HL Deb 12 March 1886 vol 303 cc608-22

, in rising to move— That a tumble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that Her Majesty will be pleased to direct that the National Gallery, the British Museum, and the Natural History Museum shall be open to the public weekly on three week-day evenings till 10 p.m., in order that Her Majesty's subjects whose occupations during the day prevent them from visiting these institutions may have the advantage and enjoyment of studying the national collections, said, he hoped their Lordships would consider this question carefully, because it seemed strange that so beneficial a change, which was recommended by the House of Commons 26 years ago, should not have been adopted. He did not wish to reflect upon the conduct or action of the Trustees of the British Museum and the National Gallery, who were perfectly right in taking great care of the all-important and priceless treasures committed to their charge; but the question which he had brought to the notice of their Lordships was one for Parliament and for the Government of the day to consider. He hoped it would be decided that the time had come when the great boon of opening the National Collections on week-day evenings should be conferred upon the hundreds of thousands of people in London. The late Government, he might remark, had no opportunity of carrying the proposal into effect; but the noble Marquess, who was absent from the House (the Marquess of Salisbury) had instructed him to adopt every means in his power to secure the opening of the Museums and Galleries on week-day evenings. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Plunket) who had held the Office of Chief Commissioner of Works in the late Government was in favour of the proposal, and his noble Friend (Lord Iddesleigh), when First Lord of the Treasury, spoke strongly on the question, advocating the opening of the Collections to the public on two or three evenings a-week, He trusted that in time such collections as the Royal Academy would also be opened on week evenings to the public either free or at a nominal charge, and that there would be no difficulty in throwing open some parts of the Tower by night to the large population around it. He submitted that to carry the proposal into effect would confer a great benefit upon artizans, mechanics, and people who were employed in banks, counting-houses, warehouses, and workshops, and especially would it be an advantage to the young. Such people had a great deal of leisure at their disposal. They had the whole of their evenings to themselves, and one of their greatest difficulties was how to dispose of them. He believed the long evenings hung very heavily on the great mass of the population. There was one very curious and encouraging fact which their Lordships ought to note, and that was that if they inquired of the great employers of labour, as he had lately had to do in connection with another matter, they would find that a great number of young men employed in labour had now some cultivated pursuit quite independent of their daily work. It would be found that some took up theology, others botany, birds, or shells; and among many there might be found a great taste for drawing and painting. That was one of the most encouraging signs of the age, and it was for that large and he believed increasing class of men that he particularly pleaded with their Lordships. He believed it would afford great delight to these young men to have these great Halls and Galleries open to them from G to 10 o'clock in the evening—just the hours that hung most heavily on their hands; just the hours they would otherwise have to spend in their sometimes, he was sorry to say, not very pleasant homes. He believed that the advantage, at any rate, to the younger rising generation of London would be really untold, and it was on their behalf he especially asked their Lordships to consider this matter. It might, perhaps, be said that he was a dreamer on this subject; but to that his simple answer was—What had happened at South Kensington and Bethnal Green? South Kensington Museum had now for nearly 30 years been open to the public for three nights in the week, and during that time some 7,000,000 of people had visited the Institution in the evening. The total number of visitors, day and night, during the same period, was 17,000,000. These figures then showed that the proportion of evening visitors was very much larger than that of day visitors; and, of those evening visitors, Sir Henry Cole stated that he observed that a large number of them were what were called working men—that is to say, they were of that class whose evening meal was tea or supper and not dinner. Bethnal Green Museum, too, had been opened since 1872 for three nights in the week, and nearly half the total number of the visitors to that Institution came during the 12 evening hours of the week. I When they considered those facts, he confessed it did seem very strange to him that these Galleries could not be opened. Let them look at the authorities in favour of his proposal. On March 27, 1863, a Select Committee of the House of Commons recommended— That institutions such as the British Museum and National Gallery should be open on week-day evenings to the public, and that as the opportunity thus afforded of bringing the instruction and pleasure to be derived from visiting them within the reach of those who are occupied during ordinary working hours would be appreciated by them, it is desirable that they should be thus opened between 7 and 10 in the evening, at least three days in the week. Then, on May 6, 1870, after a debate on the evening opening of Museums, Mr. Lowe, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, said in regard to lighting the National Collections— We might be on the eve of some scientific discovery which would remove the present risks and objections; besides, sooner or later, we should have to build a new National Gallery and a Museum for the reception of our natural history collections. These new buildings, of course, could be constructed in such a manner as to be safely lighted with gas. On May 19, 1874, the House of Commons adopted the following Amendment, moved by Mr. W. S. Allen, M. P.:— That the House is of opinion that all possible facilities should be afforded for the moral and intellectual recreation of the people by opening Museums, Libraries, and similar institutions on week-day evenings."—(3 Hansard, [219] 508.) In 1883 and 1884 their Lordships also passed Resolutions, urging the desirability of opening the British Museum and National Gallery on week-day evenings. The only difference between those two occasions and the present was that he had now to ask their Lordships to go a little further and to address the Crown upon the subject. During the last Parliament, in August, 1881, 191 Members of the House of Commons memorialized the Trustees of the National Gallery, asking that the Gallery should be kept open to the public till 10 o'clock at night on every week-day. In March, 1882, 200 Members of the House of Commons memorialized the Trustees of the British Museum with the same object. Then Sir Henry Cole said— I cannot conceive why the National Gallery should not be lighted up at night if properly prepared, and if the ventilation were made what I presume it could be made. But there were still greater authorities than these. In May, 1882, he found, from a letter from the Trustees of the British Museum to Mr. Daniel Grant, M.P., that the former body had taken the matter up. In that letter they said— The Trustees have, during the last three years, made trial of the electric light in the reading room of the Museum, and for the purpose of lighting it in dark weather, and keeping it open for students until a late hour, and this has been done with very satisfactory results. On July 19, 1883, the hon. Gentleman the Member for the London University (Sir John Lubbock) also said, in reply to Mr. Daniel Grant— The same objections, however, do not apply, or apply with much less force, to the electric light; and subject, of course, to security being taken for the safety of the building and its contents, and on satisfactory arrangements being made with reference to electric lighting in the district, the Trustees will be prepared to apply to Government for the funds necessary to enable them to open portions of the Museum in the evening."—(3 Hansard, [281] 1882.) And on February 28, 1884, the hon. Gentleman the Member for the London University (Sir John Lubbock), who was one of the Trustees of the British Museum, said, in reply to a Question asked by Mr. Daniel Grant, M.P., that— The Trustees of the British Museum have applied to Her Majesty's Government for the funds necessary to supply electric light in the new Natural History Museum. This application has been refused so far as the present year is concerned, and it is therefore impossible for the Trustees to open the Museum in the evening."—(3 Hansard, [285] 62.) That brought him down to August of last year, when the Trustees of the British Museum made a formal application to the Treasury to be allowed to use the electric light. It was true that he was asking by his Motion, that not only the Museums but also the National Picture Galleries might be opened. He did not think that would be considered very daring, when he referred their Lordships to a Memorial addressed, on January 28, 1885, to the Trustees of the National Gallery, and signed by 57 out of 73 Royal Academicians and Associates, in which they urged the Trustees to take into consideration the best means of lighting the great National Collections of pictures, so that they might be opened to the public on three evenings in each week till 10 o'clock. He could not believe that a body of men, who were specially interested in pictures, would have made that request if they had believed there could be the slightest danger in it. 2,400 working-class organizations had asked for it, through Mr. Broadhurst, and the Trades' Union Congress of last autumn adopted a resolution in favour of it. He thought he had now satisfied their Lordships that there was really a real consensus of opinion and authority in favour of the Motion. It was remarkable how rapidly the authorities were increasing in its support. As to the difficulties that existed, there was, first of all, the question of light. Of course, if it were simply a question of gas, there might be a risk of fire, though he thought gas might safely be used in the great buildings if it was used from the outside, or if there were properly constructed roof arrangements. But now electricity was in use, and in that there was a great advantage, for, as pointed out in a letter in The Times of March 11 from Mr. Robinson, there were many pictures which would not bear the light of day for any length of time, but might safely be exposed to the light of gas or electricity. He thought there must be very much more danger to these Public Institutions from heating apparatus than could possibly accrue from the use of electricity. It had been urged against his proposal that damage might be caused to the pictures by the breath and dust that would be caused by a large assemblage of people; but he could not understand why that danger should arise specially in the evenings. But even if that were the case, it would be very easy to complete the glazing of the pictures in the Public Collections. Only 89 now remained unglazed. Another more serious objection had been urged—namely, that in times of anything like popular disturbance danger might arise in respect of these priceless works of Art from outrage; but he thought that the risk was very much greater on a foggy day than when the Galleries were lighted with the electric light. The last objection in regard to the National Gallery was that there was a danger of the disreputable persons who infested the neighbourhood going into the Gallery at night. He could not believe, however, that our police regulations were so bad that we should not be able to prevent any outrage against propriety in our National Gallery. He did not think we ought to give up this great boon to respectable people in consequence of a panic fear lest some bad characters should come in. Of course the change would cost a certain amount of money. The great library of the British Museum was lighted by electricity, and he was informed that the estimate for lighting the whole of the Museum was something like £14,000. Of course there would be the cost for additional attendants on three nights of the week, but that would not be very great. He trusted that the public would be amply supplied with seats in these great Galleries, so that they might have opportunities of resting. If the difficulty of money really stood in the way, he would make a suggestion which would perhaps shock those who were connected with these great Institutions—namely, that for two or three years the grants for fresh buyings should be somewhat diminished. He submitted his Motion with confidence to their Lordships, because he believed they would rejoice if it were possible to bring to an end the struggle of the last 26 years; and he felt sure it would be satisfactory to them if this great boon should come owing to the action of their Lordships' House. Moved, "That a humble address be presented to Her Majesty praying that Her Majesty will be pleased to direct that the National Gallery, the British Museum, and the Natural History Museum shall be open to the public weekly on three week-day evenings till 10 p.m., in order that Her Majesty's subjects whose occupations during the day prevent them from visiting these institutions may have the advantage and enjoyment of studying the national collections,"—(The Earl of Harrowby.)


said, the question raised by the noble Earl was one of great interest, and one which it was impossible to approach except with feelings of the strongest sympathy and with an earnest desire to see the proposal carried out. There could be no doubt that if it were possible, with due regard to the expense involved and the safety of our priceless Collections, to enable any large number of the working classes to spend the evening in our National Galleries and Museums, an enormous blessing would be conferred upon all concerned. The noble Earl had stated these benefits with great force and clearness; but he had passed over the objections very lightly. This, of course, was no Party question; it was purely a social problem, and whichever Government were in power would gladly assist in solving it. Unfortunately, it was a matter which could not be dealt with without serious consideration. In the first place, the main question to settle was this—Would the working classes attend these places if opened as proposed in sufficiently large numbers to warrant the expense incurred? Many high authorities doubted whether people who had been working all day would to any extent be likely to visit these Galleries in the evening, however much they would be willing to go on a Sunday. It was true that at South Kensington Museum, where the experiment of having three free days in the week had been tried over a number of years, it had to a certain extent been found successful, and that about 20 per cent of the total number visiting the Exhibition were there in the evening; but this percentage was after all very small in actual number. He found that in 1885 the total number of visitors to South Kensington was 900,000, of whom 169,000 went in the evening. These numbers had somewhat fallen off during the past three years, probably owing to the Exhibitions in the Gardens. It was a question, however, whether if the National History Museum were opened in such close proximity the number would not be further reduced, and be divided between the two Museums. At the Jermyn Street Museum in 1885 the total number of visitors was 45,000, of whom 17,000 went in the evenings. But the Museum was only open on two evenings in the week, and those attending the lectures were included. At Bethnal Green in 1885 the total numbers were 450,000, of whom 209,000 went in the evening. These statistics certainly showed that a fair amount attended in the evening; but the number was absurdly small, taking into consideration the enormous population surrounding the Museums. Taking the three Museums now open at night, it meant that about 2,500 were divided among them during the evenings they were open. Whether, if more Museums were opened and greater facilities given, these numbers would largely increase, remained the problem to be solved. Of this there could be no doubt, that if the Gallery and Museums were open at night, there must be a satisfactory attendance to justify the expense. To solve this problem, and to ascertain what that number would be, it seemed most desirable that further experiments should be made. The Memorandum which had been presented by the Trustees of the National Gallery, but which had not yet been printed, showed that there were several difficulties besides expense which stood in the way. Some of their objections could undoubtedly be met and overcome; but it was perfectly clear that those distinguished gentlemen, who were the custodians of the priceless treasures of this country, looked upon opening the National Gallery as an experiment which could not be tried without a considerable amount of risk. In the objections raised they pointed out a probability of the Galleries becoming the resort of idle and immoral people from the neighbourhood who now infested the Hay market, and who would drive respectable people away. This, on the other hand, it was argued, was purely a question of police management, and was one which was got over at the Exhibitions at South Kensington, Jermyn Street, and Bethnal Green during the last few years. A few police in plain clothes had been found sufficient to stop all nuisance in this respect. Danger from fire seemed now to be greatly diminished by the introduction of electric lighting, as if properly carried out there could be no question that this system was much less harmless and dangerous than gas. With regard to the danger of the light going out opinions differed; but it was stated that if electric lighting were arranged with duplicate plant, and the buildings were illuminated by two distinct circuits, all possibility of the danger of the rooms being left in darkness was entirely removed. Even working with a single circuit at South Kensington and Bethnal Green no trouble whatever had arisen from this cause. Whether these objections could be removed he knew not; but the Trustees of the National Gallery were bound to emphatically point out every conceivable danger that could arise, and no Government would be justified in agreeing to the opening without fully considering the matter in every possible light, and seeing that the objections raised were fully met. It must not be forgotten also that the National Gallery was open for more hours than any other Gallery in Europe. On the Continent he believed he was right in saying that there was no single Gallery which was lit up after dusk. The greatest difficulty in connection with the whole matter was undoubtedly the question of expense. The opening and illumination of these Galleries and Museums at night would mean the laying down of a considerable amount of plant for the electric lighting, together with its working expenses and annual maintenance; and also the employment of additional attendants and police. The total outlay in putting down this plant was very roughly estimated at £65,000 per annum; and to this had to be added the annual maintenance and the cost of attendants and police. It had been argued that as this sum would in a great measure come out of general taxation these Institutions should, as far as possible, be made self-supporting by charging a small entrance fee; but the experience of the South Kensington Museum Authorities was directly opposed to this, as it was found that even a small fee had the effect of almost entirely stopping people from coming. At South Kensington so great was the dislike to pay a fee that it had been found that even people coming up on payment days in their carriages would frequently drive away on finding that an entrance-fee of 6d. was necessary. If, however, it could be proved that the working classes would make use of these Galleries to a satisfactory degree, he did not think that anyone would wish that the question of expense should outweigh what all agreed would be a great national benefit. He was informed that the late Government were considering the subject shortly before they went out of Office, and that the noble Earl the late First Lord of the Treasury (the Earl of Iddesleigh) took a special interest in the matter, and made many inquiries on the subject generally. He felt sure their Lordships would have been extremely glad if he had been present, as he could have given them the benefit of his impressions on the question and what conclusion he arrived at. So far as the Government were concerned, they had been in Office but a few weeks, and had not yet had time to give the full consideration which the subject necessitated. It was, however, their intention to go thoroughly into the matter, with every hope that it might be found possible to carry out some portion of the programme, though, of course, at that early stage of the matter they could not give any pledge.


said, it seemed to him that the argument of the noble Lord representing the Treasury (Lord Sudeley) against the proposal was a new one. He had never before heard it contended that if practicable it was not desirable to open Museums in the evening; but the noble Lord seemed to think that there would not be sufficient attendance of the public to make it worth while. That argument was very like that with regard to railways before they were begun. It was gravely urged that the traffic upon roads by the old modes of transit was not sufficient to justify any expectation that there would be enough traffic on a railway to pay the enormous cost of forming it. How did the noble Lord know what number of people would visit Museums if they were opened in the evening? Those who now came in the day did not in any way represent the numerous classes which would avail themselves of the evening to visit the Galleries and Museums. Besides the working classes, there was in London a very numerous population of clerks and intelligent trades people whose occupations precluded them them from going to Galleries in the day. Then it should be remembered that the bulk of the people were more educated now than they used to be, and were better able to enjoy Museums and make good use of them than they were a few years ago. If the noble Lord doubted whether the public would use the Galleries and Museums in the evening let him try the experiment, however gradually he liked. If only a few people availed themselves of the privilege, in his opinion, it would justify the expense. It was part of the national education of the day. The Prince Consort, who was the founder of South Kensington, meant it to be the climax of the new Art development of the country, which it would fail to be if not available by the working classes.


said, that there were many objections to opening the National Galleries in the evening, and that gas was very injurious to works of Art. As to the social aspects of the question, they had been stated very fully by the noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby), and were perfectly true; but they must not forget that the Collections were invaluable, and that, if lost, could not be restored to the nation. Under all the circumstances, he should vote against the Motion.


, in supporting the Motion, said, he hoped that if noble Lords voted for this Motion it would not be used as an argument to weaken the case of those who were in favour of opening Museums on Sundays.


said, he must appeal to the noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby) not to press his Motion to a division. The noble Earl had introduced this Motion in a comprehensive speech, and had put in a very clear and able manner the arguments in favour of opening these Institutions on week-day evenings. He (Earl Granville) was not prepared to argue against the noble Earl's proposal. Indeed, his own feelings were strongly in favour of making their Art Collections available in every possible way for the instruction and enjoyment of the great body of the people. At the same time, he could not help observing that the noble Lord (Lord Sudeley) had given the assurance that, although the Government had not come to any decision on the subject, they thought that it was their duty to consider all the bearings of the question before coming to a final decision. He could assure the noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby) that it was the intention of the Government to consider the question with the greatest possible attention, and that without loss of time. The matter was before the Earl of Iddesleigh, but no memorandum had been found as to the decision to which he came. He was unwilling by his vote to go against the noble Earl's Motion; but, on the other hand, he did not think it right that so soon after the Government had entered into Office they should be expected to have come to a decision with regard to the question. He hoped that the noble Earl would be satisfied with what had been stated, and that he would not oblige them to vote for or against the Motion.


said, he was anxious to fall in with the suggestion of the Leader of the Government in that House (Earl Granville); but he must remind their Lordships that this matter had been 26 years under consideration, and that during the seven months the late Government were in Office he was instructed by the Prime Minister to do all in his power to push the question forward. Everyone was in favour of the proposal; but by some extraordinary means or other there was a kind of dead opposition to it which prevented it coming forward. He felt, therefore, that he should be betraying the cause if he did not press forward the Motion—which was a substantive and not a mere abstract one—to a division, with the object of strengthening the hands of the Government in any action they might take.


said, that as the noble Earl had not responded to the appeal made to him, he might be allowed to state what the Government proposed to do. If all the authorities in the late Government were unanimous in favour of opening the Museums, it seemed strange that they were not able to come forward at once and make the proposition. He thought that showed that there must have been some difficulties of a real kind which were not so very easy to be overcome. But there was another matter. The present Government had not had time to consider the subject, and it was due to the distinguished bodies concerned in the maintenance of these valuable Collections that their views should be carefully considered. He agreed very much with the noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby), and should be glad to see the privilege conceded in Dublin and South Kensington extended to other National Collections. As far as his own feeling went, he confessed it was very much that of the noble Earl behind him (Earl Granville)—namely, that if it were practicable, then the privilege asked should be conceded; but, at the same time, the Government were not now prepared to accept the Motion, and, therefore, he begged to move the Previous Question.

Previous Question moved (The Lord President of the Council).


said, he had come down to the House that evening to support the noble Earl who had brought this subject forward. He had not heard an argument advanced by any noble Lord to induce him to change his opinion. There were two principal objections put forward against the adoption of this proposal. The first was that of expense, which he regretted to see referred to. He trusted it might be withdrawn as an argument against the opening of the Gallery. Considering that the taxpayers of the country had recently to pay the enormous sum of £75,000 for one picture, he thought that to raise as an argument against the opening of the Gallery the comparatively small sum required to enable the mass of the population to enjoy these Art treasures was likely to be viewed with disfavour by the lower classes. Another objection was raised on the ground of morality. He was inclined to look with suspicion on questions in which morality was put prominently forward as a governing consideration. There seemed to be a tinge of hypocrisy about it. It was well-known that nothing in the shape of free evening amusements of any sort in London was exempt from the danger of some doubtful persons taking advantage of them. But he thought they ought to trust to the police. Vice was a creature which flourished in dark nooks and corners, and not in a lighted room where everything that went on was subjected to general supervision. Another argument advanced was that the opening of the Gallery at night would be injurious to the pictures by reason of the amount of dust raised and general wear and tear. Large crowds with muddy boots frequently visited the buildings in the day time; and if the argument was to hold good these crowds ought to be excluded for fear of injury to the pictures. But the authorities did not shut out these people in the day time. They were willing to incur this infinitesimal amount of risk; and nothing had been shown that evening in any way leading to the opinion that a large amount of risk was likely to be incurred from crowds at night. There were Trustees of the National Gallery who sat in their Lordships' House, who, no doubt, had carefully considered this subject, seeing that it had been before the country for 26 years, and Resolutions approving the opening of the Gallery at night had been twice adopted. These noble Lords ought, therefore, to say what the real danger of opening at night was, in order that the House and the public might form an opinion as to what was the danger to be guarded against. He believed that many of the noble Lords who sat on the Government Bench were, in their hearts, in favour of this proposal, but that, owing to some official reason, they were obliged to oppose it. He hoped, therefore, the noble Earl the Leader of the House would excuse him if he voted with noble Lords opposite that evening.

On Question?


intimated that, after the reasons adduced by Her Majesty's Government against adopting the proposal, they would not put their Lordships to the trouble of dividing.

Previous Question affirmed.

Original Motion agreed to.