HL Deb 03 July 1928 vol 71 cc816-30

THE LORD BISHOP OF DURHAM had given Notice that he would call attention to the state of Durham Castle, and ask His Majesty's Government whether any assistance can be rendered towards raising the very large amount requisite for preserving this important historical monument. The right rev. Prelate said: My Lords, I have placed on the Paper a Notice which raises a question of great importance to the County of Durham, but also, as I shall hope to show, of hardly less importance to the country as a whole. First I will ask the indulgence of your Lordships while I allude very briefly to a matter which, for the moment, crowds out every other from the minds of men in the County of Durham. Your Lordships will permit me to refer in terms to the grief and dismay with which the tidings of the apalling disaster at Darlington is at this moment filling the minds of all in the North. The stroke has fallen on a stricken people. Economic dislocation, the consequences of the Great War, which most men discuss in general terms, comes home to the pitmen of Durham in terms of actual privation. This cruel disaster, multiplying orphans and darkening many humble homes, has crashed into a community which is broken and bewildered by protracted unemployment. To me, as Bishop of Durham, familiar with the parishes to which the victims belonged and knowing well the desolation and sorrow which have been created, this grievous calamity comes with something of the shock of a personal bereavement. Your Lordships will be with me when offer from my heart sincere condolence to the distressed and sorrowing relatives and friends.

Now I come to the immediate matter and I ask your Lordships for a few minutes to turn your thoughts to a disaster of another kind which menaces the County of Durham and finally the whole nation: I mean the loss—and I use the word advisedly—the loss of one of the greatest historical and architectural treasures the nation possesses. Your Lordships will appreciate the assumption which underlies the Notice upon the Paper. It is the assumption that the preservation of our ancient historical monuments is a matter of national concern. It is no longer necessary to argue this matter. The nation has expressed its acceptance of that principle. Here I would like to be permitted to offer my tribute of gratitude and admiration to the Ancient Monuments Committee under the direction, sympathetic and skilful, of Mr. Peers, who, up and down the country, has done very much to preserve the ruined remains which have been handed over to its care by their possessors.

I want to point out the exceptional interest and importance of Durham Castle, both historically and architecturally, and I would borrow the words of the accomplished engineer, Dr. Oscar Faber, who has reported on the condition of the fabric of Durham Castle. His words are: It is safe to say that the group of buildings constituting Durham Castle are quite unique and irreplaceable and are the finest example we have of secular architecture of the period. Their configuration on the hill, perched aloft on its brow and dominating the city, is also, quite apart from its historic interest, a thrilling sight.

I have the advantage of knowing that nearly every member of Your Lordships' House is familiar with the place. As you have passed it to and fro on your annual journeys to Scotland, you have feasted your eyes on that marvellous spectacle of beauty that bursts on the traveller's gaze as the train draws in or out of Durham.

Now I want to say something to your Lordships about the state of Durham Castle. It is literally true to say that this great building, which to the view of the traveller seems built for eternity, is in imminent danger of falling down. The mediæval builders, with a wonderful flair for choosing sites, had no adequate knowledge of sub-soils, and in many instances they reared their magnificent piles upon foundations which have been found inadequate. This is the case with Durham Castle. It is not built on a rock, but on a bed of shale and broken soil about 70 feet deep, which is between the foundations of the Castle and the rock. This unsatisfactory interval is now, for some unknown reason, beginning to move. At the present time we do not known the reason, but the fact is certain—the great building is in danger of being carried into the river below. It is not too late, as we are assured, to save it, but prompt measures are indispensable if this great building is to be saved. Those measures, briefly, consist of (as a preliminary step) tying the building into the soil so that it shall not shift while the operations are being carried on and then underpinning it by foundations of a substantial character down to the rock below.

Who are the guardians of this great Castle? Historically it was the work of the Bishops of Durham and it perpetuates one of the most interesting of our political arrangements, an arrangement unique in this country, though more familiar on the continent, an arrangement by which civil, military and ecclesiastical functions were imposed upon an ecclesiastical jurisdiction for the better defence of the realm. I suppose there were practical reasons for doing this. One reason leaps to the eye and that is the advantage, when communications were difficult and there was real danger of outer districts of the Kingdom breaking into revolt against the Central Government, of centring the political, civil and military power in the hands of an ecclesiastic. The King could at least make sure that he was dealing with somebody who could not found a family and over whose appointment he could exercise a potent influence. I have added to my Notice a Question to His Majesty's Government, asking whether the State can assist the guardians of Durham Castle? Who are they? They are the Council of the Durham Colleges who, in the nineteenth century, became the responsible tenants of this great building. They have no money and they cannot possibly meet the great expenditure that is required. It will be said that if the State were to assist Durham Castle it would create a precedent which would have to be applied to many other ancient buildings who might submit a claim for similar assistance. But I would submit that in some important respects the case of Durham Castle is unique in England.

It has always, although of ecclesiastical origin, been devoted to secular uses. Even in the middle ages, and up to the year 1836, when the Palatine jurisdiction was transferred to the Crown, Durham Castle was the centre not of the ecclesiastical but of the civil administration of the Palatine Kingdom. It is used habitually by His Majesty's Judges when they come at intervals to attend Assizes. It is occupied by the University College and it constitutes a magnificent centre for all the ceremonial functions of Durham University. Therefore, both on civil and ecclesiastical grounds, this building has an interest for the nation. It is not like a Cathedral which has behind it the interest, the devotion, and the enthusiasm of the great Church to which it belongs. Durham University is not a wealthy and powerful University like the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. It is one of the newer Universities and it has, in fact, no resources on which it can draw. Failing the State there is only an appeal to the general public. I do not think I should care to be a rich man except for one reason. I would like to be able to do what the late Leader of this House the Marquess Curzon of Kedleston did when, with conspicuous public spirit, he employed his wealth in saving for us and restoring some ancient castles and in guaranteeing those historical monuments as far as he could to the perpetual possession of the nation.

Durham Castle is precisely the case for a patriotic benefactor to come forward to its assistance. The local public, the public of the North, it is hardly necessary to say, is exhausted. Remember that in the last five years £24,000 has been raised for the Castle, and expended upon that building. Notwithstanding the expenditure of every penny of that sum the castle is in danger of being lost unless we act now and save the building from slipping into the river. Within the last two or three months £17,000 has been raised towards the demand which must now be satisfied if the building is to be saved. When you consider the conditions under which the population of the North now lives, I think your Lordships will admit that the North has not been lacking in proof of the interest which it feels in, and in the value which it attaches to, this building. I think I may fairly tell your Lordships what the students of Durham are doing in the matter. In the last fortnight the students have collected many hundreds of pounds for the fund, but their resources are very limited. The little City of Durham, which only contains 17,000 people, has succeeded in raising something like £1,300.

Here I would like to remind your Lordships of the singular circumstance that some of our greatest buildings are located in quite insignificant places. Take our great Cathedrals. You will find again and again that they are in quite petty towns and here you have Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral both placed in a little community of 17,000 people, the normal resources of which are quite inadequate for the maintenance of them. I submit to your Lordships that locality is a consideration altogether irrelevant to the argument which I am addressing to your Lordships. Historical monuments must be local geographically but they are not local æsthetically. These great buildings are our national heirlooms.

And, my Lords, there is another consideration about them, and that is their Imperial value, which can hardly be overstated. They are the great links of Empire, immaterial but none the less strong for being unrecognised and undiscerned. It is the impression made on the ceaseless stream of our fellow citizens from the Colonies that sends them home with a deepened sense of reverence. It is in that way that these buildings are a link between these people and ourselves. Your Lordships will realise that I have been speaking to you under the coercion of a great fear and in the fulfilment of an evident duty. I am afraid that my tenure of that great historic See of Durham—in some respects the most famous and interesting of all the Bishoprics of which the tenants are represented in this House—may be associated with the deplorable circumstance that in my time this magnificent building, which the patriotism of my predecessors erected on the banks of the Wear, should come to irreparable disaster. I am here in the fulfilment of an evident duty. I cannot, of course, bring any kind of coercion upon my fellow citizens. I can but do this, make them, as far as I can, perceive the interest which is at stake and then leave it to their consciences, their patriotic imagination, to respond to the appeal which I make in my office as Bishop of Durham. My Lords, I beg to call your attention to the state of Durham Castle and to ask the Government the Question of which I have given Notice.


My Lords, I would venture, in a very few words, to support the appeal which has been made by the right rev. Prelate with respect to Durham Castle. What he has said is divided into two parts. He has first of all drawn attention to the state in which Durham Castle is at the present moment, and, secondly, he has asked the noble Viscount who will respend whether any assistance can be given towards the expenditure which will be required for replacing the Castle in a safe condition. The right rev. Prelate has put this matter before your Lordships in very moving terms, and I feel presumptuous indeed in following him. In fact, I do not feel that anything I can say can emphasise the importance which your Lordships will undoubtedly attach to his words.

The great structure, of which we all have reason to be so justly proud, is in imminent danger, and when the right rev. Prelate and I walked round the Castle the other day we were the witnesses of the ravages which time has made and which are continuing at an ever-increasing pace to destroy the structure. The right rev. Prelate appealed to your Lordships on national grounds. I would venture to make exactly the same appeal, although I am bound to say that I would far sooner feel that this great monument was chiefly the possession of the community which surrounds it. But your Lordships are well aware that, at this moment, the North is perhaps in greater difficulty than any other portion of the country and it is entirely beyond our power to raise the sum of money which would be necessary to place the Castle in a sound condition. Therefore, we make this appeal and I venture humbly to associate myself with the right rev. Prelate in making that appeal to as wide a public as possible.

We want the public to realise the value of these great monuments from the national point of view, from the historical point of view, from the æsthetical point of view, and also from the practical point of view, because the Castle of Durham is used now in many ways. Apart from the disaster to this country which would ensue if, as the right rev. Prelate said, the Castle did fall into the river, this structure is of great value to the community which surrounds it. These are the considerations which would venture to put before your Lordships in asking you to consider this matter, which is one perhaps of greater importance than many which come before your Lordships' House. I need hardly say that I hope we shall receive a sympathetic answer from the noble Lord who will reply for the Government.

There is one point which I would put before your Lordships. I should like, in fact, to answer in anticipation a question which may be asked before the discussion is ended. That question is: Why is it that we have come before the country almost suddenly and without notice to inform them of the dangerous condition in which Durham Castle is at the present moment? I would venture to say that during the last fourteen or fifteen years, when men's minds have been turned to all those pressing questions which assailed the country and the world, other matters which could not be termed of the same importance have been allowed to fall into abeyance. Yet the ravages of time and the dangers which threaten this magnificent building are going on unceasingly. That is the apology which I would make to your Lordships. We stand before you hoping that you will give us your assistance in pressing forward before the country, and before a wider public than in this country, before all those who in our Dominions look upon our splendid monuments with almost reverential deference. I would ask them to realise that this is their heritage as well as ours and to do what they can to support this monument and to maintain it as one of the finest monuments that exist in this country.


My Lords, I feel it to be a mere duty to say one or two words in support of the appeal that has been made with such sincere and moving eloquence by my right rev. friend. The fact that I have responded readily to his plea in spite of some inconvenience may perhaps be regarded as a sign of the way in which the stream of time obliterates ancient feuds. There was a time when my predecessors would have regarded the demolition and destruction of Durham Castle with very great satisfaction. Indeed, if it had been possible for them, I think they would have gladly contributed their share to its destruction, for it was there, as you have been reminded, that a civil and military power always excessive, and ecclesiastical pretensions always, I need scarcely say, indefensible and intolerable, were entrenched for many centuries. But these days have passed. The usefulness and, in the present case, the brilliance and influence of the Bishops of Durham remain; their pretensions and their powers, ecclesiastical and civil, need no longer trouble the holders of my office. Therefore I am here very gladly to support this plea.

I do not think that there is one of your Lordships who did not feel the force of that reminder of a sight unique in this country, almost I think in Europe, which meets our eyes when we look across the roofs of Durham to that splendid line of the Castle and Cathedral. It is worth a great deal in English life, it stands for a great deal in English history. I know of no more impressive spectacle in this country of the splendour of the Middle Ages, no more apt reminder of the danger lest what we call modern civilisation may lose some of the greatest and noblest things of a civilisation older and in some ways higher than itself. There is real danger—I do not think it can be exaggerated—that this splendid sight, this wonderful memorial of the greatness of our country, may in our generation, for which we have some measure of responsibility, disappear and crumble away.

Who is to prevent that danger? I do not think we can expect the people of Durham County to do more than they have done. Your Lordships are all aware that the County of Durham at the present time is a land over which a heavy shadow is resting, a profound depression. In spite of the heroic efforts of leaders of industry in Durham, some of whom are not unconnected with your Lordships' House, it is quite arguable that it may soon become the sphere of an industry that has passed. You cannot expect much to be done at the present time in that County and, indeed, I always think that its present difficulties could be supported as they are being supported only by the character of the people of the County, of which the rock structure of Durham Castle is no inadequate symbol. They have done what they can. The leading owners of royalties have contributed according to their diminished resources, and not least the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the inheritors of a great part of the wealth of the old Bishops of Durham. They have led the way and many have followed their example. Yon have heard what the people and students of Durham have done, but you have not heard—because you could not hear it from him—of the efforts that the Bishop himself has made. I honestly do not think that more can be expected of the people of the County and of the University.

It is not for me to say whether or not His Majesty's Government might in any way give assistance. I hope that, if it is in any way possible by some ingenuity of sympathy to prevent the ruin of so great a building, they will be ready to do so. This is, at any rate, an opportunity of seeing that from this House shall go an appeal to the public opinion of the country at large, and particularly to those who may have some measure of wealth. No doubt the sum needed is a large one. I believe it amounts to £100,000. Is this great and wealthy country prepared to pay £100,000 to pre serve something that is not only of great architectural beauty but is a great spiritual asset? For indeed the noble Marquess who has just spoken does not exaggerate when he says that this is a memorial, still unique in its beauty and once in its strength, of all that is oldest and noblest in the history of this country.


My Lords, I shall not easily forget the thrill with which, as one of His Majesty's Justices of Assize for the County of Durham, I entered into my lodging in Durham Castle, now more than thirty years ago, and though all my other visits are now more than fifteen years in the past I have never forgotten the impression made upon me by the magnificent, historic pile that is used, among other public uses, for the lodging of His Majesty's Judges whenever they go to that County on Assize. I do not think that this is to be regarded in any sense as an ecclesiastical building. It belonged to the Bishops of Durham as Princes, as Counts Palatine. It was part of the protection of the realm against that incursion of Scots from which we have suffered so much in the last two centuries! If they succeeded in overpowering or outflanking the Percys of Northumberland, there was a chance that they might be held up by the Castle of Durham. As I say, my connection with that building is now of very ancient date, and I was both astonished and grieved when I learned from this Question of the Bishop of Durham that there was any danger to this magnificent Castle. If you put aside the Royal Castles, I can think at the moment of no public castle that has such claims upon the country and the Government as Durham Castle, and I hope it may be possible that some subvention may be granted in aid by His Majesty's Treasury.


My Lords, the right rev. Prelate has asked me, or I would not have ventured to say a word upon this subject, to say something to commend to the Government the proposal that he has made. My connection with Durham Castle is exactly the same as that of the noble and learned Lord who has just addressed you. I went there when I had to hold Assizes for that County, and for many years now it has been the privilege of the Judges of Assize to take up their residence during the Assizes in what was originally the palace of the Prince Bishops of Durham. I do not put this appeal before your Lordships simply on utilitarian grounds. Judges might, no doubt, sleep equally well in lower rooms and dine equally well in smaller ones, but it does, I am sure, add something to the dignity of the administration of the law when people find that the tradition of centuries is not altogether lost and obscured. Justice was done by the Judges of the Palatine, the head of which lived in Durham Castle. It is done now by those who come there with His Majesty's Commission, and mere historic continuity, I think, must count for a great deal among people proud of their origin, and proud of their history, and, I dare say, proud of the fact of which Lord Phillimore has somewhat unfelicitously reminded us, that one of the chief duties of the Prince Bishop who lived in that fortress was to prevent the incursions of the Scots. The right rev. Prelate who has just addressed you was, I think, one of those who turned that fortress and came to England, and it is owing to the incursions of the Scots not having been altogether repulsed that I happen to be here myself.

I know that that would not recommend this subject to your Lordships, but when the Bishop of Durham appeals to the Government to do something to maintain this great historic monument, which cannot be maintained by those who live close around it, and preserve it from the fate which menaces it every day, I think one might remind this House of the fact that were this Castle in France it would probably need only a word to the Government to see that it was not permitted to decay. Many of your Lordships, I have no doubt, have visited the Chateaux of Touraine, and have seen what the French Government has done for their preservation. What would have been the fate of Blois, which stands so high upon a rock, if there had not been money spent upon it out of the public funds of France? Has any one, I wonder, visited of late years Carcassonne. It now looks as if not a stone had ever perished. Yet Carcassonne was burnt by an English Prince who looks at us from that window—the Black Prince. It shows now no signs of decay. Some may think it has been too thoroughly restored—I rather think so myself—but I would not ask, and I am sure no one would ask, that Durham Castle should be titivated and touched up. If the Government merely prevent it from falling into the river, I think the country would be satisfied. It has many things to commend it. It commends itself to Lord Phillimore because of its defence of England. He did not mention it, but it is true that the Bishop of Durham, the Prince Bishop, led out his forces, and he repelled not only a certain number of humble Scots, but I think he slew in battle Robert the Second of Scotland and numbers of his men. The Scots are a forgiving people, and I am sure no Scottish taxpayer would feel in the least humiliated if he knew that the Government was doing something to preserve what for long kept him out of a country which since then, to its great advantage, has welcomed a great number of Scotsmen.


My Lords, I am sure that in every part of the House you have listened with the greatest sympathy to the very eloquent appeal made by the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Durham on behalf of Durham Castle. This appeal was supported in many parts of the House, notably by the most rev. Prelate the Archbishop of York, and by my noble friend Lord Londonderry. It was also supported, on what I thought more questionable ground, by Lord Phillimore. I think no one will deny, and I think every one will agree with the right rev. Prelate, that the fall of this great pile of buildings from the rock on which it now stands would be almost an unimaginable disaster. He did make one criticism which I thought was a little hard upon mediæval builders. He said that they did not always build upon a rock. When your Lordships consider that Durham Castle was built eight centuries ago, I think you will agree that it, was not a case of jerry-building, since those buildings have lasted for so long. May I also respectfully congratulate the Archbishop of York upon having buried, or re-buried, the old feud between the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Durham?

Several noble Lords have spoken of the historic grandeur, dignity and beauty of this great Castle, but I think perhaps it would be useful, if it interested your Lordships, to give a short sketch of the history of this Castle from the time when it was built. It was first built by order of William the Conqueror on his return from his expedition against Scotland, in 1072. It was intended as a stronghold for the Bishop, through whom William proposed to rule this part of the country. Of the work of the Conqueror's period little remains except the very interesting Crypt Chapel, in the lower part of the later northern range of buildings. In subsequent centuries extensive buildings and re-buildings were carried out by the Bishops, who held the rank of temporal Princes or Counts Palatine. In the 12th Century Bishop Pudsey built a great range of buildings along the north wall. This range comprised a great hall and another hall, now known as the Norman Gallery, on the floor above, and it is a most noteworthy example of late Norman architecture. About the end of the thirteenth century Bishop Bek built, the great banqueting hall, now used as the dining hall of Durham University College. This hall, like most of the buildings of the Castle, was subsequently much altered.

The buildings which have just been mentioned contain some of the most beautiful remains of domestic architecture in England. The Castle, however, continued to retain its military character as a stronghold. Its defences were strengthened from time to time by the Bishops; and in the fourteenth century a new keep was built to replace the elder one. The present keep is a modern reconstruction. The buildings of Durham Castle are now used by the University of Durham, which was established under Royal Charter in 1837. The Bishop had not for a long time resided much at the Castle, and on the establishment of the University he ceased entirely to reside there. By an Order in Council of 1837 the Castle and its precincts were appropriated for the use of the University, subject to the right of the Bishop, as visitor, to use certain apartments, which were also used by the Judges on Circuit.

So much for the history of this building. Then the question is raised: With whom does the responsibility for the buildings lie? As was stated by the Bishop of Durham, it is on the Council of the Colleges of Durham University, who have the responsibility for the care and maintenance of Durham Castle. This is not the first time that the matter has been brought to the notice of the Office of Works. We received a letter from that Council asking whether we would take charge of the Castle under the Ancient Monuments Act. I need hardly say that the Office of Works is deeply interested in these ancient monuments and in their preservation—not, if I may say so, in their restoration, as was, I think, suggested by a speaker in the debate. Unfortunately, the legal and financial difficulties in the way have pre-vented us either from taking any part in that preservation or from taking the Castle over into our guardianship.

I must briefly enumerate the legal difficulties which hamper our action. First of all, by the Act which gives us the power to deal with these ancient monuments we cannot take the guardianship of inhabited houses. The buildings of the Castle are used in part as students' living rooms, and, even if this were to cease, there are other parts used as lecture rooms, dining rooms, etc., and it is open to grave doubt if such use would not constitute a "dwelling house" within the meaning of the Act. The rights of occupation possessed by the Bishop who cannot bind his successors present another difficulty. Again, it is not at all clear that the Council have power to offer guardianship to the Office of Works, and thus in effect to get rid of duties imposed upon them by Act of Parliament.

But, in addition to the legal difficulties, I am bound to refer to the financial position. The money voted by Parliament for the preservation and upkeep of ancient monuments averages £45,000 a year, and I understand that it would require something like £150,000 to deal with the difficulties that have arisen in connection with the Castle—underpinning the foundation and doing other necessary work. Therefore, anxious as the Office of Works is to do anything it can, this work would absorb something like three years' purchase of the whole income which it has for the purpose of looking after ancient monuments. I am afraid, therefore—of course, I am speaking for my own Department—that within the resources of the Department I cannot promise money for the preservation of the building. One can only give the utmost sympathy to any efforts that are made to raise funds by private subscription for this purpose. Nor, I am afraid, is it legally possible for us to contribute to the funds raised by private subscription. The funds of the Department can only be given for the preservation of monuments actually in its charge. We have no power under the Act to spend money on monuments not in our charge, or to give any financial assistance towards the cost of preserving such monuments.

I am very sorry therefore that, as far as the powers of our Department go at present, I cannot offer any help in response to the appeal made by the right rev. Prelate. I do not know whether I ought to join in his appeal that public subscriptions should assist this work. I am quite aware of the very heavy weight of taxation that rests upon everybody nowadays. I am equally extremely well aware of the situation in which the County of Durham at present finds itself. But at the same time one cannot look even for a few days at the newspapers without seeing what large sums are constantly being subscribed, most munificently, for the purpose of securing portions of land for the preservation of the amenities of the people, and I cannot help feeling that, useful and generous as those subscriptions are, they could not be better devoted than to the maintenance and preservation of this magnificent monument. Therefore, I may perhaps be permitted to join with the right rev. Prelate in the hope that those generous benefactors may contribute towards the preservation of what we all deem to be one of the most splendid historical possessions of this country.


My Lords, we are disappointed that the Government cannot help in preserving what is admittedly a great national monument, and one of great beauty, in which the whole country takes a pride. I rise to point out the somewhat anomalous position which the Government occupy. In the event of a tragedy occurring and this building falling into the river there would presumably be a wreck of its former grandeur. The building would then be no longer occupied. The hall and the wonderful rooms there would no longer be used by the students of the University, and yet under those conditions the Government would come forward presumably and be able to take charge of a building which would be of no value except as a wreck and a mere skeleton of its former grandeur. It seems to me that the powers which have been conferred upon the Government really require looking into, and I suggest to the noble Viscount that he might consider with his colleagues whether it is not possible to introduce some amendment to the existing law which would make it possible for the Government to assist in preserving monuments of this national character.


I have had a Bill in draft for two years at least.


I am delighted to hear that the noble Viscount has the matter under his consideration, and I hope he will expedite the introduction of a measure of that kind, because I am strongly of opinion that, in the event of such a Bill passing into law, it would do much to stimulate private generosity if the Government itself were prepared to render some assistance.