The Preservation of Places of Interest or Beauty
|The Preservation of Places of Interest or Beauty (1907)
The Preservation of Places of Interest or Beauty
DELIVERED AT THE UNIVERSITY
ON TUESDAY, JANUARY 29th, 1907
SIR ROBERT HUNTER
Chairman of the Executive Committee of the National Trust for
Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty
AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS
The Preservation of Places of Interest or Beauty.
It may perhaps be thought that the subject of my lecture would have been more appropriate to some old Cathedral City, with its beautiful monument of mediaeval times and its many interesting reminders of mediaeval life, than to a city which may be said to represent the growth of a single century, and to be typical of the stress and endeavour of modern commercial enterprise. What, it may be said, has Manchester to do with places of natural beauty and historic interest, a modern city which has devoured the green fields and pleasant places of Lancashire with the ruthlessness begot of pre-occupation? I agree that forty years ago to have suggested in Manchester, that it was a matter of any serious importance to preserve beauty of scene or interest of association might have been to talk an unknown tongue; but this is not true at the present day. The time has past when life in our great manufacturing and trading centres was deemed to consist merely in the amplification of factories and stores, in the utilization of an unlimited supply of cheap labour, and in the building up of large individual fortunes. The fulness and value of life, its many interests, and the many opportunities of intelligent enjoyment it affords, are realized by the present generation in a way of which our forefathers were hardly conscious. Further, there has been a vast quickening of the sense of duty towards our neighbours, and many of those who have greatly prospered have an uneasy feeling, that the success of the few does not of itself justify our civilization, and that while life is dull and ugly for large sections of the population, failure to some extent has to be acknowledged. At the same time the conception of a corporate life, and of corporate action, has grown with astonishing rapidity. And where has this growth been most rapid? Not in our old Cathedral cities, not in the Capital of the Empire, but in the great towns of the North and the Midlands. Amongst these Manchester stands in the first line. In its early development of powers of self-government, in the magnitude of its corporate enterprizes, and in the spirit of citizenship which it has evolved, Manchester stands as a type of eager civic life. It is to communities instinct with this life, and taking a wide view of their responsibilities to all classes of their citizens, rather than to places which live on the achievements of the past, that those who desire to preserve the continuity of national life by the preservation of national monuments whether the work of nature or of man, turn with the greatest hope. Manchester stood first amongst our town populations in contributing to the purchase by the National Trust of Aira-Force and the beautiful national park at Gowbarrow on Ullswater.
Scope of Lecture.
Our subject is the preservation of places of Interest and Beauty. A few words on the collocation of these two attributes. It may be said that there is little in common between an old earth-work, or the wall of an old town, and a glorious mountain-side or a lovely waterfall.
No doubt the old-fashioned antiquary was often a man who cared nothing for beauty, and a great deal for mere rarity. Many of the antiquarian bodies have in the past been anxious rather to examine and to discuss than to preserve. On the other hand, many persons see the value of a beautiful landscape,and feel the joy of a wide moor or furze-grown common, who care little for a building or an earthwork, merely because it has a history. Nevertheless in a very real sense, there is a similarity of feeling at the root of the interest felt by the antiquarian and the lover of nature. Both desire to perpetuate something which is apart from the life of the present, something which, on the one hand, speaks of the continuity of the human race, and on the other of the slowly acting giant forces of nature. The old city wall is not prized for its actual stones and mortar, but for the story it tells of the conditions of life in bye-gone times, of the habits and passions, thoughts and doings of our forefathers. And equally the beauty of hill and vale, wood and water, excites in us, not merely a delight in colour and form, but a subtle sense of the vastness and permanence of the physical world, of the weakness of man, of the late birth of the human race, and of the Heating character of human life. Natural beauty, equally with historic association, stimulates the imagination and takes the beholder out of the petty cares and the small details of every-day existence. Thus, not only in England but in France and Germany, the movement for preserving interesting buildings and remains has extended to the preservation of natural landscape. France has its "Société pour la protection des paysages;" Germany talks of “Natur-Denkmäler," or natural monuments, and classes under the general term of "Denkmalpiege" the care both of historic monuments and of natural scenes and objects. America, which has a comparatively short written history of man, very appropriately gives thought to the preservation of Niagara, the Yosemite Valley, and the Yellowstone Park.
There is one branch of the care of historic monuments which I do not propose to include within the scope of my remarks. Much of the legislation in foreign countries which deals with places of interest, deals also with movable articles having an historic or artistic interest. Here, however, different considerations arise. Movable works of art, either ancient or modern, have a money value, easily realized. Museums and Art galleries are constructed for their preservation, and their marketable value makes it unnecessary to enforce any duty in relation to their safe keeping. Places of interest or beauty, on the contrary, have but a very limited market value. They must be enjoyed in situ, and cannot be acquired by a millionaire for the purpose of adorning his place of abode. They are in most cases worthless to the landowner as a source of profit, and he often asks, why should I spend money in protecting something which is cumbering my ground, and from which I can get no return? Hence the motives which lead naturally to the preservation of movable things of interest and beauty do not protect, but rather endanger immovable monuments and beautiful places.
Conflict of Interests.
Indeed, the dangers which beset such monuments and places are manifold, and arise from the progress of the nation. The land of a country is a limited commodity, and is an ever-present factor in the production and distribution of material wealth. It must therefore be put to different uses from time to time, as a nation lives and grows; and each generation will naturally deem of supreme importance that use of land which its day demands. Absorption in the needs and views of the time will therefore tend to the neglect or destruction of the results of prior uses. Take the case of an ancient walled town. The walls axe useless to the town of to-day; they may be irksome, preventing the homogeneous growth of the town, restricting communication, perhaps occupying land wanted for other purposes. The individual landowner or builder finds them a mere incumbrance, and his desire for private profit prompts him to pull them down. It requires an active public opinion in favour of their retention as a link with the past to overcome the impatience of the present. In England hitherto such a public opinion has been of small account. There are very few town walls remaining, and not even their sites have been preserved to the public. Only three years ago the walls of Berwick-on Tweed, built by Edward I. when Berwick was a place of supreme importance, were threatened by the Corporation of the town. Many fragments of the Roman wall of London have been discovered of recent years, but they have mostly been destroyed or buried as soon as discovered. On the continent the course of events has been a trifle less disastrous. In many German towns, where the walls themselves have disappeared, their site has remained a public possession in the shape of a pleasant garden, giving fresh air and the means of recreation to the inhabitants, as well as reminding them of the history of their city.
Take another class of cases. There are old Roman and British camps which at the present moment are being mutilated out of recognition merely to supply gravel and stone for public roads. Many abandoned castles and abbeys have been robbed of their stone to build cottages, even pig styes, for the peasants of the district. If great and notable memorials of past times are thus treated, what can we expect of those less remarkable survivals which are nevertheless so eloquent of a bye-gone day, those details, which unimportant in themselves, go to form the aspect of a place,—what the Germans have named the Stadtbild. Where population grows and the business of a place changes, it is inevitable that there should be changes also in the setting of the place. But it is not necessary that changes should be made thoughtlessly, as is too often the case.
If we turn to natural scenery, we find that not even the more striking manifestations of nature are safe from the hand of man. At the present moment the remarkable gorge in Somersetshire, known as Cheddar Cliffs—a Dovedale without a river—is being recklessly disfigured by quarrying, and that, not to furnish any rare or valuable stone for building or other important uses, but merely to supply second-rate road-metal. An even more startling instance is the spoliation of the gorge of the Avon through which Bristol is approached from the sea, a spoliation perpetrated by the natural guardians of the place, the Corporation of Bristol. Again, as in the case of the Falls of Foyers, water which has tumbled for ages over steep rocks in a setting of tree and bush and fern, may be quietly abstracted and carried in pipes to some neighbouring factory.
Mr. Wells, in his recent book on America, contemplates with some satisfaction the ultimate destruction of Niagara, after this fashion! With his pride in the silent, swift-moving dynamos, which make the stupendous power of the rushing water the servant of man, we can all sympathise; but surely some way may be found of utilizing natural forces without marring and defacing the grandeur of their wild working! It is just here that danger to places of Beauty and Interest lies. Man is in a hurry to use land and water, and all that the land carries, for the wants of each successive generation. In the exercise of power, in the furtherance of the subjection of nature to his rule, he has often the impatience and thoughtlessness of a child, and will ruthlessly destroy beauty of appearance and association, which, with a little care, might well be preserved without prejudice to the utilitarian aims of to-day. Let me give an illustration in an analogous subject-matter. The engineers and promoters of railways formerly carried their lines through common lands, because they were cheaper to buy, and utterly disregarded the injury inflicted on the rural economy of the district in respect of the turn-out of stock, and on the public in respect of the amenities and enjoyment of the common. The Commons Preservation Society stopped this practice. Railway companies now pay regard to the integrity of open spaces. Railways are made as easily and satisfactorily as before, but the country retains the enjoyment of its common land. In the same way, if the nation is vigilant to save what is interesting and beautiful in its lands and buildings, no real check will be given to the industrial progress of the nation, but life will be better worth having for its citizens, not only of to-day, but of centuries to come.
It is satisfactory then to know, that side by side with the commercial eagerness of the day there is a growing desire to preserve the material evidences of the history of each people, and the charms of the country it occupies. In the United Kingdom, the means of preserving places off interest and beauty are still inadequate. But a beginning has been made. In 1882, the first Ancient Monuments Act was passed. It was the ultimate development of a 13ill introduced by Lord Avebury (then Sir John Lubbock) in 1873, and most assiduously pressed by him on the attention of Parliament year after year, until at length in a modified form it was adopted by Mr. Gladstone’s Government at the instance of Mr. Shaw Lefevre (now Lord Eversley) when First Commissioner of Works. Ten years afterwards, a second Act of much wider scope was passed in relation to Ireland; and in 1900 the provisions of the Irish Act were with some valuable additions applied to England.
Let us see what this small body of legislation amounts to. In the first place it gives no compulsory power, either to the Imperial Government or to any Local Authority, to preserve a monument, however unique and valuable to the community, against the will of the owner; nor does it secure to the public the enjoyment of such a monument without the consent of the owner. The Ancient Monument Acts, in their relation to the private owners of monuments, are purely permissive. But they do afford a machinery by means of which, with the concurrence of the owner, a monument may be placed in the care of the State, or of a Local Authority. The owner of the monument may by deed constitute the Commissioners of His Majesty’s Works and Public Buildings, or the County Council, the guardians of the monument. When so constituted the Commissioners or the Council are empowered to maintain the monument and to protect it from damage or injury. Whilst the monument is in their hands, not even the owner is at liberty to injure or deface it. And with the consent of the owner the monument may be thrown open to public inspection. To put the matter shortly the owner of the monument may under the Acts ensure its preservation in public hands without parting with the ownership. And this may be done, not only by an absolute owner, but by the tenant for life of an estate-for the duration of his interest in any case, and if he has powers of sale (and nearly all tenants for life in England now have powers of sale under the Settled Land Act, 1882), in perpetuity. In other words, the owner of a monument, whether or not it is in settlement, may, by placing it in the care of a public authority, preclude the possibility of injury at the hands of a spendthrift successor, a ruthless farmer, or a careless or ignorant agent. Corporate bodies and the trustees of Charities can also avail themselves of the Act, and cannot therefore defend the sacrifice of historic association by the plea that they are bound to make the most money possible for those they represent. Further the Commissioners of Works and County Councils may purchase monuments by agreement with the owners, and owners may give monuments to these bodies by deed or will. There is a power to appoint Inspectors of Ancient Monuments; and there is a provision making it an offence, punishable summarily, in any one but the owner, to injure or deface any monument which is under public guardianship, and in the case of certain monuments, whether they are under such care or not.
The Act of 1882 applied only to ancient earth-works and megalithic remains, dolmens, stone-circles (of which Stonehenge is the best known example), stone avenues, tumuli and similar works. But by the Acts of 1892 and 1900 the machinery of the older Act is extended to any structure, erection or monument of historic or architectural interest or any remains thereof. In order that the Commissioners of Works may assume the care of any monument, other than one scheduled in the Act of 1882 or an Order in Council made thereunder, they must be of opinion that its preservation is a matter of public interest by reason of the historic, traditional or artistic interest attaching thereto; and they are not empowered to become the guardians of any structure occupied as a dwelling place by any person other than a caretaker or his family. Thus the Commissioners could not take charge of Warwick Castle but could become guardians of Raglan Castle or Furness Abbey. These limitations, however, do not attach to the powers conferred upon County Councils.
The action taken under the Ancient Monument Acts has, I am sorry to say, been comparatively slight. Sixty-eight megalithic monuments were scheduled to the Act of 1882, and eighteen were added by Orders in Council. Out of the 86 monuments of this particular class thus distinguished, 42 have been placed under the care of the Commissioners of Works. An Inspector of Ancient Monuments was appointed, and a trifling sum of money was for some years voted by Parliament for his salary. In an evil day General Pitt Rivers, the eminent antiquarian, who filled the post, declined to take his salary, and the Treasury, taking advantage of his unwise generosity, have ceased to ask Parliament for any vote. In 1900 General Pitt Rivers died, and no successor has been appointed, the duties devolving, so far as they are discharged at all, upon a member of the staff of the Commissioner of Works, whose time is no doubt fully occupied by other work. Probably it may be assumed that the only recognition of the Ancient Monument legislation by the Office of Works now consists in some sort of supervision, lax rather than elective, over the forty-two remains already put under their guardianship. It is quite certain, that there is no active endeavour to secure the care of other monuments, even of the megalithic kind, and that no attempt has been made on the part of the Government to make an inventory or classification of monuments either within the narrow limits of the Act of 1882, or within the wider definition of the Act of 1900.
It is not, that the Minister representing the Office of Works in Parliament is unsympathetic. The Earl of Plymouth, the First Commissioner under Mr. Balfour’s Government, is a member of the National Trust, and Mr. Harcourt, the present Commissioner, attended the last Annual Meeting and expressed himself warmly interested in the work of the Trust. But the Office of Works is in all matters of expenditure the servant of the Treasury. The constant endeavour of the Treasury, and in the main a very laudable endeavour, is to keep down the expenditure of the country. Unless the Treasury supply the Office of Works with funds, there will be no expenditure in relation to monuments, and the Treasury is not likely to supply funds unless it is compelled by public opinion to do so.
Amongst County Councils the London County Council, viewed by good Conservatives as the home of all that is radical and wicked, stands almost alone in exhibiting any effective sympathy with the preservation of historic monuments. In 1890 the London Council obtained, by a provision of one of its Private Acts, power to purchase, by agreement, buildings and places of historic or architectural interest, and the Reports of the Council recognise that it is the Authority in London for executing the Ancient Monument Acts. The Council has purchased an interesting specimen of an early Jacobean house in Fleet Street (opposite the end of Chancery Lane), at a cost of £20,000, and partially rebuilt it at an additional cost of about £7,000. The Council has also interested itself in obtaining an Inventory of the interesting buildings of London, and has borne the expense of printing an exhaustive—perhaps too exhaustive—survey of the Memorials of the Parish of Bromley-by-Bow. It has also taken over from the Society of Arts the work of indicating houses in London associated with historic events or distinguished individuals, and within the last couple of years more than a score of additional tablets have been affixed. Short accounts of the houses thus distinguished are prepared by the Council, and collections of such accounts published in booklet form at a nominal price. Further, when any open space is opened, or any new work inaugurated, such as the Tower Bridge or the great street from the Strand to Holborn (Aldwych and Kingsway), a most careful archaeological account of the neighbourhood, illustrated by plans, reproductions of old maps, and photographs, is prepared. For all this valuable and scholarly work, the public are largely indebted to the present Clerk of the Council, Mr. Laurence Gomme, an antiquary of high repute.
Amongst other County Councils honourable mention should be made of that of Northampton, which has taken charge of the Queen Eleanor Cross, just outside the town, and has appointed an Ancient Monument and County Records Committee. By this Committee a circular has been issued to all Urban and District Councils in the county calling attention to the Act of 1900, and commending to their care the historic monuments of their districts. The town of Chester and Edinburgh have taken independent action—Chester to preserve its ancient walls from the too near presence of new structures; and Edinburgh to prevent the disfigurement of its most striking features by advertisements. Of course there are other cases in which towns have acquired and preserved suitable evidences of their history. Hastings Castle and Guildford Castle, are two instances that occur to me; there must be many more.
Nevertheless, it must be admitted that neither in point of legislation nor in that of actual accomplishment, have England and Scotland a satisfactory record in relation to monuments of historic or pre-historic interest. The legislation is halting and inadequate, and the action scanty, occasional and unsystematic.
In Ireland, oddly enough, much more has been done officially than in Great Britain, and that largely owing to an accident. When the Church of England was disestablished in Ireland, the future of many ecclesiastical buildings which had fallen out of use, but were interesting historically or architecturally, came in question. Parliament was in a liberal mood, and a maintenance fund of some £50,000 was handed over to the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, to whom the buildings, 134 in number, were transferred. In 1882 the Commissioners were constituted the authority to take charge of megalithic monuments under the Act of that year; and seven monuments passed into their hands. In 1892 the powers given in 1882 were extended to all ancient and mediæval structures which the Commissioners might think to be of public interest; and 48 monuments, amongst them some of the famous Round Towers, have been placed in their care under the Act. The total number of monuments in their charge thus approaches 200; and for their safe keeping, they have an annual income of about £1,000.
Places of Beauty.
When we turn from historic monuments—Places of Interest—to natural monuments—Places of Beauty, and endeavour to chronicle what has been done in the United Kingdom to preserve natural scenery, we find a certain overlapping with the movement for preserving open spaces. It would be out of my province to describe, in any detail, what has been done to provide open spaces for the public enjoyment during the last forty years,—a movement with which the Vice-Chancellor of this University has been closely associated. But it may be said, broadly, that while, on the one hand, the enclosure of commons has been arrested throughout the country, on the other, there is scarcely a town of any repute which has not taken action to supply Parks and Recreation Grounds for the use of its inhabitants. Many of the Places so provided are, in the strictest sense, Places of Natural Beauty. I may instance such places as Epping Forest, and the New Forest, Wimbledon Common, Hindhead, Hampstead Heath and the adjoining heights, and the banks of the Thames, and the hills above the river at Richmond. Such places have been saved, not merely to provide so much open ground free from buildings, so much area for exercise and recreation, but also for the sake of beauty of view, of hill and wood, and also, sometimes,—for instance in the case of the New Forest,—for the perpetuation of the economic history of the land, as visible evidence of the habits of the people from century to century. We may fairly say, therefore, that the open space movement has been to a large extent a movement for the Preservation of Places of Beauty. Apart from the open space movement comparatively little has been done. The Light Railways Act of 1898 contains a clause, inserted at the instance of Mr. Bryce, directing the Commission to have regard to any objections put before them reference to the injury of the scenery by any prospective railway. An objection on this ground, enforced by other opposition, was successful in defeating a Light Railway in Ashdown Forest, Sussex; but the National Trust failed to save the Snowdon District,—the beautiful Pass of Aberglaslyn and the falls of Bettws-y-Coed—from the intrusion of a mere tourist’s line, though some palliating clauses were obtained. In the Held of Private Bill legislation the efforts of Canon Rawnsley and his friends have been successful in excluding railways from the Lake District—a district the peculiar charm of which would be easily marred by embankments, cuttings, and the disturbing presence of trains. Railways have also been kept out of Epping Forest and the New Forest. But no means exist of preventing the spoliation of the rarest and most beautiful spots in the Island at the hands of the owners— the Fall of Foyers is a case in point,—and no special facilities have been given for the dedication of such places to the nation. Public opinion, however, has been steadily growing and voluntary effort has done something both to save particular spots and to organize and stimulate action, The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest and Natural Beauty has now been in existence ten years. Its Erst president was the Duke of Westminster, who was succeeded by Lord Dufferin. Its present president is H.R.H. the Princess Louise. Canon Rawnsley has been its indefatigable honorary secretary throughout. It has acquired twenty-four properties, and an area of land approximating to 1,700 acres. It has seven buildings of interest in its care, and is about to become the possessor of a most beautiful Tudor mansion in the West of England In the Lake District—the playground of Manchester,—it has done much to preserve the shores of two of the most beautiful lakes from disfigurement, and to ensure freedom of access to the lake shores for the public. Some £24,000 have passed through the hands of the Trust in the acquisition of the places it owns for the nation; its regular income is about £400 a year, a sum barely sufficient to pay office and working expenses. The Trust has hitherto carried on its work as a Limited Company under the Joint Stock Companies Act. It has now applied to Parliament for statutory incorporation and powers of management; and it is hoped that when it has received this express recognition it may be enabled to enlarge the scope of its operations and to make them in some measure commensurate with its aims and object . Its work is by no means confined to the purchase of Places of Interest and Beauty. It fosters action to protect such Places, to ward 05 disaster and to stimulate municipal and private opinion. No doubt some persons may say, that the care of interesting and beautiful places is work for the constituted Local Authorities. But their powers are at present limited, and their disposition to exercise such powers but faint. And there are, and probably always will be, cases in which a body such as the National Trust, constituted largely of representatives of Artistic, Scientific and Learned Societies, and influenced solely by national and aesthetic considerations, is a safer custodian of the place which it is desired to protect than the neighbouring town. Moreover, the existence and work of the Trust act as a stimulus to local and general opinion, and point the way to the systematic assertion by the nation of its interests in its historic memorials, and in the natural features of its land. I believe that at the moment there is no better way of promoting the preservation of Places of Interest and Beauty than to assist and strengthen the National Trust.
Now let us glance at the state of the law and of public opinion in the two countries of Europe with which our relations are closest, and here I ‘must express my fullest acknowledgements to Professor Baldwin Brown, of Edinburgh, whose exhaustive work on the care of monuments, must be the text-book on the subject for some time to come.
In France, the movement for preserving historic monuments took shape about 1830, stimulated by the reckless destruction of interesting buildings and remains which signalized the Monarchy restored after the downfall of Napoleon. Montalembert, Chateaubriand, Guizot, Victor Hugo are among the great names connected with early stages of the movement and to the first-named we owe the memorable phrase, ‘les longs souvenirs font les grands peuples.’ Guizot, Minister of Instruction in 1830, appointed an Inspector of Historical Monuments, and the office was filled for some time by M. Prosper Merimée. Moreover from 1830, an annual grant for the up-keep of monuments has appeared in the French Budget, no less than £120,000 having been granted in one year (1896). In 1837, the Commission des Monuments Historiques was appointed for the purpose of framing a list of monuments, and objects having an historic or artistic interest and of supervising works of restoration executed on scheduled monuments. This Commission has for its President the Minister of Public Instruction and the Fine Arts, who is charged with the duty of giving effect to the recommendations of the Commission; other important Public Officers are members. Under its auspices a classification of monuments deemed to be of national importance has been gradually elaborated, and at the time of the passing of the Ancient Monuments Act of 1887, over 2,000 monuments were included in the list. Three general inspectors of Historical Monuments, with salaries varying from £250 to £300 act under the authority of the Commission; and a staff of forty architects attached to the Commission superintend works of restoration.
Such is the elaborate official machinery which France has established for protecting her historic monuments. In 1887 an Act was passed which gave the powers necessary to render this machinery effective. The State indeed had not been powerless before this date; a power of expropriation, which does not exist in English law except by special enactment, had been enjoyed by the State since 1810, and it had been officially laid down that 'the acquisition of an edifice belonging to a private person might be declared to he of public utility, even when the State had only the intention of preventing its destruction on grounds of general interest.' In 1841 another Expropriation Act was passed, and under its provisions property was from time to time acquired for artistic purposes. The process, however, was expensive and troublesome, and it was felt that an express statutory sanction of the principle of compulsory acquisition in relation to historic monuments was desirable. The law of 1887 deals comprehensively with questions in dispute. It provides for the "classement" or registration of monuments of historic or artistic interest; and for the compulsory acquisition by the Minister of Fine Arts of any monument which has been registered, or which it is proposed to register against the will of the proprietor. When a monument has been enrolled it cannot be destroyed even in part, or be made the object of any work of restoration, repair, or modification of any kind, without the consent of the Minister. Nor can a registered monument be acquired by an industrial undertaking until full opportunity of objection has been given to the Minister. Any infringement of these provisions gives a right of civil action to the State. When interesting remains are discovered in the course of excavation, notice is immediately given by the Mayor of the Commune, and the Minister can take steps for their preservation, expropriating the land, when in private ownership, so far as may be requisite.
But it is not alone in the possession of an adequate law on the subject of historic monuments, that France stands pre-eminent amongst nations. The importance of preserving not only monuments of paramount importance, but those characteristics of town and country which we have already referred to, I fully recognized in official administration. A notable circular on this subject was issued by the Minister of Public Works in the autumn of 1904. It was addressed to the Chief Government Engineers in charge of undertakings in the rural districts, and was entitled "Conservation des Sites et Monuments Pittoresques." After referring to the formation of "La Société pour la Protection des Paysages," and of a "Committee for Picturesque Sites and Monuments" connected with the 'Touring Club' of France, the circular expresses sympathy with the object of these bodies, and requests the Engineers to instruct their agents that "in all operations such as the opening of new routes of communication (roads, railways, tramways) alterations in thoroughfares and frontages, laying out of streets, plantations, or clearances of timber, they shall have always in mind the obligation of respecting the existing beauties of nature, and as far as possible enhancing such beauties." In England, indeed, we are prone to think that the Engineer’s idea of enhancing natural beauty is not to be trusted; we prefer nature unadorned. But in England we have no public opinion which would produce such a circular as that quoted. And the suggestion of the Minister is not mere talk. I remember to have been particularly struck, before I was aware of the official intimation just quoted, by a light railway recently opened in Brittany from St. Brieue to Paimpol; it is undoubtedly the fact, that the graceful arcading of the viaducts which cross some of the deep valleys of the district, far from detracting from the beauty of the landscape, lends an additional feature of interest.
But France has gone further. Last year an Act was passed at the instance of the Society for the Protection of Landscapes, which in principle gives to places of general interest from an artistic or picturesque point of view a protection analogous to that given to the more notable Historic monuments of the country. In each Department a Commission headed by the Prefect is to schedule such places, and the proprietor is to be asked to accept a servitude preventing alterations except by leave of the Commission and with the approval of the Minister of Fine Arts. In case of refusal, the place may be expropriated by the Commission. And after the establishment of the servitude any unauthorized alteration of the plan is a punishable offence.
It is to be noticed that this law relies on local action, and does not, as in the case of historic monuments, make any drafts upon the National Treasury. Probably, however, in appropriate cases grants in aid would be made by the central government. And independently of the machinery employed, as a manifestation of opinion the Act is remarkable.
In Paris, again, some of the older parts of the City, such as the Place Vendôme and the Place des Vosges, are subject to restrictions,—imposed at the time when the State or the City of Paris sold large parcels of land,—which prescribe a symmetrical architectural composition, building lines, and a certain amount of open space. These seem to be scrupulously observed; whereas in London we are unable to preserve an architectural effect when we have it. The great thoroughfare laid out by Nash, comprising Waterloo Place, Regent Street and Portland Place, embodied, a few years ago one general idea. But the Commissioners of Woods have allowed the symmetry of design to be hopelessly marred. Piccadilly Circus is no longer a Circus or any other nameable area, and in Waterloo Place and Regent Street the building lines have been broken, and excrescences, wholly out of keeping with the scale and style of Nash’s work, have been allowed.
The state of the law in Germany differs largely from that in France. There is no Imperial Law on the subject of Historic Monuments. Each State legislates (so far as it does legislate) for itself, and only one, that of Hesse-Darmstadt, has a law on the lines of the French Act, providing for 'classement' and compulsory acquisition. This was passed so recently as 1902.
In this Act it is declared that the State may limit the rights of private property to such an extent as is necessary to preserve the monument in the fullest artistic, as well as historic, sense; the proprietor, if he deems his interest to be affected, may demand expropriation. Provision is also made for the expropriation of land, in order to carry on an excavation. Perhaps, however, the most interesting provision of the Act is that which extends the protection of the State to natural scenes and objects (Naturdenkmäler). The principle is thus laid down. "Natural phenomena of the earth’s surface, such as water courses, rocks, trees, and the like, the maintenance of which is a matter of public interest on grounds of history, or of natural history, or from considerations of the beauty or special character of a landscape can be placed under a special protection to be exercised by the Kreisamt [which may be taken to correspond to our County Council] on the demand of the Department of Forests in the Ministry of Finance.” A place of beauty may be scheduled after notice to the proprietor, and certain opportunities of objection, and, when a place is scheduled, destructive operations cannot be carried out without the permission of the Kreisamt. The disfigurement of protected places by advertisements, is also prohibited, and generally the exhibition of advertisements in localities of great natural beauty is forbidden.
In harmony with this Act the Hessian Ministry of Finance has published an illustrated book entitled, "Noteworthy Trees in the Grand Duchy of Hesse" (fancy our Treasury issuing a work on the beauties of the Lake District); and it is claimed that in addition to positive results, 'there has been aroused in the minds of the people a new and living interest in the memorials of the land.'
But the more peculiarly German mode of protecting interesting places is by municipal regulation. As my bearers no doubt know, there is great freedom in Germany in municipal administration, even the relief of the poor being conducted on different principles in different towns. In many States express power is conferred upon towns to make bye-laws for the promotion of the amenities of the place. In Bavaria, in particular, towns are enjoined by the State Government to preserve their ancient city walls and similar landmarks, and to prescribe the style of building to be followed in places contiguous to the more ancient quarters of the town; even in the case of new streets and houses aesthetic considerations are to be regarded. Conceive this in an official document of an English Town Council—"When new lines of houses are in contemplation, care should be taken to safeguard the picturesque views of streets and open spaces, and the tyranny of the engineer’s rule and level must naturally be restricted."
Under such guidance the old and picturesque towns of Bavaria have framed bye-laws which go far to preserve their mediaeval appearance. Amongst such towns are Augsburg, Würzburg, Nürnberg, Rothenburg, Amberg, Lindau. And other German towns have followed suit, for instance, Frankfurt-am-Main and Hildesheim.
These bye-laws often go into considerable detail; but the general principle is well illustrated by the opening clause of the Frankfurt bye-laws made in 1900:—
"For the preservation of the artistic and antique character of the following historically interesting streets and public places (here follows a list), all buildings which are to be erected thereon, in so far as they are visible from the street, must be so treated externally that the existing aspect of the streets is not disfigured or essentially altered."
It may be suggested that there is something artificial and untrue to history in this attempt to perpetuate an old style in new buildings; but those who remember the "Römerplatz" and other charming fragments of old Frankfurt, will be grateful for legislation which excludes from such places jarring forms and associations.
The principle of preserving the general effect of both town and rural landscape is further recognized in the most emphatic manner by a recent Bill introduced by the Prussian ministry into the Prussian Parliament, and strengthened by a Special Commission to whom it was referred. Under this Bill, which apparently has every prospect of becoming law, municipal bodies are authorized "to prohibit building-undertaking which disfigure the Streets and Squares (Plätze) or the general effect of a town-district (geschlossene Ortachaft), or which in places of natural beauty tend to disfigure the landscape." The Prussian Minister of Educatiom has also issued an Instruction to Local Authorities as to the protection of the natural features of their districts, which leaves nothing to be desired on the score of thoroughness.
Time will not permit me to extend my examination of the position of the movement for preserving Places of Interest or Beauty to the other nations of Europe, or to the New World. It is sufficient to say that scarcely any civilized Continental State has treated its historic monuments with such indifference as this country; while in America, despite the general absence of restrictive legislation, endeavours to preserve the grand natural features of the country have been made on a scale, and with a thoroughness of method, which are nowhere to be found in the United Kingdom.
Suggestions for Legislation.
What then should be the aim of those who desire at once to make effective, and to strengthen, that public opinion, which demands with growing force the preservation of the places of interest and beauty with which this country abounds?
The ultimate aim should, I conceive, be to secure legislation which will give public authorities and other appropriate agencies the power of preventing the destruction or spoliation of such places. The principle embodied in the first Ancient Monuments Bill, and in the legislation of France should be accepted by the State. The owner, whether a public body or a private person, of a notable monument, or of a place of surpassing natural beauty, should be required to submit—in the case of a private person on compensation, and perhaps with the alternative of expropriation—to a restriction on any act of ownership which will injure the place. Take an instance. Stonehenge is the most noted pre-historic monument in the United Kingdom. It lay open to inspection by the public from time immemorial until some five or six years ago. Nevertheless, it stands on private property, and recently the owner has thought it well to inclose the monument with a barbed-wire fence, to erect a toll-house, and to charge for the right to enter. Litigation ensued. Those who saw in this assertion of ownership a claim which would equally entitle the proprietor to cart away every stone in the place, resorting to that indirect method of defence which has often been successful in English law (and after endeavouring to come to terms of purchase) alleged that a certain public highway had been obstructed by the enclosure. This attempt failed, and the expenses of the parties amounted to some £5,000. If there had been a machinery for limiting the right of ownership in relation to Stonehenge, or for expropriating the owner, it would have been used, and Stonehenge would now be national property, while the owner would have received adequate compensation, and have been saved the expense and annoyance of a lawsuit. To the minds of most persons there is something absurd in the idea., that a national possession like Stonehenge should be at the mercy of a private person!
I have taken an extreme case, one in which the right of expropriation, had it existed, would certainly have been exercised. There is no danger that it would be too freely exercised, for the Treasury is nothing if not economical, and Local Authorities have the fear of the ratepayer before their eyes. But as the Finance Minister for Hesse-Darmstadt said, in commenting on the recent law, the very existence of the power of expropriation educates the public mind,-and, we might add, the mind of the private owner. The power to expropriate, without its actual exercise, would save hundreds of interesting places. And in principle, why should private owners be bound to sell their property for the purposes of a Railway—which, after all, is a private speculation, and may be of slight public utility,—and not be bound to part with something which is really national in character and which the nation is interested in preserving?
But short of compulsory limitation of the powers of ownership, what can be done to facilitate the ownership by the nation of its national treasures?
In the first place, something like a classement, a Register, of the more important Historic Monuments should be made. It is extraordinary, that with all the activities of the innumerable archaeological societies which are scattered throughout the country, not even (so far as I am aware) any systematic County Register, of any particular class of monuments, should have been compiled. Archaeology seems to have resulted merely in learned, but fragmentary, disquisitions, and in pleasant pic-nics. Still, with the abundant, though more or less chaotic, material in existence, there ought to be little difficulty in compiling some record of the Castles, Abbeys, Manor Houses, Mansions, City Walls and other notable remains of each county. The exact scope of such a Register would of course be a question of some difficulty. The fact, that the French Official List comprises between 2,000 and 3,000 monuments only, shows that it is confined to very prominent and notable Buildings and Remains. England is very rich in old timbered houses and cottages, not of great size, but of great charm. It is a question how far such buildings should be registered. It is quite possible, that there might be one Register for the Nation, and another for each County—the County being left to take care of the minor objects of interest. But the very discussion of such questions would be useful; and it is eminently desirable that some joint action on the subject should be taken by the many Societies interested in Historic Monuments.
In another direction proposals have already taken shape. Five years ago Sir John Brunner introduced a Bill "for the Dedication of Land for Public Places." The scheme of this Bill was to extend to places of natural beauty, and indeed to all land, a machinery analogous to that provided by the Ancient Monuments Act for Historic Monuments. The Bill proposed that any landowner might by deed declare, that "for the preserving of any natural features, or of a site or object of natural, historic, or scientific interest, the land shall be maintained in substantially the same condition, as that in which it is at the time of the execution of the deed." In addition, or alternatively, he might declare, that the land should not be built on, or should be placed under other restrictions; that the public should have access to it for purposes of recreation; and that it should be placed in the care of a local authority or any Society or body of Trustees. When such a deed is executed and' registered, a charitable use is created in relation to the land, and the owner and all persons claiming through him, hold the land subject to the declaration, but in all other respects may enjoy possession and ownership. An owner who is tenant for life may bind successors by a declaration; but if the trustees of a settlement consider that the declaration is prejudicial to the interests of the successor in title, they may require the tenant for life to pay a capital sum equivalent to the diminution in the value of the land to be held on the trusts of the settlement, the amount to be determined by agreement or arbitration. A similar provision relates to land in mortgage.
The Bill also contained provisions empowering any Local Authority to purchase by agreement or to acquire by way of gift any land of natural beauty or of natural, scientific or historic interest, or any land to be used for recreation, situate within or in the vicinity of the districts of the Authority. Indeed the fullest powers of acquiring any Place of Interest or Beauty or of facilitating its acquisition for the public, are given by the Bill.
Unfortunately this Bill has not yet passed, and in the stress of Party warfare, it cannot be foretold, when time will be found even to discuss it. Its proposals are such as cannot reasonably be resented by those most sensitive to the rights of property. On the other hand they go as far as it is possible to go in facilitating the dedication of land to public uses, always excepting the provision of compulsory powers of acquisition. Many landowners would be very glad to put beyond danger some beautiful spot on their estates, though they are not prepared to part with its possession. The Bill would enable this to be done.
I have now attempted to place before you what has already been done in this country, by legislation and by the force of public opinion, to facilitate the preservation of Places of Interest and Beauty. I have indicated how much further advanced in these respects are our neighbours in France and Germany; and I have suggested the directions in which further action in this country may be taken.
In such a movement public opinion counts for everything. If the people of the United Kingdom really wish, that in all the complicated operations of civilized life, regard should be had to the preservation of the memorials of their history and of the beauties of their country, we may rest assured, that, not perhaps in the modes adopted by other States but in the way most congenial to the habits and modes of action of this country, means will be found to attain the desired end.
This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.
- The text of the three Acts is given in Appendix A.
- London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1898 (61 and 62 Vic. cap. ccxxi). The Council also requires promoters of Acts authorizing undertakings which involve excavations, to provide for the preservation of any movable relics which may be discovered (old coins, fragments of Samian ware and so on); see, for example, the Christ's Hospital Act., 1901 (1 Edw. VII., c. ccxiii). But. the temptations offered by dealers to workmen go far to nullify these provisions.
- Chester Improvement Act, 1884 (47 and 48 Vic. cap. ccxxxix.); Edinburgh Corporation Act 1899 (62 and 68 Vic. cap. lxxi.).
- "The Care of Ancient Monuments." By G. Baldwin Brown, M.A., Watson Gordon Professor of Fine Art. in the University of Edinburgh. Cambridge: at the University Press, 1905.
- See the text of this Act in Appendix B.