HL Deb 29 April 1913 vol 14 cc348-62

*LORD SUDELEY rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether, in view of the great success which has attended the appointment of "guide demonstrators" and the giving of short popular lectures twice a day at the British Museum, Bloomsbury, and Natural History Museum, South Kensington, they propose to carry out the same plan at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Gallery, the Imperial Institute, the Wallace Collection at Hertford House, the London Museum, and the Tower of London; and, if so, how soon this system, now proved by the experience of the past two years to be so much wanted and appreciated by the public when obtained, would be inaugurated at each of these separate institutions; and to move for an Annual Return made up to June 30 in each year from all public museums, including the Tower of London, picture galleries, and botanical gardens in the United Kingdom, whether working under Government or under any county council, municipality, University, or public authority, showing under separate heads—

1. Total number of visitors during the year classified under the heads of Special Students, Schools, and General Public.

2. Whether any, and, if so, what system is adopted for the special instruction and guidance of each of the above classes by means of lecture demonstrations or otherwise.

3. Whether such a system is carried out by specially appointed "guide demonstrators" or by members of the staff, and, if so, whether given free, or if not, at what fees.

4. Whether such lectures or demonstrations have been given in the theatre or room specially set apart, or in the various sections of the galleries or gardens.

5. Remarks and statistics showing attendance at such lectures or demonstrations as may be given.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I ask the Government the Question which I have put on the Paper, I will, with your permission, briefly state the present position of this question. There has never been, I believe, any arrangement for an organised system of popular guidance and information in our museums. It has always been the habit to look upon museums as great depositories of vast knowledge, to which students could go and obtain information, but not places in which the ordinary public could gain much pleasure or information. Visitors to museums look first at the guide books and labels and then wander listlessly and aimlessly about, very often without the slightest knowledge that they were passing exhibits of the greatest interest and value, and it bas been obvious that they have desired very much to have somebody to come forward and explain the exhibits to them. It has been calculated that of the number of visitors who go to museums—I am speaking now of museums where there is no popular guidance—at least three-fifths of them when they leave do so with the greatest dissatisfaction and with the feeling that they have obtained very little information.

There is no doubt that of late years great pains have been taken to elaborate the labels and make them as clear as possible, and at the present moment in all the large museums they are exceedingly good. But that is not all that is required. What is wanted is the spoken word to aid and assist in interpreting the labels in an attractive and pleasant manner. The present system is all very well for students, who are able to make out exactly where the exhibits are that the guide books announce, but the ordinary intelligent public want their curiosity aroused in order to obtain the information, and that can only be done by a human being. In regard to this subject there are three classes of people for whom we have to care—first, students; secondly, schools; and, thirdly, ordinary visitors, what I may term the intelligent public who possess no special expert information. For students and schools a great deal has been done, although I think more is required; but it is the third class—the intelligent public—that I am specially interested in, and for whose use guide demonstrators are required. There is no doubt that for some time there has been a strong feeling among the large number of taxpayers, the people who have contributed largely to the millions that have been spent in making the great collections and in erecting the large buildings which house them, that they have not been able to get the advantage they ought to derive from these valuable national collections.

Fortunately the position has now been changed. Two years ago the director of the British Museum, Sir Frederick Kenyon, saw that something ought to be done. His trustees determined to make the experiment, feeling confident, contrary to the views of marry wise people, that it would be a success. Accordingly in April, 1911, a guide was appointed, and a year afterwards—in May, 1912—one was appointed for the Natural History Museum. Instead of the experiment being a failure it has been an unqualified success. During the period which has been covered by this system, taking these two museums together, no fewer than 45,000 people have gone round with the guides, and that is a very large number indeed. The plan which is adopted is a very simple one. In the hall of each building a notice is hung up stating what portion of the galleries will be shown on certain days. The guides, both in the British Museum and in the Natural History Museum, take parties round twice a day, at twelve o'clock and three o'clock. The number is nominally twenty-five, but very often that number is greatly exceeded. It is, of course, essential that the guide should be properly selected. The two gentlemen who up to now have been appointed are specially qualified. It is necessary that the guide should have a pleasant manner, that he should have a very good voice, and that he should be able to state plainly and simply profound subjects which are rather difficult to explain. Then he must have great tact and discretion, and also the necessary patience to be able to deal with children, who come but who ought not to come, and who I maintain ought to be moved on.

With regard to the British Museum itself, the innovation has done great good. You no longer see lifeless and desolate galleries there, but you find them teeming with visitors taking great interest in the whole thing. The numbers have increased very largely in the last year, and the Return which is just about to be presented to Parliament shows an increase during the last year of no fewer than 31,000 visitors. For three weeks during the year the Museum had to be closed, and it is calculated that 60,000 people were shut out. If, therefore, you add these two figures together you find that the number is about 91,000, which represents an increase of over 10 per cent. of the regular numbers. As showing the interest which has been evinced owing to this new departure, I may mention that a plan was started eight months ago of selling postcards of the different exhibits. During the period which has elapsed no less than 70,000 of these postcards have been sold to people who attended the lectures and were greatly interested in what they had seen. The number of guide books sold has also largely increased—an exceedingly interesting fact.

It is because of the great success of this scheme that I am anxious to ask the Government what they propose to do to help in the extension of the scheme to other museums. First of all, let us look at the position of the Victoria and Albert Museum. That museum is under the Education Department, and therefore it would naturally be thought that that of all others would have been the one where this scheme would have been tried; but up to the present nothing whatever has been done. I am told that the authorities are strongly in favour of adopting this system there, but for some reason or other month after month passes and nothing whatever is done. I see on the opposite side of the House my noble friend Lord Reay, who has been appointed Chairman of the Advisory Committee for this Museum, and I hope he will be able to give us a definite pledge that it will not be long before something is done there.

Sometimes it is said that the difficulty is one of finance. That, no doubt, may be the case. But when you consider the sums which are spent on the maintenance of these museums and the large amount of capital which has been sunk in them it is only right that the taxpayers, the intelligent public of this country, should have some small interest in what has been expended. After all, only some£300 or£400 a year is necessary, and there can be no reason why that small sum should not be forthcoming. But there is another alternative. Why in many of these cases should not a small fee be charged? Provided it is not excessive there can be no reason against it. I will give your Lordships one instance. During the last month the authorities of Kew Gardens, I am glad to say, have adopted this system. There the guide goes round twice a day, but in that case this is supported entirely from fees. I am not in favour of that, but I think a portion of the cost might be borne in fees. I mention Kew Gardens as an instance where fees apparently are being charged with success.

In regard to, the National Gallery so far nothing has been done, though I have reason to believe that the Director, Sir Charles Holroyd, is in favour of the system; but up till now he has been so exceedingly busy that he has not been able to consult the committee or the trustees. Clearly there ought to be a guide at the National Gallery. It is interesting to learn that the National Gallery of Scotland have determined to adopt this plan, and next winter a series of lectures will be given every day. In that case the money has been forthcoming; the Treasury has sanctioned the expenditure and it is in the estimates.

We now come to a very important museum, the Imperial Institute. There undoubtedly a great deal is done as far as their resources can go, and it is of very great benefit to the public. On one afternoon every week a party is taken round the different exhibits, sometimes in the Colonial department and sometimes in the Indian. I can speak from experience that it is exceedingly well done, but unfortunately in that case it is done by members of the staff, and, as we all know, the numbers of the staff are very limited and the men can ill be spared. This is really a case in which a guide demonstrator is very much wanted. The amount that is required is very small, and should be readily forthcoming when you remember the enormous benefit that it is to our Empire that the products and everything connected with the Colonies and India should be shown. I am sure the noble Earl who sits on the Cross Benches, Lord Grey, with his great experience of the Colonies, will bear me out that it is a matter of national importance that some system of this sort should be adopted at the Imperial Institute without delay.

The Wallace Collection at Hertford House is a unique and most beautiful collection, but it requires a great deal of information and a great deal of explanation to understand. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who is chairman of the trustees, has most courteously told me that the trustees are in favour of this system being adopted there, but unfortunately, owing to the suffragette trouble, the matter has been delayed. I hope Lord Redesdale will bear me out in this, if he speaks. This is a museum which for the benefit of everybody ought to be made interesting, and visitors should be informed of what they see.

Then I come to the Tower of London, which is replete with historical information. No schoolboy can look at it without; knowing that it is connected with a fund of historical incidents, and the tragic scenes which have been carried through there ought to be fully explained. My noble friend Lord Beauchamp, if he speaks this evening, will, I hope, be able to say that something is going to be done in this direction at the Tower of London. This I do know, that the noble Earl has himself taken immense interest in this question, and if he is able to carry the scheme out in connection with the Tower we shall be much indebted to him.

It is impossible to pass by this subject without mentioning that the present wonderful condition of the Tower of London is really due in great measure to what my noble friend Lord Redesdale did when he was at the Office of Works You all remember that years ago the Tower of London was in a dilapidated condition. Not only that, but it was actually shut out from the river by some great hideous high buildings which were used as storehouses, and if that condition of things had been allowed to continue there would have been no question of showing the Tower to the public or anything else. Fortunately when Lord Redesdale was Secretary to the Office of Works he threw a great deal of energy into the matter, and we now have that great national monument, the Tower of London, in very good order, and, as Lord Redesdale so aptly describes it, the "Tragedy in Stone" can now be seen.

In the Provinces there are a number of museums—I believe over 200. In many of these a great deal in the direction I am advocating has been done. I have been in communication with the directors and curators of a great many of these museums, and I find that there exists a very strong feeling among them that the system of popular guidance and lectures is very good and they would like to see it very much extended. If the noble Lord is able to give the Return for which I am asking, it is thought that it will have a great effect in improving the position, that it will create a great deal of emulation amongst these museums, which will vie with each other in this direction. I will only add this, that any one who has watched a group of visitors going round and listening to the able lectures that are given will have seen the great pleasure which has been produced; and I am sure that if you compare the state of things at museums where they have guide demonstrators with the desolate and empty state of the galleries in other museums and the listlessness with which people walk about there, you will be convinced of the importance of this plan of popular guidance and the desirability of extending it as much as possible.

Moved, That there be laid before the House an Annual Return made up to June 30 in each year from all Public Museums, including the Tower of London, Picture Galleries, and Botanical Gardens in the United Kingdom, whether working under Government or under any County Council, Municipality, University, or Public Authority, showing under separate heads—

1. Total number of visitors during the year classified under the heads of Special Students, Schools, and General Public;

2. Whether any, and if so, what system is adopted for the special instruction and guidance of each of above classes by means of lecture demonstrations or otherwise;

3. Whether such a system is carried out by specially appointed "Guide Demonstrators" or by members of the Staff, and if so, whether given free, or if not, at what fees;

4. Whether such lectures or demonstrations have been given in the Theatre or room specially set apart, or in the various sections of the Galleries or Gardens;

5. Remarks and statistics showing attendance at such lectures or demonstrations as may be given.—(Lord Sudeley.)


My Lords, I should like to say a word in support of the extension of this system of guide demonstrators. The subject speaks for itself. There is no need to press any arguments beyond those which have been so ably stated by my noble friend who has just sat down. After all, there is not very much use from a popular point of view in the magnificent museums that we have, with their wonderful wealth of interesting objects, unless they are ably and intelligently described to visitors who are athirst for knowledge but have not had a sufficiently liberal education to enable them unaided to understand what they see. This system of guide demonstrators is not a mere idea or mere suggestion; it has been carried into effect for one or two years with, as I understand, the most satisfactory results. It is not as if it was a doubtful project, a mere chimera. It must commend itself to the Government that greater use should be made of the beautiful museums that we have, and it seems to me that the whole scheme is well worthy of the careful consideration of the Government. I therefore hope they will see their way to make a favourable reply to my noble friend.


My Lords, if I may be permitted to do so, I should like to second the Motion which my noble friend Lord Sudeley has moved. Whatever answer may be given on behalf of His Majesty's Government, I hope the noble Lord will press for this Return, for I think that the Return cannot fail to be of the greatest use. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord upon the success that has attended his splendid efforts to popularise our museums and galleries. Lord Sudeley has worked on this subject for some time, and his efforts have been rewarded with success. I hope he will continue to make this subject especially his own, for I feel sure that if he perseveres with the same assiduity that he has shown during the last two years there will hardly be a museum in the whole of the country which will not have its guide demonstrator and its lecturer to explain the exhibits to the casual visitor.

I agree with every word the noble Lord has said. I have seen people in the Victoria and Albert Museum bewildered and dazed and not knowing where to go, notwithstanding the splendid classification of the exhibits and the labels, from which they receive every assistance that can be given except the help of the living tongue to describe the exhibits to them. The noble Lord has drawn attention to the difference that exists between the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. As a result of these daily lectures the British Museum has been made much more popular than it was before, but at the Victoria and Albert Museum absolutely nothing has been done. In regard to the Imperial Institute, with which the noble Lord was kind enough to associate my name, we all desire that that splendid collection of exhibits should be made the best possible use of. But the noble Lord showed that everything is being done that can be done at the Imperial Institute by the admirable management that is there established. If the Victoria League, for instance, send notice to the manager of the Imperial Institute that they wish to bring a party from the country, then a member of the staff is deputed to take that party round; and if the London County Council desire any of their schools to have the exhibits in the Imperial Institute explained, then again a member of the staff is taken from his ordinary duties to devote himself to this group of visitors. That is very good so far as it goes, but it is hardly a satisfactory position in which to place the Imperial Institute; and I hope that my noble friend Lord Emmott, who is the representative in this House and in the country of the Imperial Institute, will be able to give the House some encouragement to believe that His Majesty' Government will find the very small sum required to enable a guide demonstrator to be appointed and thus render it unnecessary for members of the staff to be taken away from their duties. I would venture to suggest to Lord Sudeley that he might possibly amend his Motion and ask under separate heads for as approximately a3 possible the numbers he desires. I do not think it would be possible to give a Return as to the exact numbers for which he asks, and in order that His Majesty's Government should find it easier to give the Return I suggest that he should amend it in the way I have indicated.


My Lords, as happen to be officially connected with two of the institutions mentioned in my noble friend's Question, perhaps I may be allowed to say that I think in both cases the trustees would offer no objection to any reasonable proposition to carry out my noble friend's views. At the National Gallery there would be certain difficulties, no doubt, on student days, when the galleries are largely taken up by the easels of artists who go there to copy the great masterpieces; but on the other days it would be simply a question of organisation. As regards the Wallace Collection, there are, perhaps, more difficulties in the way there than in the case of any of the other institutions mentioned. The first and foremost difficulty, as it seems to me, would be one that you could only call structural. The galleries are extremely narrow, and when there is anything like a crowd in the place it is very difficult to get a clear fair view of the pictures and other exhibits. The only plan, after giving the matter a great deal of consideration, that we arrived at was this—that if these lectures were to be held regularly at Hertford House it would be necessary to close certain of the galleries for perhaps a quarter of an hour or half an hour at a time to the general public whilst the lecturer was taking round his pupils, if I may so call them. That, no doubt, might be done. As to whether it would be altogether satisfactory to everybody is another question. No doubt there would be some dissentients, some people who would complain of being kept out of their pet gallery at a certain moment whilst others received instruction. But these are matters which could no doubt be got over.

The great difficulty there would be to find a man who would be capable of lecturing on all the various classes of exhibits that are shown at Hertford House. There are, in the first place, the various schools of pictures. That would be quite food enough for one expert. There is the vast collection of Sèvres, and very different schools of pottery. There is the valuable collection of snuff boxes, of which there is hardly an equal anywhere. Then there are the miniatures. There is also the splendid collection of European armour selected from three of the greatest collections in Europe; and then there is the collection of Oriental armour, which is not quite of the same calibre but still sufficiently interesting to need an expert to explain it. There are at Hertford House a collection of catalogues of these different things which are really admirable. Personally if I were a stranger coining to London I would rather go round with the catalogues than with a so-called expert who might or might not be a person capable of fully explaining the exhibits. The difficulty of finding a man who would be capable of instructing the public in the merits of the collection at Hertford House would, I venture to say, be almost insuperable.

At the present moment I do not think anything could be done at Hertford House. In the first place, we, the trustees, have no money; we should have to get a grant from the Treasury for the purpose. There is also an unfortunate condition of affairs at Hertford House at present. We have, in consequence of circumstances to which it is perhaps hardly necessary to allude, been forced to put all the porcelain and a great number of the more precious exhibits into rooms which are locked up and not open to the public at all. That was done on the advice of the Chief Commissioner of Police having regard to the artistic tragedies which have taken place at Manchester and elsewhere, and I venture to think that at the present moment it would not be possible to carry out my noble friend's wishes. At the same time I can assure him and my noble friend on the Cross Benches that the trustees are fully alive to the desirability of doing all that it is possible to do to promote the pleasure and the education of the public both at Hertford House and at the National Gallery.


My Lords, as a member of the Education Committee of the London County Council may I be allowed to support the noble Lord in pressing for this information. The noble Lord who has just sat down has pointed out some of the difficulties of obtaining a guide demonstrator who would be able to give full information on each subject in the Wallace Collection, and has referred to the excellence of the catalogues. We on the London County Council have to deal with children, and I am afraid the catalogues would be of no use to them. We endeavour to make use as much as possible of these great institutions for educational purposes, and our difficulty is to have the information imparted to the children in any systematic manner. The teachers who go round with the children naturally do their best, but they cannot be supposed to have very great knowledge of the contents of these museums and galleries, and therefore we should welcome very greatly the presence at these institutions of a guide who could take the children round, even though he might not be able to go in great detail into the various items of the collection. I dare say many noble Lords have heard of the Horniman's Museum. We have there a guide demonstrator for whom I believe the London County Council are responsible, and we have found him of the greatest educational assistance and value. Parties of children go round with this guide, and at any rate we ensure that the information given to them is correct and at the same time systematic. Therefore I welcome most heartily the Motion of the noble Lord asking for tins information, and I hope that it will be granted as far as possible.


My Lords, I wish to answer the question put to me by the noble Lord opposite. I can assure him that the Advisory Committee of the Victoria and Albert Museum are carefully considering the matter, and that they are fully alive to its importance. I cannot say more. But I hope that very soon results will follow which will be in accordance with the wishes of the noble Lord who has raised this question to-day.


My Lords, it is quite evident from this discussion that there is very general sympathy with the desire of the noble Lord opposite to extend the system of guide demonstrators, especially in so far as it will promote a more intelligent use of the magnificent collections that we have in London. I have consulted the various bodies in London with regard to the Question which the noble Lord originally put on the Paper, but I am afraid I have been unable to consult with them or the other authorities with regard to the more extended Motion which he has placed on the Paper within the last day or two. From those of whom I have made inquiries the replies have been generally sympathetic, but they all take the opportunity of demanding an increased grant from the Treasury. That, however, is not unexpected. It is with some difficulty that I reply to the noble Lord because I am directly responsible for only one of the institutions mentioned in his Question, and I am sorry to say that that is the one on behalf of which I have to give what he will consider the least satisfactory answer of all—I refer to the Tower of London.

The noble Lord asks that there should be a distinction made between special students, schools, and the general public. I am not sure that that will be an easy distinction to make. Generally speaking, special students would rather not have a guide demonstrator. They know what they go to see, and are able to study the matters which interest them without the help of anybody else. Schools have been mentioned by Lord Greville, and he has explained that the London County Council already maintain guide demonstrators in some of the museums under the charge of that body. I think that if there is a real difficulty in getting further grants it might well be worth consideration on the part of the noble Lord whether the London County Council, which no doubt send a large number of school children to these institutions, should not themselves provide these guide demonstrators, at any rate for the use of their own scholars. It really comes to this, that these guide demonstrators are more likely to be of use to a section of the general public than to either of the other classes mentioned by the noble Lord.

My noble friend Lord Reay has answered on behalf of the Victoria and Albert Museum. In the case of the National Gallery, I understand that though the trustees considered the matter they did not submit any recommendation, chiefly, I think, because they would like to make it a reason for getting more money from the Treasury. With regard to the Imperial Institute, I would rather leave my noble friend Lord Emmott, who is chairman of the committee who look after the Imperial Institute, to answer. As to the Wallace Collection, Lord Redesdale, who is, I think, the chairman of the trustees, complained of want of money and also of the difficulty of finding an expert who would be able to explain sufficiently well the valuable collections there. We must all regret that it is impossible to provide so well qualified a guide demonstrator as the noble Lord is himself to conduct parties round that museum. In the case of the London Museum, we regret that at the present time there is no room for organised parties. The trustees have done their best by popular labelling to meet the requirements of the general public. There, again, the reply is that we would like to appoint a guide demonstrator but have no funds available. Lastly I come to the Tower of London, the institution for which I am directly responsible. I may say that the Constable is wholly opposed to this scheme, and I think a very large number of those who use the Tower would very much regret the disappearance of the picturesque figures whose services are at present available as guides in going round that institution.

Now I come to the request of the noble Lord for the extensive information with regard to this matter set out in his Motion. I am afraid it is impossible to suppose that figures would be available at the present time in regard to the three separate classes in which the noble Lord has divided the public. I do not suppose the authorities have these figures even if they were willing to supply them to His Majesty's Government. Some of the information, the total number, is probably already available in the annual reports which many of the authorities issue. To consult all the local authorities in the United Kingdom would involve a very large expenditure of time, and I therefore venture to hope that the noble Lord will not press for a complete Return in that form. After all, what the noble Lord wants is that these authorities should make a more extensive use of guide demonstrators, and I should be glad of an opportunity of consulting with him as to whether the Return might not be obtained in the form of asking which of the local authorities in the museums under their charge make use of such demonstrators, in order that the noble Lord may be able more easily than he can at present to bring pressure to bear on the local authorities and try and persuade them to use these demonstrators in the future. I cannot help thinking that a Return of that kind would be more valuable than the more extended one for which he has asked, and I should be glad if he would allow me to consult with him on the subject.


My Lords, I am connected with the Imperial Institute in two ways. In the first place, the control of the Institute is in the hands of the Department which I represent in your Lordships' House; and, in the second place, I have been recently appointed Chairman of the Advisory Committee of that body. The Advisory Committee, however, is not a managing committee. Having been appointed to that position I have naturally made a careful study of the resources of the Imperial Institute, and I regret to say that they are by no means adequate to the amount of money that we should like to spend if we were able to do so. Much is being done there in the way of explaining the exhibits in the galleries, but no doubt a good deal more could be done by guide demonstrators. We have an inadequate income for what we want to do. That income comes from all over the Empire. I believe we get very good value for our money, but our circumstances are so straitened that we cannot find the money for guide demonstrators at present without; robbing some other department. I can only say, in a general way, that I should be very glad if we could see our way to appoint one or two guide demonstrators, and I can promise that the matter will be considered. But I do not want to be misunderstood. I am afraid that it will be impossible because we have not got the money for it.


My Lords, after what has fallen from the noble Earl the First Commissioner of Works I will leave the matter of the Return until I have had an opportunity of consulting with him as to the form it should take. But I do not think' there ought to be any great difficulty. I know that in the Provinces it is considered that such a Return would do great good; and if it is modified to the extent of asking what museums have now these guides and what museums have not, no doubt that for one year would be perhaps the best thing. I thank your Lordships for the way in which you have accepted the proposal, and for the present I beg to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.