HL Deb 29 April 1914 vol 15 cc1135-7

rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will supplement the information given in the Return just issued on Public Museums by stating approximately the total number of visitors taken round, whether in public or private parties, by the official guide demonstrator during each of the years 1911, 1912, and 1913, since his appointment in the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum respectively; also, to ask whether the Education Department during the recess, as promised, duly called the attention of the local authorities to the desirability of facilities being given for the public and for schools to obtain information from local museums, galleries, and gardens by means of guide demonstrators when possible, and when not, then by members of the staff; if so, to ask whether the information so obtained from the provinces has been of a satisfactory character, and likely to lead to an extension of the system being carried out.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, before put the Question of which I have given notice I desire to explain to your Lordships that I do so without any wish to provoke discussion, but merely because in the Return on Museums which was presented the other day there was no reference made, owing to a mistake, to the number of visitors who have gone round with these guides in the different museums since they were appointed. I am aware that the numbers are very large, and that the result has been most satisfactory. It is most desirable that those numbers should be stated officially because they would have the effect of inducing a large number of other museums, not only in London but in the provinces, to take steps to make their collection familiar to the public. Your Lordships will remember that when I moved for this Return I tried to get, if possible, a Return from the provinces in the case of local museums, numbering nearly 200; and I thought it was most desirable that that should be done. Unfortunately my noble friend Lord Beauchamp explained that there was a technical difficulty in the way, but that the Education Department would call the attention of local authorities to the fact that it was desirable that as far as possible schools and the public should be made familiar with what was contained in the museums. I am aware that the Education Department, especially the Minister for Education, took this matter up very seriously, and that they have done a great deal. The correspondence has been voluminous, but I believe it has been very satisfactory. I am anxious that, if possible, we should have an official statement to that effect, because many of the local authorities are very anxious to know what has been the general result. I therefore ask the Question of which I have given notice.


My Lords, I am happy to be able to inform the noble Lord that the system of appointing an official paid guide demonstrator has been tried in several cases with great success. At the British Museum a guide was appointed in 1911, and in seven months 11,000 members of the public were shown round by him. In 1912, 20,000 people, and in 1913 nearly 23,000, availed themselves of the services of the guide. The authorities of the Natural History Museum appointed a guide demonstrator in May 1912, and 7,392 people went round with the guide in that year. Last year the number rose to 17,022. At the Victoria and Albert Museum the system began on October 1, 1913, and more than 6,000 people were shown round during the six months ended March 31 last. At the three museums a total of 84,465 have been shown the collections since the guide demonstrators were instituted.

So far as these cases are concerned the interest shown by the public in the experiment has abundantly justified it, and I think we may congratulate the authorities on the success of their efforts. I should also like to take this opportunity of expressing our deep sense of obligation to the noble Lord who has given so much time and energy to forwarding this movement. It was in response to his request that my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Education has been engaged in an inquiry as to what facilities exist for demonstrations on the exhibits shown in our local museums. The answers received show that there is a wide-spread interest in the subject. The local authorities say in most cases that they would gladly do more but are hampered by lack of funds. Demonstrations are, however, as a rule given in the galleries by the curator or a member of the staff at intervals through the winter months. One curator states that the weekly lectures have resulted in many additions to the museum from those attending the lectures. Several interesting suggestions have been made which are under the consideration of my right hon. friend.

Conditions vary, and regard must be had to the local needs in each case. It will certainly not be feasible to introduce a system applicable to the whole of the British Isles, and there is no authority which has power to enforce regulations in respect of demonstrations in the museums, art galleries, and botanical gardens scattered throughout the country, but in the smaller towns it is often possible to utilise volunteers who have studied particular subjects to assist the curator in giving lectures or demonstrations, and in University cities the University authorities are frequently willing to lend their help. It seems to me a very hopeful sign that those in charge of these various buildings have welcomed the inquiries made by the Board of Education in so friendly a manner, and appear so eager to develop to the full the educational possibilities of the collections in their charge.