HL Deb 02 April 1878 vol 239 cc396-411

LORD THURLOW rose to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the Petition of a Meeting held in London, praying for the opening of Museums and Picture Galleries on Sundays, which was read and ordered to lie on the Table of the House on the 21st of March; and inquired, Whether Her Majesty's Government were prepared to take this subject into their early and favourable consideration, and, if not, whether they would state the objections which, in their opinion, existed to opening those places on Sundays—as the only day of the week that the working classes of the population of London had practically at their disposal for visiting them? The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise with great diffidence to ask Her Majesty's Government the Question that stands in my name; for, although I feel confident that the subject is one that will command a large measure of sympathy from many Members of your Lordships' House, yet, when I consider its great interest and importance, I cannot but regret that it should not have found a more able advocate and exponent than myself. In the first place, I desire to state that I approach this subject in no feeling of hostility towards Her Majesty's Government; but that, on the contrary, the sole motive by which I am actuated is the hope of obtaining some such expressions of opinion as may, if it were possible, strengthen the hands of Her Majesty's Government, and encourage them to deal promptly and boldly with what I feel to be a subject of great and growing importance. The first portion of my Question— Whether Her Majesty's Government may feel themselves enabled to grant the prayer of the Petition to which I have ventured to call your Lordships' attention, and throw open the Museums and Picture Galleries of London for some hours on Sunday afternoons, is a perfectly simple one, and calls for little comment or remark. It is a Question that, I think, must recommend itself, at any rate, to the favourable consideration of all thinking men, and I heartily trust that Her Majesty's Government may find themselves enabled to grant me an affirmative reply. But, my Lords, if this is not so, and if it should appear that I have been too sanguine in entertaining this expectation, then, in that case, and to meet such an eventuality, I would ask your Lordships' permission to examine briefly a few of the difficulties and objections which appear to me susceptible of being raised against this proposal; because I think these difficulties and objections will be found upon examination to be more imaginary than real, and to vanish at our approach. It may, for example, be broadly alleged that there is something un-English, if not positively un-Christian like, in this proposal; but, my Lords, to this allegation, I would reply that a great change has come over the public opinion of this country during the last 20 or 30 years, and that, to my ears, there is an antiquated ring about it. We have it on the high authority of the noble Earl at the head of the Government, that 25 years, or a quarter of a century, is a portentous period of time, leaving many changes in its wake; and I venture to think, my Lords, that among others, this is one change that it has brought about, and that a proposal of this kind, though it may once with some propriety perhaps have been called un-English, can no longer with correctness be so termed. And I am fortified in this belief by the fact that, during a tolerably long residence abroad, I have always observed how greedily all classes of my countrymen avail themselves of every opportunity of visiting such places whenever such opportunities are afforded to them; and, in regard to the un-Christianlike nature of the proposal, I venture to think, and I trust the right rev. Bench will agree with me, that the Christianity of this country rests upon a broader and a surer foundation than the opening or shutting up of a few Museums and Picture Galleries on Sunday afternoons. For my own part, I see nothing un-Christianlike in endeavouring to increase the happiness and contentment of the working classes, even on a Sunday; and I further hold that, in exact proportion as we may succeed in increasing their happiness and contentment, we shall also promote their moral elevation. Again, my Lords, it has been whispered that the working classes of this country are, perhaps, less appreciative of works of Art and of collections of this kind—possibly less intelligent, or less orderly in their behaviour, than the corresponding classes of society abroad. To such whisperings I, my Lords, must lend a deaf ear. The history of this country, if it proves anything at all, proves, I think, and proves abundantly, all classes of society in this country to have been always animated by a deep love and admiration of public order; and, as to there existing any inferiority of intelligence, I think the industrial prosperity of this country sufficiently answers the question; while, lastly, as to their alleged incapacity for appreciating Art collections, I would submit that their capacity in this respect has not yet been tested. But ad- mitting, for the sake of argument, such inferiority to exist, could it, I ask, be cause for surprise, when we consider how all places of instruction, except churches and the like, and all places of in-door recreation, except public-houses and the like, have been always systematically and hermetically sealed to the working classes of this country on the only day in the week practically at their disposal for visiting them? Then, there really remain, my Lords, so far as I know, only the purely technical and mechanical difficulties—if I may so call them—and I venture to think that these, also, are equally easy of removal, or of being overcome. It may, I think, be not unreasonable to expect that a proposed innovation of this kind may meet with more or less opposition from the custodians and guardians of these Repositories of Art and Learning; and I think it also not unreasonable to assume that more or less of this opposition may be prompted by a regard for their own convenience—and I am bound to say I think their convenience ought certainly to receive careful consideration. I also think this may easily be effected by slightly adding to their numbers, at a small cost, and to such an extent, as may prevent their being deprived of the number of hours of leisure and of the holidays to which they have been accustomed; but, when their convenience shall have been consulted in this manner, I must say that I know of no reason why we should not call upon them for their share of Sunday labour. All other classes and persons are called upon to perform more or less Sunday work, and I know of no valid reason why these custodians and guardians should alone be exempt. Park-keepers, the Police, the Fire Brigade, soldiers, sailors, and nearly all classes of domestic servants, work more or less on Sundays. I can, from personal experience, state that the Diplomatic Service works on Sundays, and that the Government of India works on Sundays; and I would ask Her Majesty's Government, if they themselves do not work on Sundays—and work cheerfully on Sundays—whenever the public interests call for such a sacrifice at their hands? Then, my Lords, I fail to see that this or any of the other difficulties or objections to which I have referred, or, indeed, any others that I can imagine, can claim to be regarded as insurmountable, when the paramount importance is considered of providing an alternative to the public-house on the many cold, and wet, and dreary Sunday afternoons, that we in London are so well accustomed to. I say on the many cold, and wet, and dreary Sunday afternoons, for with fine weather I have nothing to do—on fine weather Sundays the people have the Public Parks and Gardens, and nothing further is required. Before concluding, I desire to observe that, in dealing with this question, I strictly limit my proposal to the opening of the places mentioned in the Petition before the House. I am no advocate for the introduction into England of what is known as the Continental Sunday. I only advocate the opening of places like the British Museum, the National Gallery, the South Kensington Museum, and possibly some few other places all more or less under Government or municipal supervision and control, and I by no means advocate the opening of theatres, music halls, and what I will call places of speculative entertainment. I think there is a broad distinction between the two, and I think it is one that the people of this country are fully capable of appreciating. There is but one more point on which I desire to insist. It may be denied that Sunday is the only day at the command of the working classes for visiting such places. I maintain that it is so; for, in my opinion, when, after a week's toil and confinement within the four walls of his factory or workshop, the working man becomes free, say at noon on Saturdays, out-of-doors recreation is what he stands most in need of. I also hold that Saturday afternoon is his regular and legitimate time for the transaction of any business of his own, for shopping and the out-of-doors requirements of his family—unless, indeed, it is desired to encourage the system of Sunday shopping, which already exists to so great an extent, and is so great a disgrace to many of the poorest districts of the Metropolis. And, my Lords, it must not be forgotten that there remains one widely-recognized claim on the artizan's Saturday afternoon, and it is assuredly not one to discourage at the present moment by any unnecessary competition—I allude to Volunteering. I will not now detain your Lordships any longer. I am well aware that I have not exhausted one-half of the arguments that may be adduced in favour of this proposal. I have purposely refrained from dwelling on the past history of the question, which was one that I desired to approach impartially and solely on its own merits—on these merits I will now leave it in your Lordships' hands, confident of sympathy and support; and, although I will not on this occasion follow the custom of your Lordships' House, and apologize for having taken up so large a measure of your Lordships' time, as I feel confident your Lordships will always find the time, and give it ungrudgingly and without stint to the consideration of all questions, like the present, having for their object the promotion of the welfare, and the increase of the happiness and contentment, of the working classes; yet, before I sit down, I trust I may be permitted to express my appreciation of the courtesy which your Lordships have extended towards me, and my gratitude for the patience and indulgence with which your Lordships have listened to these imperfect observations.


said, that when it was contended that public feeling on this subject had very much changed during the last 25 years, he must say that the document to which the noble Lord had referred as the basis of his appeal to the Government afforded a very slender foundation. The Petition in question was signed by one name—True—that the name of the person signing was said to be that of the chairman of a public meeting; but, regarded from a Parliamentary point of view, the Petition was one signed by a single petitioner, and their Lordships could only take cognizance of it as such. Therefore, he must say that the proof of public opinion referred to by the noble Lord was one of the most slender description. As to the alleged change of public opinion on the subject within the last 25 years, they must look at what had taken place in the other House of Parliament during that period, for he believed that until that evening there had not been any discussion of the matter in that House; but, certainly, there had been several in the other House of Parliament. He would go back to 1856, when, as he remembered perfectly well, a Motion on the subject was made in the House of Commons. In favour of that Motion, which went somewhat in the same direction as the proposition presented by the noble Lord, there were on that occasion 48 votes, and against it there were 376. By a very decided majority, therefore, that Motion was rejected. The next time the question was revived in the House of Commons was in 1869. On that occasion the proposal created so little interest in the House of Commons that the House was counted out, and no conclusion was arrived at. The proposition was renewed in 1874; on which occasion the Resolution for opening Museums, Libraries, &c., on Sundays was supported by 68 votes, and negatived by 271—an Amendment being carried to the effect that— it was undesirable any change should be made in the existing arrangements for closing them on Sundays. Last year, when the proposal again came before the House of Commons, it had 87 votes in its favour, and 229 against it. He thought, therefore, as far as numbers were concerned, it could scarcely be said that there had been a marked change in public opinion during the last 25 years. What was more remarkable was this—that when the Report of the Debates on the subject in the other House were looked to, it would be found that the most powerful speeches made against the proposal were those delivered by the Representatives of large constituencies of the working classes, such as the Members for Southwark, Leicester, and New-castle-on-Tyne. Further, the signatures to the Petitions against the proposal bore no proportion to those in favour of it—the signatures against the Motion numbering 130,000, while those on the other side were only something like 5,000; therefore, if the Government adopted the course which the noble Lord suggested, they would not be acting in support of the public feeling of the country, but directly against it. He must say that he was not surprised at the feeling of the working classes of this country on this subject, because those classes—especially in London—must feel that there was not a capital in the world in which Sunday was so completely the property of the working classes—so completely a day of rest—as it was in this Metropolis. Naturally, therefore, they were extremely jealous of anything which would tamper with the property they possessed in the Sunday, or might in any way lead to their being deprived of it. They very well knew that if the example were once set of opening the public institutions on Sunday, we could not stop there. We could not stop short and say that public institutions were for public improvement and private ones were not. In fact, the working classes knew that, if we once entered upon a course of that kind, there would be no stop until we reached the state of things now existing in foreign capitals, where the employed had absolutely no protection in the observance of the Sabbath. There was the authority of Mr. Smiles for saying that places of public improvement on the Continent were not extensively visited by the working classes on Sundays. But he thought the proposal ought to be resisted on higher grounds. Nothing could be more injurious to the intellectual, the moral, and the physical welfare of the country, than that anything should be done by the State which would lend countenance to the idea that they were anxious to get rid of the sanctity of the Sabbath as now enjoyed; therefore, speaking on behalf of the Government, he could not hold out any hope that the decision of successive Ministers on the subject would be reversed.


expressed sympathy with the noble Lord who had introduced the subject to the notice of the House, and regretted the answer which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had given to the Question put to the Government. He (the Earl of Morley) attached as much value as the noble and learned Lord, or any noble Peer, to the institution of Sunday as observed in this country, as a break in the monotonous round of work, and also of the ordinary and less serious kinds of amusements, which, to a great extent, characterized what was called the Continental Sunday. At the same time, he was strongly in favour of opening the National Museums and Galleries on Sunday. The noble and learned Lord had referred to the manifestations of public opinion on the subject, and he (the Earl of Morley) must at once admit that there was a considerable division of opinion among the poorer classes. And he could not deny that the House of Commons had decided more than once against the measure. However, that was no reason why the question should not be discussed by their Lordships. The noble and learned Lord had given an historical sketch of the appearances of this Motion in the House of Commons. He (the Earl of Morley) would also refer to a document of 1854. In that year, Mr. C. Villiers' Committee on the Public House System reported, and in that Report, devoted several paragraphs to the question now before the House. He would beg leave to read one paragraph which was agreed to unanimously by the Committee, in which sat a noble Lord (Lord Hampton) opposite— The National Gallery, the British and Geological Museums, and other places of public instruction are paid for by the nation; and it does not seem reasonable to your Committee that these places should be closed upon the only day that it is possible for the majority of the population to visit them without serious loss. He (the Earl of Morley) would remind the House that this was a poor man's question. The rich man had ample leisure for amusement and instruction on every day of the week, and, besides this, he could, as a fellow or shareholder, obtain admittances to the Zoological Gardens or the Crystal Palace on Sunday. The poor man was debarred from these opportunities by the necessities of labour for six days, and on the seventh the National Museums and Galleries, which he helped to pay for, were shut against him. Could it be maintained for an instant that it could deteriorate the value of Sunday, or would impair the moral and religious tone of the population, if they had opportunities of studying objects of the highest scientific or artistic beauty and interest. On the contrary, he believed that it was a valuable element of education, and would afford pleasure to thousands whose comfortless homes drove them to take refuge at the public-houses. Besides this, they had experience, and not mere theory, to guide them. Kew Gardens and Hampton Court Galleries had now been open on Sunday for 20 years, with the best possible effect—thousands visited those places every Sunday. In Dublin, the Zoological Gardens and Botanical Gardens had also for many years been opened on Sundays, and there was a very general opinion that much good had been done by that. He (the Earl of Morley) drew a distinction between National and private institutions, and he understood that the Memorial, to which the noble Lord who introduced the subject referred, confined itself to the first; because the National Museums and Galleries could only afford serious instruction and amusement, whereas there was no security whatever that private institutions would always confine themselves within the limits which they at present imposed on themselves; and, moreover, once admit such institutions, it was difficult to draw a line, and many institutions might claim to be admitted within the line, which he, for one, should not wish to admit, whereas the National Museums and Galleries were alone, and occupied an entirely different position, and the argument that this was the thin end of the wedge was inapplicable. The only argument against the change was the employment of servants and guardians; but arrangements could be made, he believed, at a slightly increased cost, to meet this objection, by giving a portion of the attendants present on Sundays a holiday on some other day. Then, it must be remembered, that the attendants were a small number compared with the probable number of visitors. He (the Earl of Morley) admitted that the question was one which affected the conscience of many persons, who had quite as good a right to their opinions as he had, and therefore he strongly deprecated any intemperate agitation on the subject; but he personally held a very strong opinion—that the change advocated, far from detracting from the value of Sunday, would greatly add to it, and would afford to the poorer classes of the community opportunities of useful recreation and instruction which were at present rarely open to them.


said, he entirely sympathized with the noble Lord who had brought forward the question; because he was convinced that the object which the noble Lord had in view was the improvement and well-being of the working classes. He could not, however, but feel convinced that his proposal, if adopted, would not only not tend to such well-being, but would operate in the very opposite direction. The natural consequence of the proposal would be to bring about the Continental Sunday in this country, with its unin- terrupted work for the artizan. The Public Gardens were open very properly on Sunday not requiring the work of additional persons. ["No, no!"] The Park-keepers and others must be there on Sunday, at any rate. The proposal put the question of Sunday observance on a new basis. Hitherto our legislation had been based on one or other of two principles—either on the principle that it was right, as by Divine appointment, to have one day of rest out of seven, or on the principle that it was the duty of the Legislature to make provision whereby all persons, irrespective of their religion, might have an opportunity of devoting one day to their religious duties, free from the occupations of the other days of the week. And others who allowed little weight to this consideration, maintained that one day's rest in seven was necessary for the health and well-being of the population. In the main, exception to the observance of the Sabbath has been allowed only on the grounds sanctioned in Scripture—necessity or charity—though, in the case of public-houses, there was an exception to that rule. But now, for the first time, the question was made one not of duty but entirely of expediency. It was proposed to open on Sundays, for the purposes of recreation, places which could not be opened on that day without the presence of many attendants and the employment of considerable labour. The term "innocent recreation and instruction of the people" was used by those who advocated the proposal. But could that term be limited to Museums and Picture Galleries? There were a great number of other places beside these that provided admirably for the recreation and instruction of the public. Would not the Polytechnic and Concerts of Sacred Music be brought within it? It was said that there was a distinction between institutions from which no profit was derived and those which were opened for profit; but did anyone suppose that individuals could long be kept from doing what the State set the example of doing? Once open public institutions on Sundays, and from these the opening would get to concerts, from concerts to theatres, and from theatres to music-halls. Then, if they opened public places of recreation and amusement belonging to the country, private traders, con- tractors, and shopkeepers would ask—"Why may I not employ my men on Sundays, when persons are employed in music-halls and theatres for profit on Sundays?" Over 20 years ago, when that subject was agitated, he had a large parish under his charge. There were 18,000 of the working classes in it, and they were, for the most part, strongly against it. They felt that if once a beginning were made in the direction of Sunday labour, the thing would go on, and they in large numbers signed a Petition against the opening of the Crystal Palace on Sundays. There was a class for whom the proposal for opening the Museums and Picture Galleries on Sundays was especially desired—the young men who were employed in shops and offices on the other days of the week and had no homes on Sundays. But the question was whether, to meet the requirements of a comparatively small class, the members of which soon changed to other positions, we should be justified in adopting a measure which, within a quarter of a century, would deprive England of the great blessing of the Lord's Day, and introduce the Continental Sunday.


My Lords, this is a question which cannot be altogether dissociated from that of temperance, affecting, as it does, so vitally the welfare of the people of this country. The Committee on Public Houses, of 1854, went very carefully into, and reported at length in favour of, opening Public Museums, Art Galleries, and so forth, on Sundays, suggesting, also, a method of meeting the difficulty of labour by a system of relief. They also recommended the repeal of the provision of the Act of George II., which enforces the closing of all places on Sundays where money is taken for admission. I quite admit that circumstances have altered within the last 20 years, owing to the establishment of the Saturday half-holiday and to the increased amount of leisure that the working classes have on other days of the week, when they have more frequent opportunities of visiting these places. I do not believe that this is so much a poor man's question as that of the higher class of artizans, and of the middle classes. We know that drunkenness is descending into the lowest classes of society. These are not the classes who frequent, or who would frequent, at all events, to any great extent, these places; and, therefore, I believe that the temperance question is not so intimately connected as it was 20 years ago, with the opening of Museums on Sundays. But I do believe that there are many thousands in this country who would derive both profit and pleasure from such opening, and whose culture and taste would be improved thereby. The Lord Chancellor observed that if the British Museum and the National Gallery were opened, there would be no stop there. There would be a demand for opening the Zoological Gardens and the Crystal Palace. This is exactly what we want to effect. I cannot conceive anything more desirable than to open, as has been done in Dublin, the Zoological Gardens on Sundays to the thousands of the poorer classes who would flock there; the Crystal Palace, too, which has been described as "the most temperate public-house in the world," would only afford innocent gratification to thousands. If the more central institutions could be opened within reach by a walk of the mass of the population of London, Sunday travelling, such as that is to Kew and other outside places, would, perhaps, be even diminished, and not increased.


said, he had resided many years in Paris and other Continental cities, and the result of his experience in visiting the Galleries there, both on week-days and on Sundays, was that a vast number of the working classes attended them on the Sunday. The question was, whether it was not expedient to open places of rational amusement on Sundays. He thought it was in the interest of morality that the working classes should be allowed opportunities of rational amusement without the excitement of dramatic entertainments. They would thus be withdrawn from public-houses, and such amusements as dog-fights and cock-fights, which still went on in some low neighbourhoods. He believed that, if properly encouraged, the working classes would prefer rational amusement to drink.


said, he was glad that this question had been raised, and only regretted that it had not been brought before their Lordships in some more definite shape, in order that the country might have the benefit of a fuller expression of the opinion of the House upon it. It seemed to him an important matter that some measure for opening such places as Museums and Art Galleries on Sundays should be passed; because it would extend to the mass of the people, especially of the poorer class, the great benefits and blessings enjoyed by the rich only, at present. By the study of Art, the mind was distracted from the cares and worries of life. The advantages which had been experienced by the rich in this respect would prove much greater in the case of the poor. From a mere utilitarian point of view the extension of such means of education would be of much value. It would give many artizans and draftsmen an opportunity of studying the best specimens of their peculiar branches of trade. This would enable them to improve their own position in the world, and to improve the general character of the productions of this country; for in our power of excelling in the conception and execution of Art lay our only chance of competing with foreign nations. As a means of education such a measure would be most important. When they thought of the great mass of our fellow-creatures who were shut up in the blind alleys and courts of this gigantic city, and reflected that they had no opportunity of counteracting the demoralizing effect of their surroundings by taking advantage of the elevating and humanizing influences of Nature, they should not prevent their enjoying what was next best—the reflection of Nature in Art. Although the Saturday half-holiday had come into fashion, Sunday was really the only day on which the mass of the people had leisure enough to devote to these objects. The chief objection appeared to him to be in the danger that, if they opened Museums and Art Galleries on Sunday, the opening of theatres and music-halls would follow. And there was also a religious objection, into which he did not feel himself competent at present to enter; but, if the objection was so strong as was alleged, he wondered that the Episcopal Bench had not more occupants than the single right rev. Prelate whom he saw present. As to the objection about opening the music-halls, he thought that abilities much inferior to those of the Lord Chancellor would be quite sufficient to frame a mea- sure that would clearly distinguish between those Galleries and such places as theatres and music-halls. He could speak of one public exhibition that was open on Sunday—the Brighton Aquarium—and he had not heard that any injury had resulted either to the inhabitants of the tank or of the town. He hoped, on some future occasion, an opportunity would be given for a further expression of opinion on the subject.


said, he was quite aware of the deputations from the working classes which had been received urging the opening of the British Museum on Sundays. No doubt, the officers of the British Museum were paid by public money; but, as one of the Trustees, he might state that it was really a place for study, and if the reading-room were opened on Sunday, the result would be that the servants of the institution would be kept hard at work all the year round. Where it was merely the case of a Gallery to be walked through, its opening would be easy. He had the great pleasure of opening the Gardens at Kew, and he believed the result to be very satisfactory to the public. People walked about, and there was no difficulty in the matter. But it was by no means so easy to open the British Museum, because, if they did, they must keep the same persons there working throughout the week. If, therefore, anything was to be done, he hoped there would be some inquiry beforehand whether a line might not be drawn between such things as a Picture Gallery and the British Museum.


said, that when he was at the Privy Council, he very frequently received deputations on this subject; and, though he had not felt justified in making the change, he was bound to say that he sympathized with the noble Lord, and, as far as the principle was concerned, he went with him. With respect to a remark made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, as far as his recollection went, he could not say that the great majority of the workingmen were against the opening of Picture Galleries and Museums on the Sunday; he believed the supporters and opponents of the Sunday opening of places of amusement were pretty equally divided. Those who were opposed to the proposal were, he thought, wrongly influenced by the fear that if these places were opened the hours of labour during the week might be extended. As to the remarks of the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset), with respect to the British Museum, it would not be necessary, in his opinion, to open all parts of the Museum, and thus but a small number of persons need be employed. He did not think there was much logical force in the argument of the right rev. Prelate as to the consequences which would result from the opening of such places on the Sunday—he did not believe that it would be the first step to the introduction of the Continental Sunday into this country. The noble Duke near him (the Duke of Somerset) had spoken of Kew Gardens. Hampton Court might also be mentioned; and the noble Duke (the Duke of Westminster) had given his own experience of the opening of the Gallery of Grosvenor House, and had said that they had shown by their demeanour how much they had appreciated it. He might also mention that when another noble Duke (the Duke of Devonshire) had thrown Chatsworth open, the order and sobriety of those who visited it were very remarkable. For some reason the gardens were shut for a time; the same people came, but spread themselves over the public-houses, and scenes of drunkenness and disorder occurred. The gardens were again opened, with the same good results. With proper regulations, great advantages might result to the public without throwing much labour on the officials. He did not blame the Government for not yielding in this case; because he remembered that on the discussion of the subject, by the late Government and previous Cabinets, they came to the conclusion that the feeling of the public was not sufficiently strong to justify them in bringing such a measure forward.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock to Thursday next, Eleven o'clock.