation of the public, in the regulations for police purposes, and in the accommodation for students. The Trustees would gladly welcome the additional space acquired by the rooms now occupied by the Royal Academy; but it would be a great mistake to suppose that this would justify any delay in the erection of a new National Gallery worthy of our splendid collection of paintings. He hoped that the question of the National Gallery building would not be treated as secondary to any other. He must, moreover, express his regret, that though we had already had an opportunity of having a National Gallery sufficient for all requirements, and vastly superior to any other gallery in the world, and this at a small expense, yet for some reason which he was unable to penetrate, this plan was set aside and treated with contempt. He alluded to the proposed plan, by Mr. Barry, for the erection of a new National Gallery on the site of Burlington Gardens, which, had it not been unaccountably rejected, would now have been in an advanced state, and, indeed, near its completion; whilst the National Gallery as now proposed was wholly un- settled as regards the plan, and indefinitely postponed as regards the period of its completion. Few, if any, of their I Lordships could hope to see it finished.


said, it was due from him to Mr. Barry, whom he never saw but once, to say that he was perfectly right in representing that the Instructions given in regard to the Law Courts were to attend, not perhaps exclusively, but mainly, to matters of internal accommodation, convenience, and arrangement. No doubt it was supposed that a handsome facade could be obtained in addition; but the Instructions had reference only to the internal arrangement. It was his (Lord Cranworth's) duty, when he had the honour of holding the Great Seal, to preside over the Commission, and they were most laboriously engaged for several months in going through communications from all the different Law Courts and Offices as to the accommodation they respectively required, and these Reports were then embodied in Instructions to be communicated to the competing architects. It was due to Mr. Barry to say that he had carried these Instructions out in the minutest detail, and that the Instructions all had reference to the best mode of securing light, air, quiet, and facility of communication, as well for those employed in the Courts as for the public; and matters of a similar kind. He knew nothing of the merits of the question now under discussion, and was not competent to decide on the merits of the respective plans; bat it was due to M. Barry to remind their Lordships of the prominence given in the Instructions to all questions of internal arrangement. As the Law Officers of the Crown had given their opinion that none of the competitors had any legal right to be selected as the architect of the new buildings, and that the designs were by the conditions the property of the Government, the Government had of course the right of making the selection; and it seemed primâ facie a fair arrangement that Mr. Barry should be appointed to superintend the erection of the National Gallery, and Mr. Street that of the Courts of Law.


said, he could not regard the question at issue as one between Mr. Barry and Mr. Street, but whether or not the architect to be employed in a building in which utility was the chief consideration should be the architect whose design was so much superior in regard to convenience and arrange- ment. It seemed to him that the Government were going to employ the architect who in this respect had shown least capacity of all; and the public had the least likelihood of being provided with the building it required by the present arrangement. The Government had not only unfairly disappointed the architect who had earned the title of having sent in the best design, according to the Instructions, but had overlooked the public interest in their selection. He would ask, was is too late to re-consider the question of site? A few years ago, when this subject was first brought forward, a site by the river side was only in prospect, but now it was an accomplished fact—a splendid site had been provided by the Thames Embankment, and there was a general feeling that this should be the site of the new Law Courts. The grandest buildings should be erected on the noblest sites. Independently of all architectural considerations, the river side had the strongest possible claims—it was the best in regard to freedom from noise, security against fire and popular troubles, and opportunities of access. The site by the river side had almost every superiority except one—it was convenient to the Temple, but not so convenient to Lincoln's Inn. Inasmuch, however, as Lincoln's Inn had managed to carry on a successful business when the Chancery Courts sat in Westminster Hall, he did not think that even Lincoln's Inn would be greatly injured, if the site for the new Law Courts was on the Thames Embankment. If the matter were not finally settled, beyond all redemption, he would urge upon the Government to consider even now whether a nobler and more useful site could not be found by the river side. As to the present site, there would be no access to the Courts except from the Strand. With that exception there would be no one decent street which would give an entrance to the Courts, and as much money must be laid out in providing new approaches as had been expended in purchasing the site. He believed that if the Government adopted his suggestion, they would be able to re-sell the present site for pretty nearly what it had cost.


said, he had an impression that Mr. Barry had had a scant measure of justice, and that impression had been rather deepened than removed by the statement of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. His noble and learned Friend said that, if ornamentation and utility came into conflict, the latter, according to the conditions laid down, should have the preference; that the Judges of the Designs thought Mr. Barry's plan superior in respect of utility and Mr. Street's in respect of ornamentation; that their joint recommendations being referred to the Attorney General, he decided that the award was to be regarded as no award at all, and that, under these circumstances, it was in the discretion of the Government to make any use of the plans, whether, he presumed, in the way of adoption or combination. His noble and learned Friend added that while this matter was pending the question of the National Gallery arose, and that Mr. Barry being unquestionably first in that competition, and, being doubtfully first with regard to the Law Courts, the Government had thought it right to split the difference, and assign Mr. Barry the prize—a much smaller one—for the National Gallery, and Mr. Street the larger prize for the Law Courts. Now, he (the Earl of Carnarvon) maintained that Mr. Street had no claim, as far as the conditions were concerned, to the latter, and he could not see why the National Gallery should have been mixed up with the question of the Law Courts. If Mr. Barry was unquestionably first in the case of the National Gallery, he was plainly entitled to the prize; and if he was also first by virtue of the conditions in the case of the Law Courts, he was equally entitled to that prize likewise. Supposing him to be successful in both competitions, he could see no reason why both prizes should not be awarded to him. Happily, both these architects were very eminent in their profession, and the question could therefore be discussed with the less invidiousness. He did not expect much taste from any Government, for, as a rule, he thought they did not show much capacity in this respect; but Parliament was bound to insist that when conditions had been laid down they should be rigidly and faithfully adhered to, and he agreed with his noble Friend (the Marquess of Salisbury) that it would be most unfortunate as regarded the profession, and still more unfortunate as regarded the Government and the country, if public works were dealt with in this manner. He trusted that the Government would reconsider their most ill-advised decision.


said, he was not aware that in any document Mr. Barry had been described as unquestionably first in the National Gallery competition. The Judges were unable to recommend any one design submitted to them for the Law Courts; but they stated that they thought Mr. Barry's designs were the best in respect of internal arrangement, and Mr. Street's the best as an architectural composition. Now, the condition was that the plans of the greatest merit, both as regarded the interior and the exterior, should be preferred. But he had no passage before him which stated that if these two came into conflict the former should be sacrificed. The only stipulation of the kind, of which he was aware, was this— The arrangement of the Courts and Offices is of vital moment; on it mainly depends the success or failure of their concentration, and its importance cannot be over-estimated. He maintained that there had been no breach of contract, and he was not aware that such a thing had been alleged or suggested by any of the architects. The contract, in fact, according to the terms proposed, miscarried; and it being impossible to decide on a successful competitor, it became the duty of the Government to choose the person they believed to be the best. As to the collateral Report of Messrs. Shaw and Pownall, those gentlemen were in no respect the Judges, but were simply the advisers of the Judges; and he believed their Report was disagreed from by all the various bodies of the profession, who after all were the best qualified to decide with respect to internal accommodation. This was neither the time nor the place to discuss the question of site; but he believed that were the profession consulted they would, not merely by a large majority, but with something like unanimity, declare that the present site, though it might be less ornamental, was much more useful than one by the river side would be.


said, he was anxious that there should be no conflict on matters of fact. In page 11 of the "Conditions" it was said that the chief point to be considered was the question of accommodation and convenience. Now it was not merely Messrs. Shaw and Pownall, the professional assessors of the Judges of the Designs, but Mr. Cowper, Chairman of the Judges of the Designs who reported to the Government that Mr. Barry's designs were the best with regard to convenience of plan and internal ar- rangement, and Mr. Street's with regard to elevation only. His noble and learned Friend had said that he was unaware of any stipulation that if ornament and utility conflicted utility should be preferred; but he would remind him of this passage— The chief points to be kept constantly in view, and to be treated as superseding, so far as they may conflict, all considerations of architectural effect, are the accommodation to be provided and the arrangements to be adopted so as, in the greatest degree, to facilitate the despatch and the accurate transaction of the law business of the country.


remarked that the preference for Mr. Barry's design as regarded the interior, and for Mr. Street's as regarded the exterior, was expressed not by Mr. Cowper merely, but by the Commissioners. Messrs. Shaw and Pownall's Report was really quite beside the question. The passage which the noble Marquess had quoted was not before him, but he had no doubt that it formed part of the conditions.

House adjourned at a quarter past Eight o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.