HL Deb 12 March 1883 vol 277 cc144-55

in rising to call attention to the ventilators now being erected by the Metropolitan District Railway Company on the Victoria Embankment and in Westminster; and to move— That the evidence taken in 1879 by the Select Committee on the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways (City Lines Extension) Bill, and in 1S81 by the Select Committee on the Metropolitan District Railway Bill, and also the report of the proceedings of those Committees, so far as they respectively relate to the subject of the ventilators, be printed and circulated, said, that the storm of indignation which had arisen outside of the House in consequence of the carrying out of works, the effect of which would be to spoil the noblest public work in London, rendered it unnecessary that he should make any apology for bringing this matter under their Lordships' notice, the more that it was to that House, rather than to the House of Commons, where the railway, or rather the "directorial" interest was so powerful, that the public looked for the protection of their rights, properties, and interests from the grasping and devouring jaws of aggressive Railway Companies. When, some 15 years ago, the Victoria Embankment was on the point of completion, some uneasiness was caused in the public mind by its being disturbed for the construction of the Metropolitan District Railway. The alarm was, in some measure, dissipated by the assurance that little was to be heard and nothing seen of the railway, but the two hideous stations at the Temple and at Charing Cross. The Victoria Embankment was to be a beautiful boulevard, embellished with gardens, and to be a source of delight to the toiling masses of the Metropolis, who were to take their pleasure under the shade of its plane trees. Such was the state of things until a short time ago, when Loudon awoke one day to the knowledge that the Metropolitan District Railway Company were proceeding coolly to utterly mar and destroy this magnificent public work by erecting on it, at short intervals of 100 yards, these hideous and abominable structures on the Victoria Embankment. The construction of these ventilators, as he had said, would utterly destroy the beauty of one of the noblest public works in the Metropolis; and he would remind their Lordships that the Embankment, combined with the series of landscape gardens which had sprung up during recent years, formed such a boulevard, and was the source of such an amount of pleasure and delight as had been anticipated. These ventilators would belch forth volumes of smoke, steam, and stench upon the luckless citizens who frequented the gardens or walked along the Embankment itself. He (the Earl of Mill-town) quite agreed with the President of the Board of Trade that this was nothing less than an outrage, and an outrage which aroused the greatest indignation; and people demanded, with surprise, what Parliament had been about to grant such powers as enabled the Company to put up these odious structures,' and they asked what had become of the safeguard provided by the Act of 1864, by which it was enacted that no erection should be placed on the Embankment without the consent of the Metropolitan Board of Works. He wished to know what had happened in the 13 years that the railway had been in existence to cause such a sudden and urgent necessity for the construction of those ventilators? On that point he would read an extract from a newspaper which might be considered somewhat of an expert upon this question. Speaking of the ventilation of the railway between Charing Cross and the Mansion House, The Engineer said— It is a mistake to suppose that the Company want to make the air in this section better for the sake of its passengers; as a matter of fact, the air is not so bad there as it is in many other places on the line. What the Company want to get rid of is steam, with which the tunnel—especially between the Temple and the Mansion House—becomes so charged, that it is impossible for the drivers to see the signals until they are within a couple of yards of them. We state this as the result of observations personally made, not from the carriages, but from the footplate of an engine. There ought to be no steam in the tunnel of the Metropolitan Railway; and there would be none, if the Company provided proper means of condensing the exhaust steam of the engines. For that purpose, nothing more is required than a sufficient supply of cold water in the 6ngine tanks. The Metropolitan engines making the round trip, as we may call it, from Moorgate Street, have lost all power of condensation long before they reach the section under Queen Victoria Street. It will be understood from what we have said that the proposed ventilating shafts will give forth a great deal of steam; and the dwellers in Queen Victoria Street will find, all too late, that they will have far worse trouble to contend against than invisible foul-smelling gases. Of course, the proper remedy does not lie in discharging steam and bad air into the centre of a great public thoroughfare, but in preventing the accumulation of either in the tunnel. It was said by other eminent authorities that the ventilating shafts would give forth a great deal of steam, the evil effects of which would soon be felt by the dwellers in Queen Victoria Street. He understood that the railway did not require better air, but that they wanted to get rid of their steam. There were several alternatives that might be introduced, besides the obvious remedy of condensing their steam. There were compressed air engines, which had been tried with success in various places, and there was the endless rope system, which had also been proved satisfactory; but, even if ventilating shafts were to be used, there was no reason why they should be sent vertically into the Gardens. Less inconvenience would be caused if lateral, instead of vertical, shafts were erected. Why could they not be placed on property of the Company, where they might, in many quarters, smoke to their heart's content? Greater expense would be involved, it was true; but were they to be told that the beauty of the Thames Embankment was to be destroyed, and the comfort of millions of the inhabitants set at nought, in order that the District Railway Company Directors might declare a better dividend? In justice to the public, whose trustees their Lordships were, and in the hope that steps might be taken, even at the eleventh hour, to avert the establishment of an offensive system, and prevent what would be nothing short of a national calamity, he begged to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.

Moved, "That the shorthand-writer's notes of the proceedings of the Select Committees on the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railway Companies Bill, 1879, and on the Metropolitan District Railway Bill, 1881, and of the evidence taken before the said Committees, be laid on the Table, and that such portions of the said proceedings and evidence as relate to the ventilation of the railways be printed."—[The Earl of Milltown.)


said, that, as he had acted as Chairman of both of the Committees before whom the question of the ventilation of the Railway had come, he must trouble their Lordships with some observations. What seemed to be the prevailing impression was that, in 1881, Parliament gave the Metropolitan Railway Company a perfectly new power of roving about the Metropolis, and doing generally what they pleased in the way of making ventilators. He would show that this was not the case. He had understood his noble Friend (the Earl of Milltown) to say that the ventilation of the railway tunnel had been good enough for many years, and was therefore good enough still, and the same had been said by people out-of-doors. He had also said that there wore alternative systems of ventilation which would obviate the necessity of building these ventilators. Now, the first portion of the Underground Railway opened was that which ran under the Marylebone Road, past Portland Road and Baker Street, over which line Sir Edward Watkin now presided. It did not appear that, at that time, the smoke difficulty was anticipated, as no provision was made for any ventilation. The Metropolitan Railway, however, were ultimately compelled to get certain powers to enable them to ventilate the tunnel in the Marylebone Road. This they did by agreement with the street authorities. In 1871 a Bill was passed through Parliament, authorizing a railway to commence somewhere near Charing Cross, and to run to the North of London. That line had, it appeared, fallen through, but it was bonâ fide intended to be made. Provision had been made in that Bill for the ventilation of the line into the streets, by agreement with the street authorities, or, failing that, in such manner as should be decided by an engineer appointed by the Board of Trade. This was the first occasion that an arbitrator was provided for—now 12 years ago. Again, in 1874, a similar provision was inserted in an Act called the "Inner Circle Completion Act." This line was generally known as "Mr. Newman's line," and the Act was, perhaps, obtained to sell. At any rate, the powers were abandoned by an Act of 1879, in which the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Companies agreed to give Mr. Newman's Company a sum, upon arbitration, not exceeding £50,000, in compensation for their expenses in obtaining their Act, and for some mysterious advantages they were supposed to possess, the nature of which he did not quite comprehend. The whole of this amount was, he believed, ultimately paid. He would now ask their Lordships' attention to the Committee of their Lordships' House that sat in 1879 to consider the Bill he had just referred to, and which was a measure dealing with many matters, among which the question of ventilators was only one. That question was fought out on principle. Three proposals were at the time put forward, the first being to construct an open-air station in Trinity Square. That the Committee refused to allow, unless the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House should give their consent. The second was that ventilators should be constructed in various places, as at Queen Victoria Street; and the third was to make lateral shafts from the sides of the tunnel under the houses, and from the back of the houses to run up chimneys to admit fresh air. Sir John Hawkshaw, who always gave his evidence in such a straightforward manner as to carry conviction to one's mind that he was giving the result of his own practical experience, and not merely theorizing, was called to give evidence before the Committee, and expressed a strong opinion that the only proper mode of ventilating the tunnel would be by making openings into the air. Before the Committee of 1881, the evidence of the District Railway Company went to show that it was not a shareholders' question at all, but one which concerned the convenience of the 35,000,000 who travelled over the line every year. The Metropolitan Board of Works, who were opponents of the Bill, did not for a moment dispute this; but the point of difference was whether the Board of Works should have an absolute veto, or should be subject to the decision of an arbitrator. But between Westminster and Black friars the Metropolitan Board of Works were not the only persons interested in this question. There was a gentleman owning property on the Embankment—Mr. Keyser, the proprietor of the large hotel near Black friars Bridge—and there was the property on which the City of London School was now built. The owners of these properties had strong objections to ventilators being run up beside their buildings. At this spot there happened to be a subway under the Embankment between the railroad and the carriage road; and, at Mr. De Keyser's instance, the Committee of the House of Commons had decided upon a ventilator being opened through the crown of the tunnel into this subway, which would carry the steam out to the river. The Corporation of London objected to this; but the Committee decided to leave the clause as it came from the House of Commons. Next, as to the Embankment itself, the Committee considered the point whether mechanical means could be employed for ventilating the tunnel, so as to dispense with the use of shafts. As to those means, Mr. Myles Fenton, formerly manager of the Metropolitan Bail way, and now manager of the South-Eastern, gave evidence to the effect that he had gone into the matter in connection with the Metropolitan Line. Mr. Fowler, the Company's engineer, thought that, by having a fan as part of the machinery, something might be done by way of exhausting the foul air, and admitting fresh air; but after some experiments at the Portland Road Station, the worst ventilated station on the line, it was found that that would not answer. Again, when Sir Edward Watkin became Chairman, he thought something might be done, and consulted Mr. Ramsbottom, a gentleman of great experience in such matters, and then tried some further experiments in this direction, but without any good result. He (the Earl of Belmore) had seen it stated that the Metropolitan Board of Works made but a lukewarm opposition. The fact was, however, that they made as good an opposition as they could. One of the principal witnesses in opposition to the Bill then under investigation was Mr. Richardson, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of the Metropolitan Board of Works; and he stated that between Black friars and Westminster alone 20 openings would be required, so that no one could walk in the gardens without receiving the fumes from the tunnel. Mr. Richardson admitted there must be openings somewhere, and the only question was where those openings should be placed. And as to the fumes arising from the tunnels, Mr. Richardson, when asked if the Metropolitan Board of Works would say where the openings for their emission should be placed, said he would rather have them come into the road than into the gardens, because the gardens were for the enjoyment of the public, and their comfort would be less interfered with if the ventilators were in the road; and that somehow these fumes did disappear within a few yards of the openings. Still, the witness considered the openings a nuisance. Then Sir Joseph Bazalgette, the engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works, came into the box. He must trouble the House with a few extracts from his evidence. [The noble Earl then quoted from Sir Joseph Bazalgette, and particularly from an answer of his in cross-examination, in which he admitted, with regard to a plan suggested by him for ventilating tunnels by exhausting the air, that he had only known it tried in a tunnel closed at one end—that was, in construction.] He (the Earl of Belmore), therefore, regarded the evidence as applied to tunnels in use as mere theorizing. He would refer to a discussion which had taken place between the counsel and himself, with a view of showing that the Committee had taken every pains to make the powers of the arbitrator as ample as possible. He (the Earl of Belmore) wished to remind the House of what had been done already, and what the scheme precisely involved. He had visited the sites of the ventilators on Saturday last, and he found that in Queen Victoria Street there were to be four ventilators, none of which were as yet finished. On the Embankment, between the City of London School and the Temple, two ventilators, from which steam and smoke issued freely, were already in existence. The first of the new ventilators other than the subway was on the other side of the Temple Gardens, and was agreed to by the Benchers of the Temple, who, in 18G4, obtained a clause providing that no ventilator should be made within 100 yards of their Gardens. They now accepted a clause reducing the distance to 30 yards. Another new ventilator was to be placed in the Savoy Gardens, on the Embankment, where three others had been now for some time in working order, one adjoining Charing Cross Railway Station, and the two others at a very short interval. There would also be a new ventilator between Charing Cross and Westminster Bridge, another near St. Margaret's Church, opposite the Aquarium, and another near the Westminster Palace Hotel. The latter would, no doubt, be a nuisance; but no one had appeared to oppose it, on behalf of the Hotel Company, before the Committee. These, together with the five smaller shafts already existing, were all that were proposed for the ventilation of this part of the Railway. The Duke of Westminster had come to terms with the Company about another in Eccleston Street, and had agreed to sell them some land for the purpose, as provided for in the Bill. He did not think that the refuge ventilators, such as the one now being constructed on the Embankment, would be open to very serious disadvantages. He did not pretend that ventilators of any kind were an improvement; but ventilation of some kind was an absolute necessity, and he contended that the Committee had decided, in the best possible manner, the question how to give, in the least hurtful manner, the ventilation which was absolutely necessary. As to alternative means of ventilation, he thought that a number of lateral shafts from the top of the tunnel of the Railway, leading to the river, running under the Embankment, and unseen from the road, might possibly be substituted in that part of the line, and might answer the purpose. He thought that if their Lordships would allow the evidence given before their Lordships' Committee to be printed and circulated, it might be of service, and would justify the action of that Committee, as showing that they had come to a decision in accordance with the weight of evidence.


said, the question appeared to have been treated as one which was to be fought over between the Metropolitan Board and the Metropolitan District Railway Company; but it seemed to him (Viscount Bury) that there was another party to be considered, and that was the public at large, who were jealous of sacrificing one of the few beautiful places the Metropolis had recently obtained, which had no sooner been given up to public recreation and enjoyment than all who had to carry out a public work sprang forward to seize a part of it. The noble Earl (the Earl of Belmore) gave up the whole point he had been contending for when he said that it was not at all necessary to use the Embankment if an alternative scheme of shafts from the tunnel to the river wall by means of the subway were practicable. In that case, they had an alternative scheme in no way open to the same objections as the other. It might be useful to have the evidence given before their Lordships' Committees published; but the noble Earl had given very copious extracts from that evidence which would probably be sufficient. What they wanted was that the public at large, who enjoyed the Gardens and the Embankment, should have the case reopened, because they believed that both the Metropolitan Board of Works and the Railway Company had neglected the interests of the public. It was also requisite there should be a pause during which the question might be reconsidered with a view to obviating the very grave objections to this mode of ventilating the railway. Against the award of Captain Galton there was nothing to be said, because he was tied down by the terms of reference. He (Viscount Bury) had been over the whole of the line where the proposed ventilators were to be placed, and he would only say that they would entirely destroy the character of those beautiful Gardens on the Embankment. A compromise might be effected, and lateral openings made under the road of the Embankment to the river.


said, that the position of this matter was very peculiar. The Railway Company had the law on their side beyond a doubt. They had gone through all the usual forms, and, after the fullest investigation before the Committees of both Houses, had obtained an Act of Parliament. That being the state of the case, the Board of Trade were powerless to interfere in the matter, and could express no opinion or take any steps whatever as regarded it. On the one hand, their Lordships must be convinced, after the statement of the noble Earl who was Chairman of the Committee of that House (the Earl of Belmore), that every care was taken to go thoroughly into the question submitted to them, and that the Committee considered fully, on their merits, all the points which were then raised in opposition to the Bill, and gave their decision only after full and mature deliberation. On the other hand, their Lordships must sympathize most deeply with the feelings expressed by the noble Earl who introduced this question (the Earl of Mill-town). Although unable to express any official opinion, yet, speaking as a private Member of the House, he (Lord Sudeley) apprehended there could be no doubt that it would be a great public scandal and disadvantage that the great highway which had been such a magnificent improvement to the Metropolis should be defaced, and to a great extent blocked, by hideous brick ventilators. The Gardens formed so material a part of what we proudly regarded as the "lungs of London," where in summer months crowds of people resorted for fresh air and to enjoy a view of the river, that if they were turned into a pestilential quarter, where sulphuretted hydrogen and steam would be continually poured forth, it would be a national loss. It seemed to him that there could be no practical use in printing and circulating the evidence taken before the Committee last year, and in incurring a large expenditure. Suppose the evidence were all printed, the utmost it could show would be that, so far as the matter then rested on the evidence given two years ago, the Committee did their duty. After the statement made by the noble Earl they might take that as granted. Whatever that evidence was which was then tendered, it was certainly not equal to what they now found in actual results. Nothing would alter their opinion as to the present position of the case, and the possible magnitude of the evil. Under these circumstances, he ventured to submit that, so far as the Paper were concerned, to print the evidence would be useless. The matter rested with the House, but the Government did not recommend it. The great difficulty and practical question was, what ought now to be done? As he had said, the Board of Trade did not see how they were to interfere in the matter, and could express no opinion whatever; but it was hoped that when the Railway Company saw that Parliament and the public were distinctly and unanimously hostile to this scheme, and that there was a widespread expression of public opinion upon the point, they would see that it was to their interest to bow to that opinion, and make such alterations as might be desirable.


said, he fully agreed with what had been said by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Sudeley) that there would be very little good in printing the evidence. They knew what it was, and what was the decision of the Committee. The question was whether anything could be done now to remedy the evil. There could be no doubt that in putting up these ventilators the Railway Company had power to do what was conferred on them by Par- liament. No doubt, if they came again to Parliament and asked for that sort of thing, some condition would be made. At present, the Company had the game in its hands, unless Parliament should do what it had never done, in order to take away privileges given by Act of Parliament. Therefore, in his opinion, some other remedy must be sought. If new evidence were taken, persons practically acquainted with the subject might suggest alternative schemes; but, perhaps, the best thing that could happen in the form of relief would be that, by the great improvement of electrical power, the use of steam on these railways should be dispensed with. It was a strong consolation if the travellers by the railway were benefited, for the passengers under the Embankment were far more in number than the persons who used its surface.


said, that, after the discussion which had taken place, he would withdraw his Motion.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.