HL Deb 19 July 1875 vol 225 cc1644-52

, in asking the Under Secretary of State for War a Question respecting the sanitary state of the troops quartered in Hyde Park Bar-racks, took occasion to refer to the conduct of the Knightsbridge Improvement Committee, expressing some doubt as to whether they had even effected any improvement in that locality, and declaring it to be his opinion that they might more properly be described as a committee for pulling down the buildings to which he was about to call attention. A deputation from the Committee had, he might add, waited some time ago on the First Commissioner of Works. He could not understand how Mr. Hardy should have handed over that deputation to the First Commissioner of Works, whose office was a civil one, and it was certainly filled by a very civil officer. He found fault with the First Commissioner of Works for having received the Deputation, as he was not competent to decide that question, and it was not to be supposed that Mr. Hardy ordered him to receive it. Nothing denoted the healthiness of barracks better than the absence of zymotic disease. He had obtained an account from the medical officers as to the health of the regiment—the Life Guards—during the past 18 years. The information thus supplied to him disclosed a degree of healthiness among the men which their Lordships would be glad to secure for themselves. In the Hyde Park Barracks there occurred only one death from zymotic disease in six years; while in six years at Windsor Barracks, there were two such deaths; and also two in six years at Regent's Park Barracks in the same regiment. At Knightsbridge there had been 29 cases of zymotic disease in the six years. Of these, 19 were of a simple character, five were small pox cases, two scarlet fever, and two typhoid fever. One death occurred from small pox, and the remaining 28 patients returned to their duties. The deputation that had waited upon the First Commissioner urged that either the barracks should be repaired, or they ought to be pulled down. Baron Worms said that scarlet fever had prevailed; that it would be exceedingly dangerous to retain buildings that were extremely bad in a sanitary point of view; that the barracks were a hotbed of fever, and might be the means of spreading that disease in the metropolis; and, as a ratepayer and an owner of property, he claimed protection from that danger. Baron Worms, he believed, was a German gentleman, who had come not very long ago to reside near that so-called den of filth and disease; and in his case they had a striking example of the great liberty of speech allowed in this country. He should like to ask what would have happened to Baron Worms under his own Government if he had used similar freedom of language in demanding the removal of the barracks from Berlin? Why, he would, probably, soon have found himself in a prison. Hyde Park Barracks were excessively popular both with the officers and the men who were quartered in them, and he denied that the accommodation they afforded was so insufficient as was alleged. There were more cubic feet of air in them per man than in any other barracks in the country. Mr. Lowe stated that the barracks were out of repair, and this was no doubt quite true. In a way that was simply disgraceful they had been left without repairs. It was said also that the barracks narrowed the road like the neck of a bottle, and that the traffic was in consequence seriously obstructed. This was an entire romance. He had not once seen a block of traffic at the barracks. With respect to a character of the regiment, on which the deputation seemed to have cast some reflection, he could only say that what was generally sought in a soldier was to be found amongst the Life Guards, than whom no regiment was more sober and regular. He had never met with a drunken man at the barracks. The police said the Life Guards were temperate men, and they never had but one case to deal with from the regiment; and that was a man who, having been unjustly taken up, was acquitted. The Hyde Park Barracks were no more a nuisance than those situated in Albany Street and at Windsor, and against which no complaints were ever heard. It was true, as alleged, that there was a serious nuisance in the neighbourhood; but the magistrates and the landlords, if they tried, could very soon put it down. When the safety of London, of the Government, and of Her Majesty, was imperilled, where would you put barracks for the purpose of meeting such emergencies? It would, of course, be necessary to make Hyde Park the base of operations. Two thousand Infantry, a considerable number of Cavalry and guns, must be brought there. Consequently, if the barracks did not exist it would be necessary to construct them for the safety of London. The removal of the barracks appeared to him to be simply a question of money, because no doubt the ground landlords thought the removal would increase the value of the land.


said, a great number of false issues had been raised and comments made upon them, and reckless statements—unsupported by even the smallest rag of evidence—had been uttered on all sorts of occasions against these barracks. As an inhabitant of that immediate neighbourhood he was able to assure their Lordships that these statements were untrue. Nor had there been any unanimous opinion expressed by those who resided in the neighbourhood in favour of their removal. It was possible, indeed, that a majority might entertain such a desire; but he knew that the matter had never been properly tested in any way. Besides, this was not a case in which the comfort or the convenience, or even the material interests, of the inhabitants of that part of the town ought to be solely consulted. He was not a military man, and therefore he would not presume to give an opinion, whether they ought or ought not to be removed. But the question was one which should be decided by the Government and the military authorities alone, who were responsible for the general well-being of the troops and the safety of the town. There was no ground of complaint with regard to their situation as to the approach to London. Because the width of the road was nearly the same for half a-mile, so that the removal of the barracks alone would be no improvement unless a much larger portion of Hyde Park was given up for the purpose of widening the road. The Chief Commissioner of Works since receiving the deputation had stated that he never meant to cast any imputation on the Household Troops. The memorial, however, contained very strong language, for it talked of the existence of Knightsbridge Barracks and its natural associations which defiled and vitiated the neighbourhood; but if inquiries had first been made the contrary would have been found to be the truth. The highest military authorities had said that the soldiers were not in the habit of frequenting the houses in the neighbourhood—that their conduct was good, and that they were always ready to assist the police in the execution of their duty. The police, too, reported even more favourably of their conduct. He hoped that those who were so anxious for the removal of these barracks would contrive so to discuss this question as not to find it necessary to have recourse to unjust, unfounded, and most unfair attacks upon the characters of the officers and men of what he believed to be the best conducted, best disciplined, most orderly and respectable body of troops not only in England, but in the whole world.


My Lords, I agree in what my noble Friend has just stated in regard to the character of the troops quartered at Knights-bridge Barracks. I do not believe that in any part of the world could there be found three regiments so well conducted, in every respect, as the three regiments of Her Majesty's Household Cavalry that have been so unjustly attacked. It is all very well, my Lords, for gentlemen to say that it is a great inconvenience to have the barracks in their neighbourhood; but, if they felt that, why on earth did they come to the bar-racks? The barracks have not come to them, but they have come to the bar-racks, and if they choose to come to the barracks they must put up with any inconvenience or annoyances which may result. But I maintain that the annoyances of which the memorialists complain have nothing on earth to do with the barracks. It is the licensing magistrates upon whom rests the responsibility of keeping the neighbourhood in question in an orderly way. They licence the public-houses and places of amusement of which the memorialists complain. I should myself like to see every public-house in the neighbourhood closed; not because I think that the troops frequent them, but because of the temptation which they offer to men. In point of fact, the men of the Household Cavalry are not allowed to go into those houses; and I repeat that for myself I should like to see every one of them closed. There is no such thing in the neighbourhood of the Regent's Park Barracks; there is no such thing at Windsor; and if it exists at Knights-bridge the licensing magistrates are responsible for it. I do not blame the licensing magistrates for granting licences if they deem them to be necessary; but if there be complaints as to the character of the houses it is the business of the magistrates to cause them to be closed, or to be conducted in a proper and respectable manner. However, a much graver question arises as to the position of the barracks. We, no doubt, live in this country in peaceful and orderly times; and I hope that, with the blessing of God, they may long continue; but it would be unjustifiable if the military authorities shut their eyes to the fact of the possibility of something happening in a population so extensive in the Metropolis to cause disquiet. It is their bounden duty to look to it, though I hope the time will never come, but if it does, they could with this small nucleus of troops in the Parks—smaller, I believe, than any other country in the world could keep regularity and order in such an enormous community—preserve the peace of the Metropolis. The men ought to be placed, as in these barracks, in the heart of government—and Her Majesty's Palace, the Public Offices, and the Houses of Parliament are all in direct communication with the barracks. The late Duke of Wellington always said that it should never be forgotten that in this great City the Parks are the only military ground that we can occupy. I quite admit that some years since, when the Government of the day seemed disposed to entertain the idea of the removal of Knightsbridge Barracks, I said they might, if they liked, select Millbank as the new site; but I, at the same time, objected in the strongest manner to all removal. If Millbank be healthy now it certainly was not so some years ago. Indeed, it was so unhealthy that it was thought the convicts could not remain there; but though convicts could not live there, soldiers were to be stationed there. I say on principle it would be highly objectionable to remove the troops from Knightsbridge to any of the other places that have been pointed out. I hope this question may now be definitively settled, because I think that one of the reasons why the matter is again being agitated is the uncertainty which has been allowed to prevail in reference to it. I hope that the Government will come to a determination in the matter, and will say that the barracks are not to be removed from Knightsbridge. They will not find any other place so well suited for the purpose. Knightsbridge is not only well situated, but it is, in point of fact, the best Cavalry barrack that we have—best for the health of the men and most convenient. When any emergency arises, Knightsbridge holds more troops than any other bar-rack. We have had a whole battalion of Infantry and additional Cavalry there, and yet the ground which is now stated to be too small for the ordinary number of troops contained them all. If it be determined that the barracks shall remain where they are, then I think that improvements should be made in them, which improvements have, from time to time, been put off because it was considered doubtful whether the troops would, in fact, remain there. Great improvements might be effected at but little expense. The removal of the forage barn would be a great improvement, and a respectable front might be put to the barracks at a very moderate cost. As far as the convenience of the public is concerned, it seems to be forgotten that there are two roads passing the barracks—one for omnibus, cab, and other heavy traffic, and another for carriage traffic on the Park side of the barrack buildings. I have, however, no objection to the approach being improved; but that might be done by pulling down the houses opposite, which I should be rejoiced to see removed. By pulling down the objectionable houses opposite we should widen the road, whilst, at the same time, we should leave the barracks in a position which is essential for the security of the Metropolis and the requirements of the service. As I have said, I hope that the barracks will remain where they are, but will be considerably improved. If we could pull down the houses as far as the passage east of the barracks, I should be glad to have the additional room; but, at the same time, I am con-tent to remain upon the ground that we at present occupy. It is essential that it should be borne in mind by those who complain of the road being narrow in consequence of the barracks being there, they might very fairly be told that the new houses have come to the barracks, and not the barracks to the houses.


observed, that he had very little to add to what had been said on the subject, especially as he had not sufficient military knowledge to deal with the main question of strategical position. The matter had been warmly discussed, both in and out of Parliament. No doubt persons who were interested had a right to attempt to get these barracks removed; but then there was an equal right to protest against the means which they had adopted for the furtherance of their wishes. There need not be any surprise that owners of property in the neighbourhood should wish to improve that property, and that persons residing at Princes' Gate and other places should wish to have a broader approach and better access to their houses. It was, however, only fair to ask them to put their appeal upon this ground, and abstain from making entirely groundless charges against the troops in the barracks. With regard to the position of the War Office on this question, it was the opinion of the Secretary of State that the Department had nothing to do with the improvement in an architectural point of view of the part of London in which the barracks were situated: all that the War Office had to look to was to see that the barracks were good and useful in a military point of view, and that in a sanitary point of view they could show a pretty clean bill of health. The Question of the noble and gallant Earl referred to sanitary matters, and in reply he (Earl Cadogan) could say that these barracks were as healthy as any of the other barracks in which the Household troops were qartered in London. He had a report of the surgeon of the 2nd Life Guards, dated the 15th July, which said that there had been no fresh case of scarlet fever since the 14th June last, that there were only three non-commissioned officers and men who were suffering in addition to one woman and three children. Since the 10th of July no case of scarlet fever had been admitted to the hospital, and all the cases were now convalescent. He had another Return, made on Friday last, which said that there had been no further case of scarlet fever. He sent an Inspector to the barracks on Thursday last in reference to the state of the building, and the report was that there were repairs and alterations wanted, yet, upon the whole, it was in a very healthy state. He had nothing to add to those reports, except to ask their Lordships whether, in the face of the state of things which they represented, Lord Alfred Churchill was justified in characterizing the bar-racks as a foul fever den." The whole tone of the debate had pointed so completely in the direction indicated by the noble and gallant Earl who had originated it that it was unnecessary for him to say more upon the subject.


wished merely to say that when he had the honour of being appointed to the War Office the first thing he had to do was to meet a large deputation appointed to wait upon the War Office and the Office of Works to urge the removal of these barracks. He gave the strongest answer to the contrary, founded on the two reasons which had been stated by the illustrious Duke (the Duke of Cambridge)—first, that the houses of the objectors were brought to the barracks and not the barracks to the houses; and, secondly, that, in face of the fact that the buildings were in a military and sanitary point of view admirably suited for the purpose to which they were put, the country would not be justified in spending the large sum necessary for their removal. We might not always be in the same state of tranquillity as now, and a day might come when the population of London would be glad to know that the barracks were in their present position.


believed that this was the best possible site in the whole of London for barracks, and therefore that nothing could possibly be said against the place on that ground. On the other hand, he thought that the existence of the barracks there was prejudicial to property in the neighbourhood, and, upon the whole, that it would be a considerable metropolitan improvement if the barracks were removed. He had not a word to say against those most distinguished regiments which had been in the barracks. He could not imagine that anybody could say a single word against the Household Troops; nor that anything could be said against the military position of the barracks, because everybody knew that, in the opinion of the great Duke of Wellington, in was a most excellent position. One thing, however, was clear, and that was that it was the duty of the Government to bring this question to a complete and final settlement one way or the other. So far as it was a question of metropolitan improvement it would, no doubt, be under the control of the Board of Works; but he hoped that it would not be made a shuttle-cock of, and bandied about from one Department to another without any settlement being come to. After a full consultation with all whom it was his duty to consult upon the occasion, he came to the conclusion that the barracks ought not to stand in the way of improvement, if improvement could be made; but he never said that the barracks should be removed upon military grounds.