HL Deb 16 August 1881 vol 265 cc19-22

called the attention of the Government to the Report of the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery. The noble Lord pointed out that it was worthy a far better building than that in which it was placed, and that it was in dangerous proximity to a shaft from some works and to a number of wooden sheds. The national loss would be very great if the Gallery were destroyed by fire; and he alluded to the fact that a fire did really break out in January last, but did not extend to the Gallery. He urged the importance of providing a special building for the pictures where their safety might be insured, and where plenty of space could be provided, not only for those already in hand, but for those which were annually acquired. He could bear testimony to the immense importance of the Gallery as a national monument, and to the interest felt in it by numerous working men and others; and he confidently recommended it to the attention of the Government.


said, he hoped that steps would be taken to remove the large quantity of inflammable matter in the shape of wooden sheds now standing in the immediate vicinity of the Gallery, and also that the furnace and chimney stack attached thereto would also be removed to a distance. He would, as a Trustee, be very glad to see the portraits in a better building; but he could see no immediate prospect of that, considering the claims that were being made for other Galleries.


said, that Her Majesty's Government felt both the great importance of the matter and the difficulty of dealing with it. No one knew better than the noble Lord himself how important wore the questions involved. The noble Lord was himself Chairman of a Committee, which sat in the other House in the year 1877 for some months, and went very fully into the whole question of Public Buildings in the Metropolis. He would remember the result of that inquiry was that the Committee were unable to make any practical suggestion. They merely submitted in their Report the different plans which had been laid before them, without arriving at any conclusion, and expressed a hope that Government would deal thoroughly with the question. At the present time, two other large buildings—the Law Courts and the Natural History Museum—were drawing towards completion, and it was hoped that next year when they were finished, and the great drain on the public purse lessened, that arrangements might be made for the erection of other public buildings. He was afraid that it would be impossible to make the Portrait Gallery thoroughly secure in the present building; but he could assure the noble Lord that precautions had been taken for some time past by the First Commissioner of Works to prevent danger by fire. If the noble Lord would refer to the Report just issued, he would see that the Trustees—of which the noble Lord himself was one—had stated their approval of what had been done in the following terms:— The Trustees record with considerable satisfaction the great improvements that have been effected during the past year, under the direction of the First Commissioner of Her Majesty's Office of Works, in the parts adjoining the eastern entrance. By the construction of a strong side wall and the introduction of skylights a spacious vestibule had been created, which is found to be singularly well suited for the display of sculpture. Solid iron doors running on rollers have been substituted for the ordinary hinged doors of wood, and the western side of the wooden shed of the adjacent Indian Museum has been faced with solid walls of brick, thereby minimizing the risk of fire. This would show the noble Lord that the First Commissioner of Works had by no means been so neglectful as had been assumed. So far as the stack and boiler were concerned, it was under consideration whether it would not be possible to move them away from the building, as the Trustees recommended. Before resuming his seat, he would only say that he agreed it would be impossible to overrate the loss that would occur were these National Portraits to be damaged. The Government hoped that the time was not far distant when a sum could be afforded to erect a proper and thoroughly safe deposit for this invaluable Collection.


remarked, that the wooden sheds on the western side of the Exhibition buildings were in a very discreditable condition. They were in a state of decay, and altogether untidy, dilapidated, and unsightly. They ought to be removed, as they were, practically, deteriorating the value of property in the neighbourhood. He shared the wish of the noble Lord (Lord Lamington) to preserve from fire this most valuable Collection.


said, as son of the first Chairman, he naturally took a great interest in this Collection, and hoped that, to avoid all risk of fire, the Government would at least move away the furnace and chimney stack adjoining the Gallery. These valuable pictures were not insured against fire, and, if destroyed, would be irreplaceable.

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