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The Wellington Monument

Volume 220: debated on Thursday 25 June 1874

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Observations

rose to call the attention of the House to the contract made two years ago with Mr. Collman, the upholsterer, for the completion of the Wellington Monument, and to ask the First Commissioner of Works, whe- ther there was any probability of an early completion of the work? He also wished to know, whether the contract with reference to it had been duly executed, and if not, what steps it was proposed to take with regard to it? The House should remember that the late Duke of Wellington died in 1852, and that the monument, which the national gratitude resolved to erect in honour of his memory was not yet complete in its place in St. Paul's Cathedral. The resolution to erect the monument was arrived at in 1856, and a number of most distinguished architects prepared competitive designs. In 1858, the First Commissioner of Works (Lord John Manners) appointed Mr. Stevens to execute the monument, although he was not the successful candidate among the architects who sent in plans. From that day to this, Mr. Stevens had been occupied more or less in the work, but though constantly pressed by those in authority, he had, he (Mr. Goldsmid) believed, up to the present day not yet completed it. Questions had boon put to successive First Commissioners of Works in reference to the matter, commencing in 1867, and, with a curious concurrence, each First Commissioner had fixed two years from the date of the question, no matter what that might be, for the completion of the work. In 1871, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Lowe) took the matter out of the hands of the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Ayrton), who, not unnaturally, considering the interminable delays, proposed to dismiss Mr. Stevens and employ another architect to finish the monument which had been so long promised. The Chancellor of the Exchequer thereupon entered into a contract with Mr. Collman, who was to retain the services of Mr. Stevens, but to be responsible for the completion of the monument in a period of two-and-a-half years. It turned out, however, that Mr. Collman was no more able to control Mr. Stevens than each successive First Commissioner of Works had been, and therefore the monument remained unfinished. He should therefore like to know whether the condition of matters had improved since the question had last been brought under the notice of the House, and what course the Government proposed to take with regard to the contract, in order to secure, if possible, the completion of the monument within the lapse of a generation after the death of the Duke of Wellington. It was a great public discredit that our national monuments should take such a long time in completion; and he hoped that the Department that had charge of the matter would take care that in future when the nation desired to honour one of England's heroes, that honour should not be too long postponed.

said, he had, in the first place, to thank the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rochester for the courtesy he had shown in postponing this Question in order to afford him time to ascertain what progress had been made with the monument, and how soon it was likely to be completed; and he was happy to say that the time which had elapsed since he entered upon his present office had not by any means been unfruitful in regard to the progress of the work. He did not wish to enter into the question of the contract entered into with Mr. Collman by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe.) He did not know how far the term "upholsterer" described Mr. Collman; but he could say of him that he had undertaken the duty of looking after the completion of the monument solely on public grounds, for there was not a single scrap of paper in the Office over which he had the honour to preside to show that he would gain a single halfpenny by the transaction. When he (Lord Henry Lennox) acceded to his present office there remained of that monument to be completed two side groups, and above all the recumbent figure of the illustrious hero, whose achievements the monument was intended to commemorate. Neither of those parts of the works had advanced during the previous two years in any perceptible degree, and if the execution of that monument had continued to proceed at the same rate probably none of the Members of the present House of Commons would have lived to see its completion. He had, however, the honour now to inform the House that the recumbent figure of the illustrious hero had been completed, and was in the hands of the founder. The principal one of the side groups had also been all but completed, and in a very few weeks that also would be in the hands of the founder. The other of the side groups was also making satisfactory progress. Mr. Stevens had given up all private orders of every kind, and had devoted himself with zeal and assiduity to the completion of this great work. The work which had been done was of a super-excellent character, and far more costly than Mr. Stevens need have given to the nation if he had only looked to the amassing of a fortune to himself. One of the marble columns, the main support of the canopy under which the Duke was to be, was completed, and Mr. Stevens' eye detected in it, though no other eye had detected it, a streak of grey which was upon the upper part of the column, and upon that he at once caused it to be removed and a new column to be made.

said, that it was some satisfaction to him to hear the mode in which the hon. Member (Mr. Goldsmid) had alluded to his (Mr. Lowe's) share in the transaction. He might say that he found that Mr. Stevens had undertaken the contract for less money than the work could possibly be peformed for; that he had exhausted the public money; and that he was taking private business in order to get money to carry on his contract. Mr. Stevens was in very bad health, and the work he had done was of a super-excellent quality, but it was in a state of total suspension. His (Mr. Lowe's) first view was to take the matter out of Mr. Stevens' hands and put the remainder of the work up to public competition, so that some other gentleman might finish it. He communicated with, and took the advice of Mr. Ayrton, then First Commissioner of Works, who thought the proper course would be to take the work out of Mr. Stevens' hands and put it up to public competition. He (Mr. Lowe), however, was advised by those who were well qualified to give such advice that it would not be wise to do that; that other artists of equal eminence would not consent to take the work out of Mr. Stevens' hands, and that it would consequently fall into inferior hands. Mr. Ayrton continued to hold his own view, and said that if he (Mr. Lowe) did not agree, the best thing he could do would be to take the work into his own hands and deal with it as he could. He (Mr. Lowe) thought that good advice, and therefore he took it. He communicated with Mr. Ferguson, who thought that the matter could not be taken out of Mr. Stevens' hands. Then, further, it was impossible to contract with Mr. Stevens, for, though a gentleman of great talent, he did not seem to have any idea of money or its value. When he thought himself, therefore, almost at the end of his resources, Mr. Ferguson suggested that Mr. Coil-man, as a friend of Mr. Stevens—not with the view of getting the least profit for himself, but to overcome the difficulty of contracting with that gentleman—would enter into a contract and see to its fulfilment. Mr. Collman had done so, and had, he believed, acquitted himself most admirably in the matter. But Mr. Stevens, in addition to his other misfortunes, after the contract was entered into, had a paralytic stroke, and since he had recovered he feared he had had differences with Mr. Collman. He was glad now to bear that the monument was likely to be soon finished. The late Government, however, being in a difficult position, really did the best they could in that business, because it was more important that the work should be well done, than that it should be done at any particular period. And so far from Mr. Collman deserving to be held up to public obloquy, the public were much obliged to him for the admirable judgment and temper with which he had fulfilled his duty. He regretted that for a long time there had been a Notice upon the Paper, in which Mr. Collman was described as "an upholsterer." He did not know whether Mr. Collman was an "upholsterer" or not, though if he was there was nothing to be ashamed of in the fact; but the insertion of that appellation after his name by the hon. Member for Rochester was invidious and calculated to create prejudice.

said, he hoped that, in future, Chancellors of the Exchequer would abstain from entering into such contracts, and would not interfere with the manner in which the First Commissioner of Works did his duty.