The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 4
Report from the Select Committee on the Office of Works and Public Buildings.
The select committee appointed to inquire into the state of the public buildings in the department of the office of works, under statute Geo. III. c. ; and into the application of part of the land revenue of the crown, under statute George IV. c. , and under and George IV. c. , for the management and improvement of the land revenues of the crown in Ireland; and into the works now in progress, under Geo. IV. c. , for improving Charing-cross, and for granting leases of the site of Carlton palace; and to report the same, with their observations, to the House, began their inquiry into the mode of conducting the business of the office of works, by examining the surveyor-general; who informed your committee, that soon after the passing of the act Geo. III. c. , a code of instructions was drawn out by the commissioners of the treasury, dated March , and that no alteration of any consequence has been made since.
The regulations under which public works and buildings were previously carried on form the subject of an elaborate report from the commissioners of inquiry into the conduct and business of that department, printed d . It was enacted in , by George III. c. , which suppressed the then existing board of works, together with several other offices, that all his majesty's buildings hitherto under the management of that board should be under the direction of an architect or builder by profession, as surveyor or comptroller of the works; which office was held for many years by sir William Chambers, and after his death by Mr. Wyatt, but the want of punctuality and exactness of the latter in keeping his accounts, and the extreme disorder into which they had fallen, gave occasion, in , to new regulations, by the introduction of the system under which that office is now conducted. The intention of the framers of that act appears to have been to establish an efficient control and superintendence in the surveyor-general, attaching to his office a council of of the most eminent architects, to assist and advise him by their united talent, in all such matters, either of design or execution, as might require the knowledge and skill of persons professionally educated. A salary of was assigned to each of them, and their commission upon new buildings conducted under their direction was settled at per cent. instead of , which is the usual charge of architects; but they were relieved from the expense of clerks of the works, and of making out the accounts and bills of the workmen, which occur when they are employed in the usual course of their business. Upon reference to the evidence it will be seen, that for conducting the works both at Buckingham palace and Windsor castle, the commission to be
|received is the full commission of per cent., although the business of measuring and settling the accounts is conducted and paid by the office; the grounds of which allowance are stated in the correspondence, and the treasury minutes contained in the appendix. Mr. Nash's salary of is not paid during the progress of the works at the palace. The attached architects are certainly not excluded by the section of the act from undertaking and conducting public works, but it does not seem to have been designed or contemplated that they should be exclusively employed; nor that separate and distinct divisions of the metropolis should be allotted to them, as in severalty, so that only of this council (if it may be so denominated) should be referred to, or consulted, within the limits of his peculiar province, without any professional competition or concurrence. Objections might undoubtedly be raised against referring the designs and plans of of these architects to the other , for their examination and criticism, on account of that difficulty and delicacy which very properly exist among men of high reputation in the same profession, and belonging to the same department, who would naturally be unwilling to give opinions or suggest corrections upon the works of their colleagues; but the effect of this system has been, and must continue to be, the narrowing and limiting the choice of those who are to determine upon the general taste and character of public buildings, whose judgment ought to be assisted by some variety and diversity of design, and some increase in the power of selection. The faculty of originating and inventing what is excellent in architecture, as in every thing else is undoubtedly confined to few; but many of those who are at all conversant in works of art, particularly if they had opportunities of observing the best examples of ancient and modern architecture, are capable of forming a correct judgment upon designs or models which are placed before them, and will seldom fail to prefer the best to the worst. The inconvenience of this want of choice, supposing no more essential change to be made in the constitution of the office, may certainly be obviated by directing each of the attached architects to give a general notion or representation, or a slight sketch, of the style and character in which he would propose any public building to be treated, which is either to be newly erected, or considerably enlarged or altered; and slight sketches might also be called for from other architects of experience or reputation, so as to afford some opportunity of competition, without incurring the inconvenience attending unlimited tenders.|
In all cases where any considerable work is to be undertaken, as soon as any general plan shall have been preferred and selected, it is indispensable that a model should be constructed, showing both the elevation, and the internal accommodation and distribution of the whole; and that this model should be reconsidered and settled (with alterations, if necessary) before the work is begun. A correct estimate should then be formed, and the commission of the
|architect should not in any case be allowed upon the amount of the expenditure beyond the original estimate; for no mode of payment can he more absurd or contrary to economy, than that of a per centage upon the ultimate charge, which makes it the interest of those who conduct extensive works to render them as expensive as they can, and affords them a premium upon their own unconstrained inaccuracy and extravagance.|
A considerable difference in opinion exists with regard to the check and control over expense which the present system affords; and those parts of the conflicting evidence of Mr. Nash and Mr. Smirke, which relates to this specific point, exhibit the defects and the advantages belonging to it. But it must be confessed, that the responsibility of the architect is extremely diminished, when the examination of the several charges is taken out of his hands, as well as the measuring of the work, which is stated universally to be a source of great uncertainty and cavilling, and not unfrequently of imposition and overcharge. Mr. Nash distinctly says, that nothing is so unreasonable as to think that an architect can be answerable in any way for his estimate when he himself does not control the prices and make out the bills; and he avows his inability of judging how nearly the expense of the palace has come to his estimate, because he has nothing to do with the measuring or making out the accounts. A mode of proceeding which affords so plausible an excuse or justification for excess and deviation (unless some great counterpoise can be alleged in favour of its utility in some other point of view), is hardly to be maintained or continued with advantage to the public.
For the purpose of investigating this question and endeavouring to determine as to the present method of conducting public works, your committee entered into further enquiries, and examined several persons of respectability and high character, as architects and builders, not connected with the office of works; among whom they found the same diversity of opinion as between the architects already referred to.
The preponderance of opinion, however, among those most capable of forming a correct judgment, who have been examined upon this question, is certainly in favour of the present practice of contracts for prices, as contrasted with contracts in gross.
Mr. Wyatville, Mr. Harrison, and Mr. Burton, give it a decided preference; but the contracts in gross are considered by Mr. Rowles and Mr. Cubitt as more advantageous to the employer, and not necessarily liable to the objections which are alleged against them. In the evidence of Mr. Rowles are also some detailed observations upon the code of instructions of , well deserving of attention, and suggesting some improvements in that system.
The certainty of a work being performed within the sum allotted to it, is unquestionably a powerful recommendation to contracts in gross; but if, as t is alleged, such works are more liable to be
|slighted in the execution, and frauds are more frequently practised in carrying on and conducting the several parts; and if such frauds and evasions of the specifications are less capable of being detected than when the works are undertaken under contracts for prices (which is the regulation in the office for works), the latter mode would certainly be preferable, even at an increased charge. But with the superintendance of clerks of the works and other men bred to the profession, belonging to and dependent upon the office, and with such accuracy in the specifications as the ability and experience of the attached architect cannot fail to ensure, your committee consider that the method which appears the most prudent and economical for individuals to adopt, could not prove disadvantageous to the public; and they are therefore inclined to think that with precise specification and careful superintendence, and where all deviations from the original plan are avoided, the system of contracts in gross might be found to be the least expensive.|
Within the last or years a larger field has been opened for architectural talent and exertion than at almost any other period of our modern annals; a greater number of bridges and churches, and of both public and private works upon an extended scale, have been completed, than in an years before. The appearance and convenience of the parts of this metropolis to the north of Pall-mall and , have been much improved by the grand line of , and the buildings leading to and connected with it; of which the general design and many of the details are excellent; but on the other hand it may be observed, with regret, that the taste and style of some of the public edifices do not indicate such a stale of improvement as might have been desired and expected from the increased opportunities which have been thus afforded.
It would be an invidious and unpleasant task to criticise the labours of living architects, who have deservedly risen to a distinguished station in their profession; and it is only with regard to such parts of their productions as they profess themselves dissatisfied with and condemn, that your committee venture to express their full concurrence hi those unfavourable opinions; but in some of these it must be observed, that much of the defect is to be attributed to changes and alterations in their plans, even during the execution of the buildings, and to a want of due consideration and determination upon the entire edifice, before any portion was begun.
The inconvenient line of the new council office, both in and , discordant from the lines of those streets, and encroaching most awkwardly and incommodiously upon the foot pavement of the latter (if it should be continued), could hardly have been resolved upon, if all the consequences attendant upon that design, in relation to the line of street and the height of the adjoining and neighbouring buildings, had been laid before the lords of the treasury at view, and the objections pointed out to them. The
|addition of the pavilion, towards , was entirely an after thought; and it now seems to require a corresponding and ornamented projection, which it it be placed before the office of the secretary of state for the home department, and kept in the same alignment, will essentially disfigure the fine street of ; or if turned upon an obtuse angle towards Melbourne House, will excite in every observing passenger, a sentiment of regret that this inconvenience was not foreseen in the beginning, and obviated. It will be noticed in the evidence of Mr. Soane, that a pavilion, towards the home office, was never in his contemplation; but he produced to your committee a design for erecting a corresponding pavilion on the other side of , at the angle of , with a building extending into , similar to that in .|
The council office should have been much higher, if taste only were considered, as Mr. Soane acknowledges in his evidence, and his design for a much less decorated building was made accordingly; but a desire of restricting the expense, which must have been incurred by making the rooms unnecessarily high, was of his reasons, as he alleges, for not carrying the building to a more dignified elevation. A balustrade connecting the line of chimneys was, during a short time, placed upon the roof of this dwarfish front; but the architect states that he had nothing to do either with the putting it on or taking it of. Such is the unsatisfactory state in which this large and costly structure stands, from being begun without a plan which had been maturely considered, from injudicious alterations and changes which have been made during its progress, and contrary, as it appears by his own statement, to the opinion of the architect; but under whatever direction this work may have proceeded there can be only opinion of the work itself; and although your committee cannot clearly ascertain to whom the blame attaches, the system cannot be good which has produced such a result. It therefore now remains a question, how it can either be left as it is, or how it can be completed on the end towards the north: for as to the project of balancing it by a symmetrical and similar range of pavilion and building on the other side of in , with a decorated arch connecting those streets, such an addition will probably never be required for public utility, nor does it seem desirable that it should be ever carried into effect.
The name of lord viscount Goderich having been frequently mentioned in Mr. Soane's evidence relating to the new council office, your committee requested his lordship to inform them as to his recollection of the circumstances connected with that building, which is given at length in his evidence. In this place it may be sufficient to observe, that with the exception of the line so inadvertently taken, the other defects could not have occurred, if the suggestion made by lord Goderich in of his conferences with
Mr. Soane had been adopted, which was, to refer to the general design of Inigo Jones for the palace of , and to select such a division or portion from it as might be adapted, in the interior distribution, to the purposes of the trade and council offices, and might adorn the street, by a front not discordant from the style and character of the only portion of that grand building which now remains and decorates the opposite side.
Another larger and much more expensive building, which is in progress for his majesty's palace in St. James's-park, is now undergoing very considerable alterations, not originally contemplated, for the purpose of rectifying a defect, which scarcely could have occurred if a model of the entire edifice had previously been made and duly examined. Mr. Nash says, in answer to a question relating to the detached -windowed houses at the extreme angles of the wings,
The consequence of this alteration, thus occasioned, will increase the interior accommodation by adding new apartments to the present numbers, but it is estimated at no less a sum than With regard to the dome above the roof of the palace, Mr. Nash deems it unfortunate that it is visible from the park side, which was not intended by him, nor was he aware that it would have been seen, except as belonging exclusively to the garden front.
It was proposed when this great work was undertaken in , under the title of repairing and improving Buckingham-house ( Geo. IV. c. ), that the expenses, then estimated at should be defrayed out of the land revenue of the crown, in the department of the woods and forests; but in consequence of extraordinary charges upon that revenue to a very considerable amount, some of which had not been foreseen or ascertained at the time of passing that act, and also from the unexpected rapidity with which the alterations had proceeded at the palace, the work must soon have been suspended for want of funds to continue it, if a supply from a source wholly unlooked for and unexpected had not been advanced by orders from the commissioners of the treasury in aid of this deficiency. Your committee conceive that it does not come within their province to do more than to notice this transaction, as having enabled the office of woods and forests to meet the heavy charge by other resources than those which were by law appropriated to it This supply amounted to What has hitherto been actually paid from the land revenue is in addition to that sum; and there is a probability that the surplus of that revenue will in this year be capable of affording about and in about The land revenue varies from year to year, in consequence of fines upon renewals; but the whole, including that of the woods and forests, may be taken at about a year.
The estimated charge for completing the palace is including the above sum of which has been already paid.
Upon the site of Carlton House, the several houses which are erecting for individuals must be conformable to a general design for the exterior, but the proprietors are at liberty to select their own architects or builders; and the annual rents which will accrue to the crown from these new houses are calculated at , the particulars of which will be found exactly detailed in the evidence of Mr. Arbuthnot.
It was imagined by Mr. Nash, that a large sum would at once be raised by a sale of the greater part of these annual ground-rents to the proprietors of the houses at years' purchase (the freehold being still retained by the crown,) but that expectation having not hitherto been realized, no present pecuniary advantage of that sort having accrued to the crown in aid of this undertaking, but on the contrary, a considerable and immediate charge having been incurred in forming the ground, making a large sewer, purchasing the land-tax, and other incidental outgoings, before any part of the annual rents has been received.
It is, however, stated in Mr. Arbuthnot's evidence, that although the proprietors themselves may not choose to buy up their rents, it would be in the power of the government to sell to any other individuals such a proportion of them as might be thought fit to dispose of. By the act Geo. IV., c. , the crown is authorised to take fines from the lessees for any portion of their rent, which is a deviation from the usual practice with regard to other new buildings; nor is it the practice to alienate new buildings in fee, to which rule it appears expedient to adhere.
The expenditure upon the alterations in , which are in some measure connected with these new houses, amounts to , including the iron railing: but exclusive of the planting within the railing.
It is proposed to erect a fountain, estimated to cost , with the addition of a large annual charge for a constant supply of water, in the centre of the continuation of Waterloo-place, towards , as will be seen in the evidence of Mr. Nash; which being the instance of a fountain surrounded by columns, with a dome or covering over it, gave occasion to some questions from your committee, which appear in the evidence of Mr. Nash, together with his answers; and they cannot but here observe, that this fountain, if it is to be encircled by a peristyle, and covered by a cap or dome, is not likely in itself to be an ornamental object, and that it would obstruct the opening, and the view of the park from and .
A spacious and handsome flight of steps in the centre of that terrace, leading into , would form an ornamental and commodious communication between and the Park, and would afford to the public a very general accommodation, and an
|appropriate termination of that fine opening. Your committee are informed that the central division of , newly inclosed by iron rails, is intended to be open to the public in the same way with the other parts of that park.|
Your committee find, upon inquiry, that no sanction has hitherto been given by the commissioners of the treasury to the extension of the plan engraved in the Journals of , towards Marlborough-house and ; and they cannot consider such an extension, nor any further encroachment upon the Park, as fit to be recommended.
The fraudulent and scandalous manner in which the foundation of the new Custom-house was laid, occasioned, by its total failure in , a charge of no less than , or , in addition to the original expenditure of ; but no part of this blame affects the office of works, nor the architects attached to it. This great structure was unfortunately placed under the conduct of Mr. Laing, the person who happened, in the year , to be surveyor of buildings in that department,--a course which your committee conceive to be exceedingly objectionable, being of opinion that all works of this description should be carried on under the direction and management of the office specially appointed for the execution of such works: and they would animadvert more strongly on this point if they were not informed that the treasury have already put a stop to the practice, and have now under their consideration some new regulations upon the subject. II is also to be observed, that no estimate was laid before the House, nor any sanction given by a vote, either before the undertaking or during the progress, the expense having been defrayed out of the revenue of the customs. This mode of proceeding, although in conformity with the practice which has hitherto existed with respect to buildings occupied by the revenue departments, appears to be at variance with the general principles by which the public expenditure is governed, and to be open to much objection. They recommend, therefore, that in future no new buildings for any of these departments should be undertaken except under the authority of a grant of parliament, upon an estimate to be laid before the House for that purpose, as in the case of any other object of miscellaneous expenditure.
No department should be allowed to order any thing beyond mere incidental repairs, without referring to and receiving directions from the office of works. The enormous expense of the new Mint, and its excess beyond the estimate, which was noticed in by the committee on public income and expenditure, in their report; and the more recent example of the custom-house, render this regulation and the strictest adherence to it indispensable.
The New Mews, fronting the north side of , has been erected at the expense of and the annual rents payable to the use of the public, as part of the land revenue, will amount only to about . per cent, upon that sum. The reasons for
|making the exterior more ornamental and costly than the uses to which it is allotted require, are assigned in the evidence of Mr. Arbuthnot and Mr. Burton.|
The presents a much better and more productive instance of management under the same department; and it must afford to the House great satisfaction to know that the laying out and planting of that extensive ground, together with the buildings upon it, which do so much credit to the taste and judgment of Mr. Nash, will also soon become a very profitable addition to the land revenue, the annual rent being and the remaining excess of expenditure beyond receipt being reduced to
The improvements at and near Charing-Cross and , under the statute Geo. IV. c. , are in progress, and by much the greatest portion of the property required for the purposes of that act has been obtained. A considerable number of the old houses near have already been taken down, and new buildings will almost immediately be commenced in that neighbourhood; but some further purchases remain to be effected.
The defects of the present system, under the act of , appear to be,--. Want of responsibility. Want of competency to decide. Want of choice and competition; from which causes proceed the erection of buildings unsightly and unsatisfactory, much confusion and variation both in the planning and executing of them, and the expenditure of larger sums than are necessary.
. The surveyor-general, according to the present constitution of that office, is solely the channel of communication between the commissioners' of his majesty's treasury and the architect; he exercises no judgment nor control, nor gives any opinion as to the work to be done, or the mode of doing it; confining himself to fixing prices, and making contracts accordingly, and examining and checking the accounts after they have been made out by the clerks of the works, and the measurers belonging to the office.
The surveyor-general having no duty to perform in judging of the propriety or sufficiency of the design or plan, that important business is imposed upon the commissioners of the treasury for the time being, who may not always be competent to decide upon such matters; and although it may happen frequently that there are among them persons eminently conversant with works of art, it may also happen that a very efficient board of treasury for all other and more important purposes may be unfit for this; and in such a case the architect of the district, without any real control or useful supervision, may plan and execute whatever is to be done, according to his-own pleasure and discretion.
No sufficient choice is afforded to the board of treasury, who are to judge and decide, for they have not even taken advantage of having architects attached to the office and paid by it; nor does it appear that they have hitherto at all encouraged the
|competition of other professional men, or called for any variety of designs.|
The committee venture to suggest, that a considerable improvement may be effected in the existing system, without overturning, or re-modelling, or even disturbing it to any great extent; and their recommendation upon the whole matter is this:--That no public buildings should be hereafter erected, nor any considerable alterations in the structure of any of the existing buildings be adopted, except upon directions given by the lords of the treasury, and founded upon minutes of that board: and that the plans and estimates of all such new buildings, should be signed by at least lords of the treasury, and be preserved in the records of that office.
That a commission, consisting of persons, of whom at least should be privy councillors, and holding some responsible offices, should be appointed by his majesty to act as a council without salary, to advise the board of treasury upon all designs and plans for the erection or considerable alteration of public buildings. The opinions and recommendations of this council to be laid before the board, and annexed to the plans and estimates approved by the treasury. It has already been observed, that chapel before it was converted to its present use, was the chapel of our ancient kings;
By a transition, at which the superstition or the piety of our forefathers would have shuddered, the sanctuary of religion has been converted to secular purposes; and a temple, solemnly dedicated to the high services of Heaven, has been appropriated to uses of a worldly and earthly nature. The chapel of St. Stephen, when forming part of the palace of , was not, however, strictly speaking, a place of promiscuous worship; but was sanctified to the devotions of the monarch and his household.
Stowe informs us that here Edward the Confessor lived and died.
The legislative assembly, long before it became divided into the houses of lords and commons, was held in a part of the ancient palace, though not in that portion of it now under consideration.
Till the time of Edward III. the lords and commons constituted only house: when a separation took place between them,
After their separation from the lords, the commons used to sit in the chapter house, belonging to the adjoining abbey till the period of the Reformation, when the chapel of St. Stephen was granted for the purpose. Since that time the commons have used this place, almost without interruption, to the present day.