HL Deb 29 April 1926 vol 63 cc1069-79

My Lords, I desire to ask the First Commissioner of Works if he will state what additional responsibilities have recently been assumed by his Department in connection with ancient monuments; and I move for Papers.


My Lords, in answer to the noble Earl I must necessarily fix upon some date from which to give some account of the activities of the Department with regard to ancient monuments, and I suggest the beginning of 1925. Since then a considerable addition has been made to the number of monuments entrusted to our charge. We have either taken over or are in process of taking over some twenty of what may be called major monuments. These comprise old castles, ecclesiastical remains and remains of the Roman occupation. The old castles are scattered all over the country, ranging from Somerset in the south to the Shetland Islands. The most important are Pickering and Middleham Castles in Yorkshire and Beaumaris and Kidwelly Castles in Wales. Six of the castles which are being taken over are in Scotland, perhaps the most interesting being the Yarlshof in the Shetlands. It may be mentioned that we are also taking over the town walls of Denbigh. These walls are an integral part of the scheme of defence of which the castle was a citadel. The castle is already in our charge as being Crown property but the walls have passed into private hands.

Turning to ecclesiastical remains, we have made some noteworthy additions to the already impressive list of ruins in our charge. There is first of all Buildwas Abbey in Shropshire, a twelfth century Cistercian foundation, of which there are beautiful remains. The others are Eggleston Abbey in Yorkshire, Sweetheart Abbey in Kircudbrightshire, a famous foundation of which there is practically nothing left except the remains of the fine church; and Inchmahome Priory on an island in a lake in Perthshire. The ruins of the Bishop's Palace at Lamphey in Pembrokeshire, which have been taken over recently, may also be classed among the ecclesiastical remains.

We have made very important additions to the Roman remains for which we are responsible by taking over the well-known forts at Pevensey and Porchester. These two, with Richborough in Kent, of which we have been in charge for many years, contain the most impressive remains of the series of Roman forts of the Saxon shore. Pevensey and Porchester were occupied by the Normans and contain important remains of Norman and later times. A noteworthy recent event was the purchase by the Daily Mail of the Roman amphitheatre at Caerleon. Caerleon, near Newport, was the site of a Roman military camp. The whole site was threatened by building operations and a letter to the Press, signed by various distinguished people, drew attention to the danger. The Daily Mail stepped in and provided funds for the purchase of the amphitheatre and also for its excavation. The site is being conveyed to the Office of Works.

We have taken over a few minor monuments such as standing and sculptured stones. It is hardly necessary to make special mention of any of these, but I may draw attention to a very interesting extension in the scope of the activities of the Department in taking charge of the monuments on two small islands, Inchkenneth and Eilean Mor, off the coast of Argyll. These, like other islands off the west coast of Scotland, contain remains of early Christian monasteries with most interesting sculptured memorial stones lying in the disused graveyard. It is rather an experiment to take over monuments on these Islands. We shall be able to do little more than make the places tidy, but we can put up notices that the monuments are in our charge, and this, I trust, will be a deterrent to yachting parties who are practically the only visitors to these Islands. Only a few years ago the disc-head of a sculptured cross was taken from Eilean Mor, presumably by a member of one of these yachting parties. I hope if your Lordships can discover the culprit you will order the restoration of the disc-head.

It should be explained that this statement refers exclusively to the ancient monuments which are handed over to our care under the Ancient Monuments Act. We have also in our charge what we call bistoric buildings. These are subdivided into two classes:—(1), Ruined unoccupied structures which are Crown or War Department property, such as Tintern Abbey and Carisbrooke Castle; and (2), other Crown or Government Buildings which are still occupied for military other purposes; for example, the Tower of London, Chelsea Hospital and Walmer Castle. Under this heading we classify Glasgow and Dunblane Cathedrals.

It will readily be understood that the upkeep of all these ancient monuments and historic buildings entails expense. For the past financial year we took a vote of £55,945 for the ancient monuments proper. This covers the cost of treating the monuments so as to put them into a good state of preservation and also the cost of care-taking and of recurrent maintenance. For this year we are asking only £45,840. We should like to have more, considering the number of new monuments coming into our charge, but we must meet the demand for economy. We must go slowly with the work of preservation, doing at first only what is really necessary. We consider it better to take over these monuments and do a little urgent work to them rather than to leave them untended. For the unoccupied historic buildings we are asking this year £15,135 against £27,315 last year. Here, again, the need for economy counts, but the substantial reduction in the amount asked for is a reflection also of the fact that our initial works of preservation at these buildings are coming to an end. Figures of expenditure on the occupied buildings cannot usefully be given.

To turn to the revenue side, it may be of interest to mention that in the calendar year 1925 we received £6,678 in admission fees at ancient monuments proper. At the unoccupied historic buildings we took £6,722, while the occupied historic buildings, including the Tower of London, brought in no less than £14,883. I should like to add, as your Lordships are doubtless aware, that these sums are made more impressive by the fact that they are taken in very small sums, in threepences, fourpences and sixpences, and, of course, arrangements are made for large parties of children, and so on, at reduced fees. Some of the places at which the highest amount of fees are taken among historic buildings are the Tower of London, £12,536; Carisbrook Castle, £2,425; and Tintern Abbey, £1,278. Among historic monuments Stonehenge very easily heads the list with £1,438. Melrose comes next with £851, followed hard by Whitby Abbey, with £746. Behind Whitby comes Dry-burgh Abbey, with £478, and others to which I need not refer. In addition, I ought to mention that at some of the Royal Palaces, which may really be treated as historic buildings, substantial sums are also received as admission fees. In the year 1925 we took at Hampton Court Palace £3,852. I trust many of your Lordships have been recently to Hampton Court to see the new rooms which have been thrown open to the public. At Holyrood fees were £3,708, and at Kensington, £417.

I should like also to point out that the activities of the Department in connection with ancient monuments are certainly not confined actually to taking charge of some of the many monuments in the country. Another important part of the work is the gradual compilation of lists of monuments which we desire to bring under the protection of the Act of 1913. These monuments are scheduled and the effect of the scheduling is to impose on the owner an obligation to notify the Department before interfering with the monument. We have at the present time scheduled about 1,700 monuments. The sixth list has just been published. This and the two previous lists are noteworthy on account of the number of old bridges which they contain. This question was causing great anxiety because of the number of old and beautiful bridges which are claimed to be no longer equal to the needs of modern traffic.

In co-operation with the Ministry of Transport we are doing our best to save these bridges from demolition or drastic reconstruction, and should like to say that in the case of many bridges all over the country we have received the greatest sympathy and consideration from the Ministry of Transport. We are, of course, to some extent hampered, if I may say so, by the terms of the Act of 1913. For instance, a Preservation Order under which an ancient monument can be taken over by the Department only lasts for eighteen months unless it is confirmed by Act of Parliament. Your Lordships will readily realise the difficulty, in the case of many of these ancient monuments, in passing the necessary Bills through Parliament owing to the congestion of business.

A very interesting suggestion was made by the Commission of which the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, was Chairman. That Commission, which reported I think five years ago, proposed that inhabited dwellings should also come within the scope of the Department. Speaking for myself, as First Commissioner of Works, I should like nothing better than to be able to put that into operation, but unfortunately at the present time we have no machinery for looking after these numerous buildings, we have not sufficient numbers in the Ancient Monuments Department and I am afraid that, as we have been so drastically treated as regards reduction in our Estimates, it is impossible, looking at the state of the present Budget, to contemplate that, within a short, time at any rate, we shall be able to deal with that matter or to obtain powers over inhabited houses. I trust that the answer that I have given may be of some use to the noble Earl.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount, if it is possible to obtain any further reply on this subject, whether he will tell us something about the financial policy of the Department and the charges imposed upon the public. In some of these places where the nation has acquired the freehold the public are now excluded except upon payment of a fee which, in such a case as Stonehenge, I am sure, must bring in a great deal more than the cost of upkeep. Surely Stonehenge does not cost £1,438 a year to keep up. Is it not a right policy to pursue that, when the Government has acquired these buildings and put them in sound repair, it should charge the public no more than is necessary for their maintenance? I should be glad if we might have some explanation on that point.


My Lords, I hope that the Department will look upon the ancient monuments in its care as one great unit, not merely picking out one profitable and fruitful showplace like Stonehenge, because the surplus profits from Stonehenge go to preserve, let us say, the Abbey of Inchcolm and there are many invaluable monuments, megalithic like Stonehenge itself, which to smite extent depend upon the larger and more profitable exhibitions elsewhere. I was acquainted a few years ago with the work of the Department and I am very glad to hear from Lord Peel how successful its development continues to be. The Department exercises great choice and discretion in selecting the monuments which it takes over and which it schedules.

Our programme in this country is small compared with that of France. I do not remember what was the total outlay mentioned by Lord Peel, but it is certainly almost insignificant compared with the 10,000,000 francs voted annually by France. We have 1,700 inventoried monuments and the French have 6,700, but I believe we do more for our small outlay and for our relatively small number of scheduled monuments than the French Government does, with a larger programme, in either direction. A few weeks ago the famous church tower of Toulouse came tumbling down. It is true that it was not scheduled, but the facade of the church, which narrowly escaped disaster too, was scheduled. During the last two or three weeks other French churches inventoried and classified—classées, as they are called—collapsed. Here I am glad to say that our Department does not undertake more work than it can perform, and the result is that every monument, given fair time for its reparation, is in a structural condition which guarantees that it will last for centuries to come.

I wish, none the less, that the Government could carry its work a little further. Lord Peel mentioned the happy cooperation between himself and Colonel Ashley, the Minister of Transport, in relation to old bridges. I do not think that it would be possible to have a more sympathetic combination from the point of view of the preservation of old Britain and its architectural history than Lord Peel and Colonel Ashley, but I wish that they would summon up sufficient courage to deal with the most important bridge in Great Britain—I mean Waterloo Bridge. I would sacrifice twenty medieval bridges to preserve Waterloo Bridge, which is perhaps the greatest bridge erected in this or any country during the last three hundred years. It is certainly the greatest architectural and artistic monument that Britain possesses of the nineteenth century. And it is to be destroyed, perhaps next week.

I quite understand, of course, why Lord Peel should hesitate to deal with a question of this kind. I may say here that there is no limitation of date. He is as much entitled to deal with Waterloo Bridge as with Stonehenge. Lord Peel indicated, however, in a word or two the difficulty with which he is confronted. A Preservation Order, to be permanently effective, has to be followed within eighteen months by an Act of Parliament, and an Act of Parliament is not easily got, especially in the face of the hostility of a powerful local authority. Moreover, the Department has no funds at its disposal, apart from exiguous monies which have to be devoted to conservation and which would be in any case inadequate for preserving this bridge. None the less I do implore Lord Peel, even at this late stage, to see if some- thing can be done to preserve what is an object of national importance and a truly national historic heritage of this country, this notable bridge, condemned in the teeth of the most expert engineering evidence to the contrary, and to be replaced by—who knows what? At any rate, the bridge is being supplemented to-day by an iron bridge which, judging by the posts that we see stuck down the middle, with wheeled traffic forced to one side of the bridge and pedestrian traffic to the other, gives me the impression of being far from safe, although erected only twelve months ago. I cannot press Lord Peel any further but I do wish that, even at this late juncture, he would make an effort to save one of the greatest ancient monuments in the country.

Let me just add this word. I think the educational value of the work being done by this Department is incalculable. Private owners, who do not dream of handing over their monuments to the Office of Works, see examples in their own neighbourhood of the science of conservation, which is an entirely different thing from the vulgar and deleterious practice of restoration. "Restoration" is a word which should no longer be used except as a term of opprobrium as applied to ancient buildings. Here in this country, beginning with the inspiration of William Morris fifty years ago, a school of architectural conservation has grown up which is without its rival in the whole world. The Office of Works has on its staff architects who are fully alive to all the refinements of reparation, as opposed to restoration, and admirable work is being done not merely in respect of monuments in Lord Peel's charge but as exemplars to all others who have to repair their old buildings. I congratulate the Department upon its admirable work, and I hope that in the course of time funds will become available to enable it to extend that work still further.


There are only two points that I am asked to answer. One was by Lord Olivier, who I think suggested that people should be able to go and see these ancient monuments without paying anything.


No, I was alluding to Stonehenge, where I think at present the fee is 6d., and that charge, after paying for preservation, gives a considerable profit. In my boyhood we used to be able to see Stonehenge gratuitously, and surely 2d. or 3d. ought to be sufficient.


Then the noble Lord's observation was only directed to Stonehenge?


And similar monuments.


if the noble Lord visited Stonehenge in his boyhood for nothing, he will no doubt be delighted to contribute 6d. in his maturer years. I think the other point was that the fees collected at one particular monument should not be spread over the whole, but confined to that particular monument, and if they more than pay for the preservation they should be reduced. I think that is rather a niggardly view to take of the monuments of this country. You may, I think, quite fairly treat them as a whole, and raise from these very small sums quite a substantial contribution as an appropriation in aid. If you did away with them I think the activities of the Department would be considerably curtailed, arid experience has shown that in some places, where the monument, or whatever it might be, was originally free and now people have to pay for seeing it, the numbers of the visitors have been very little reduced, thereby showing that the public really have not the same hesitation as the noble Lord in contributing an extra 3d. or 4d. In fact, I think it s a common observation that people often appreciate a thing more when they have to pay something for it than when they get it for nothing. With regard to Stonehenge, might I also remind the noble Lord that it is visited by a very large number of people besides those who are natives of this country? Among others it is visited by large groups of American tourists, and I submit with confidence that an American tourist is really well able to contribute 6d. to the upkeep of some of our ancient monuments.

The Department, I am sure, will be very pleased to hear the observations of the noble Earl Lord Crawford, who was himself, of course, First Commissioner of Works for some time, and who has always taken a very great interest in this subject, both before and after that time. He made some appeal to me about Waterloo Bridge. I think it is a most deplorable misfortune that this magnificent bridge should be pulled down. As he knows, have not been at all inactive in my efforts to secure the preservation of the bridge, but as he also knows the bridges of London above Blackfriars are under the jurisdiction of the London County Council, and it is extremely difficult, when you have a large elected body of that kind determined upon a particular course, for the Government or anybody else to divert it from that course. I should very much regret the demolition of an ancient bridge like Waterloo Bridge.


My Lords, I should ask leave to withdraw my Motion in a very few sentences, but I think anybody who has heard the discussion would wish to convey congratulations to the Department of the noble Viscount for its admirable and striking extension of public usefulness, which would not have taken place were it not that there is behind it a great degree of public confidence in the work which it has carried on. Owners, therefore, have been more inclined to hand over their interesting monuments to the care of the Department. With regard to the charge which is made for admission to some of these monuments, I confess that I find myself in complete sympathy with the policy of the Department, especially with regard to those American tourists to whom the noble Viscount referred. It is a method of protection, and perhaps the only method of protection, which does manage to get some money out of the pockets of the foreigners, and it therefore meets with my approval.

With regard to economy, I am not sure that I am in agreement with the noble Viscount. I do not deplore that he has not so much money to spend. Speaking generally, it is those places upon which most money has been spent which have been most spoilt. It is there that we find the difference between restoration carried on by a public Department and restoration by people with a, great deal of money. In those houses in private occupation so-called restoration has over and over again gone far to spoil the house, and people nowadays are occupied in taking away additions put on at various times because their predecessors had more money to spend than was really good for the character of the house. Probably it is within the knowledge of most of your Lordships that those private houses which are in the best condition now, and which most resemble their original state, have been for some generations in the hands of poor families, and they are, generally speaking, in a better condition, from an archeological and historical point of view, than those upon which more money has been spent. I will conclude by congratulating the noble Viscount upon the very interesting report which he has been able to give to the House.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.