HL Deb 18 July 1934 vol 93 cc690-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, seventy-eight years ago, on March 4, 1856, my grandfather moved the following Resolution in your Lordships' House: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to take into Her Royal consideration the expediency of forming a gallery of the portraits of the most eminent persons in British history. That Resolution was accepted by the House and the Government, and so the National Portrait Gallery was brought into existence and a gap in the national collections began to be filled. To-day it is my privilege to bring before your Lordships the National Maritime Museum Bill, which is designed to fill another gap—a museum to illustrate our great history at sea by the actions of the Navy, the mercantile marine and our great sea explorers. It is a curious fact that while France, Holland, Sweden, Spain, Belgium and Russia all have had their National Marine Museums, and Italy, Denmark, and the United States are now organising National Museums, England, whose Empire is founded upon the Seven Seas, and whose long history has been inextricably bound up with the ocean, has never had a National Maritime Museum.

It was only in 1924 that the Society for Nautical Research began to draw attention to the question, and early in 1927 their Chairman, Admiral Sir George Hope, wrote a letter to the Admiralty on the matter. It came before me as Civil Lord, and naturally I became enthusiastic about it. I am glad to say that the Board of Admiralty and the First Lord, Lord Bridgeman, recommended the matter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Society for Nautical Research was authorised then to make a statement saying that in due course of time a National Maritime Museum would be instituted. That statement was made not a moment too soon. Already many objects of great national and historic interest had passed to foreign lands, never to return. As a result of that announcement that a national collection would be formed, Sir James Caird, who had already given £65,000 to the restoration of the "Victory" and £15,000 towards the restoration of the "Implacable," bought the Macpherson collection of naval prints, the greatest collection of naval prints in the world, and then went on to buy the collection known as the Mercury ship models. If this Bill becomes law the Mercury models, together with those now in the small naval museum in the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, will form the finest collection of ship models in the world.

Sir James Caird's purchases did not end there. I need not go into that at any length because your Lordships will find that he has been good enough to give the catalogue of his collections to your Lordships' Library, and your Lordships will be able to see four massive volumes there. They are indeed only a catalogue compiled for insurance purposes, and therefore extremely brief, but none the less they fill four large volumes.

He and other donors have presented pictures, busts, grisailles, engravings, atlases, charts, navigational instruments, medals, scale models, signal books, and relics of all kinds, and there must be now, I think, more than 500 drawings and paintings by the two Van de Veldes, and I do not suppose any museum in the world has got more than 200 to 250. There are works by Hogarth, Samuel Scott, Monamy, Luny, Reynolds, Allan Ramsay, Lely and many other distinguished artists, and busts by Chantrey and Nollekens. Your Lordships will realise that the collections which Sir James Caird is offering to the nation, and those objects which have already been given by other people, form a very wonderful collection.

It is constantly said that history never quite repeats itself, and therefore, when I made allusion to my grandfather instituting the National Portrait Gallery, I can say that, at any rate in this respect, this Museum which I am proposing to your Lordships to-day is in a more favourable position. The National Portrait Gallery started with no pictures at all, and no place of permanent residence, and it was many years before it eventually found a gallery in which to establish the treasures which began to pour in; in this case we start with a very large collection, and also adequate buildings in which to display them to the public. At this moment there is nowhere in this country where the public can learn of our naval history by studying periods, as it is hoped to display them at Greenwich. We hope to be able to display a picture of a great naval commander, with perhaps, below, a picture of the action in which he fought, and, close by, a model of a ship which took part in that action. Similarly in regard to the mercantile marine, which I for one am very anxious to see developed in its history to the fullest possible extent. I believe that many bills of lading and other documents of that character may reveal how we have gradually developed our Empire, and how the flag has followed trade rather than trade following the flag. Further, there is no place where students can engage in serious study, nor is there any place to which knowledge already in the hands of individuals can be sent in order that it may be kept and made available for those who require it at a later date.

I was told only a, few days ago by one of the officers of your Lordships' House who is an expert on the matter, that there are no fewer than 200 small types of coastal craft in this country. I am one of those who feel that the internal combustion engine has brought far more in the shape of disadvantage than of advantage, and at any rate one of the disadvantages which the internal combustion engine has brought is the abolition of boats propelled by sail or oars. In many cases they have become obsolete, in many cases they have been rattled to pieces by the motor engines which have been installed. It is only a question of years, and a very short period of years, before such boats as the Thames barge will cease to exist. I believe there are practically no specimens whatever of boats known as Margate hoys, Yarmouth drifters and Humber sailing trawlers. Unless ships' lines, drawn by an expert, are produced in the next few years and sail plans with constructional details collected, we shall know r o more about these ships which have sailed our waters for many generations than we now know about the Greek trireme. All that, we hope, will gradually flow into the National Maritime Museum.

Your Lordships may ask me why it is going to be placed at Greenwich. I admit that personally I have some family interest in Greenwich, because it was from Rotherhithe, close by that another ancestor of mine launched a vessel of 200 tons in 1792 which became the first steamboat in the possession of His Majesty's Navy. But, apart from that, in the first place buildings are available. The Queen's House, built in 1635 for Queen Henrietta Maria by Inigo Jones, has been handed over to the care of the; Commissioner of Works as an historic building. I have been over that building recently. It has been in the occupation of naval officers in charge of Greenwich Hospital School for a number of years, with the result that all sorts of alterations have been made in it and a great deal of rubbish has had to be pulled out. When that is restored to its original condition, as is in course of being done now, your Lordships will see one of the finest houses in England, with a succession of beautiful ceilings, and a house such as will gladden the eye of every visitor. Further, the school buildings which were inhabited by the Royal Naval School at Greenwich were built between 1807 and 1816, and they are quite sound, but unsuitable for a modern school. Thanks to the generosity of a Mr. Reade, who presented a property at Holbrook in Suffolk, the school moved out to new buildings last year, and therefore the school buildings at Greenwich are now empty.

Sir James Caird once more came forward and offered to the Government to pay the cost of altering the buildings in order to fit them for the National Maritime Museum at an estimated cost of £29,000. In all, his gifts to the Museum amount, with that reconditioning, to a sum of just over £351,000, and I think your Lordships will wish me to express on your behalf the thanks of the country for his great generosity.


Hear, hear.


Your Lordships may say Greenwich is a long way off. I think I can take your Lordships there by car in probably not more than ten minutes longer than it would take you to get to South Kensington and, after all, not the whole of London lives in May-fair or Belgravia. A great many live south of the river, and I do not see why our museums should be all concentrated on one spot, especially when we have a spot so accessible as Greenwich by tram, omnibus and train, and, indeed, by river, as we hope may eventuate shortly. Apart from that, this Museum, if your Lordships approve of this Bill, will be in wonderful surroundings. As I say, it is round the Queen's House built by Inigo Jones, and it is alongside the Royal Naval College built by Wren. It was at Woolwich and Deptford close by that Henry VIII set up his new naval yards. It is rumoured—of course it is perhaps only a fable—that it was at the Queen's House that Sir Walter Raleigh laid down his cloak for Queen Elizabeth to escape the mud. The Queen's House, as your Lordships may know, is built as a sort of saddle across the main road that at that time ran straight through the middle of it between London and Chatham, and roads in those days were more seas of mud than the tarred and macadamised surfaces of to-day. Therefore it is quite possible that this is indeed the site of the incident of Sir Walter Raleigh and his cloak.

The Museum will contain, amongst many other things, a commission of Sir Walter Raleigh's dated 1616, and also a picture of him, a picture of Queen Elizabeth by Marc Gheerardts the Younger and others of many of the commanders of that time. It was at Greenwich again that Elizabeth knighted Sir Francis Drake on the deck of the "Golden Hind," and there your Lordships will find, if you approve of this Museum, a picture of him by Marc Gheerardts the Elder dated 1591. It was in the Painted Hall just across the road that Nelson lay in state before his funeral up the river, and your Lordships will find in the Museum relics of Nelson presented by Her Majesty the Queen to the new Museum, and also Nelson's diamond aigrette, presented to him by the Sultan for his victory at the Battle of the Nile. Lastly, and perhaps most important of all, Greenwich lies just below the Royal Observatory, and I wonder how many of your Lordships quite realise what that means. It is from Greenwich that tile maps of the world take their longitude. Greenwich is at nought. It is from Greenwich that the whole world takes its time. Every nation is one or more hours before or after Greenwich time, and that is due to nothing else but to the fact of the seamanship, the exploration, and the work done by our seamen in days gone by.

As regards this Bill I need only deal with it very briefly, and I apologise for having taken up so much time already, but it is a subject I am rather keen about. Clause 1 establishes the Museum, and adds eleven and a-half acres of land to the Royal Park of Greenwich. It is hoped eventually that that will be turned into grass and flowers instead of being a tarred playground as at present. Of course it will be of enormous advantage to the people of that area. Clause 2 establishes a Board of Trustees. They are as follows: Mr. R. C. Anderson, who is a great collector himself, perhaps our greatest authority on ships models in this country, Admiral of the Fleet Earl Beatty, Sir William Berry, Sir James Caird, to whom I have referred as our great donor, Captain H. F. David, who is very well known in the mercantile marine and is on the Court of Master Mariners, Admiral Sir George Hope, the Earl of Ilchester, Sir Frederick Kenyon, Sir Percy Mackinnon, Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond, Mr. Walter Runciman and myself.

The first Director is to be Professor Geoffrey Callender, Professor of History at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. I have no hesitation in saying that those who know the work of the Society for Nautical Research, who brought this matter forward, will agree that Professor Callender is the originator of this idea, and it is due to his enthusiasm and knowledge that the matter has got to the state in which it is to-day. His knowledge and enthusiasm have discovered objects of value, both historical and artistic, and he has encouraged donors to come forward and present them to the nation. Therefore I think your Lordships will agree that we are fortunate in having prevailed on him to be the first Director of the new Museum. It is a herculean task that faces the Board of Trustees and the Director. As I have told your Lordships there are already a large number of pictures and other objects waiting to be installed, and we have a very long and difficult task in front of us.

I may say in passing that the Office of Works have been quite admirable in the assistance they have given in drawing up estimates, and bringing the matter to the stage of practical possibility with an estimate of what the cost will be. There is no cost to the State in the inauguration of this Museum, because Sir James Caird is proposing to meet that expense, but there will of course be the recurring cost of the salaries of the Director and staff and the maintenance of the buildings, which is estimated to amount to £15,000 a year. I think the other clauses of the Bill explain themselves quite simply and, indeed, are clear from the marginal descriptions of them, and I need not say anything further about them. I hope I have said enough to persuade your Lordships that this Museum will be of real interest and value to the nation, and that in receiving these gifts from those who have been good enough to give them to the State we are acquiring matters of historical and artistic interest which will be an asset and a joy for many generations to come. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Stanhove.)


My Lords, I am glad to have the privilege of saying a word in support of this Bill, because my Party strongly favours the establishment of this type of national institution, and for personal reasons because I suppose few of your Lordships did what I did. I spent two years in the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, and I remember well the significance of the Park and the remarkable buildings which surround the Naval College and the centre of our astronomical research. I hope very much that in the organisation of this Museum it may be possible to include the illustration of models of the internal fittings of these ships. I have seen in other countries models, one or two of full size and others smaller, of the fittings of the cabins of our mercantile ships and our ships of war, and I believe these models form an admirable method of bringing home to our present-day people the discomforts, sufferings and hardships which surrounded the lives of those who sailed our ships in the past. I hope very much that the noble Earl may be able to bring that forward to the Board of which he is to be a member. We on this side of the House strongly support this measure.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed.

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