Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Bill

Part of Ways and Means – in the House of Commons on 25th May 1943.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Andrew MacLaren Mr Andrew MacLaren , Stoke-on-Trent Burslem

I want to associate myself with this Amendment. The old Office of Works had considerable experience in preserving historical monu ments, and from that experience the Ministry should be able to get a very good idea of the number of historical monuments that we have up and down the country. One of the most shocking experiences one can have when passing through some of our towns or villages is to see something which, when you know really what it is and how it came into being, you want to treat it with reverence, and then to see it suddenly flanked with a glaring red headline, "Woolworth's Stores," or something of that kind. It gives one hope of a future civilisation if one finds that there is a realisation of the need for the preservation of those links in our life which are concrete evidence of what our forefathers did for the love of God—because all great art is that, and nothing else.

I am not sure that we should follow the example of France. I remember being over there on two occasions and seeing those marvellous Gothic figures on the facade of Chartres Cathedral. When I touched them, I found, to my horror, that they were coming away as dust in my hands. I immediately reported this to the Ministry of Fine Arts in Paris, and had an interview there afterwards. They asked—would you believe it?—if I would make a report on the subject, and on what steps might be taken to preserve one of the greatest facades known to man. What did I find on making my inquiry? That such was their sense of proportion and reverence for this thing, which belongs not to France but to mankind, that they had put an aerodrome behind the Cathedral and an engineering shop nearby, thus inflicting the atmosphere which was destroying that delicate facade. It would be true to say that in certain ways the French are concerned about historical buildings, but there was a lapse in French minds when their reverence for things religious lapsed also. Anything which was regarded as religious tended to be disdained. I would suggest that the Minister himself, with that alertness which I know is innate in his character, and probably with some assistance from his Parliamentary Secretary, who is also alert in these matters, might compile a list of things which want preservation.

When I am asked whether local authorities should decide which historical monuments should be preserved, I think of Criccieth. Go down to Criccieth, and you will find a very ugly cottage, where some Member of this House lived. Both his memory and that house, I think, should be extinguished, but you will find the people there want them to be preserved. I also want to speak of a matter near to my own constituency. We have there Croxted Abbey. One of the greatest blasphemies in England is that we have allowed a main road to be constructed right through the nave and what used to be the chancel, right through the centre of this old structure. I want the Minister to put a stop to that in no uncertain fashion. Then we have another spot known as Abbey Hulton. The local authority, with that precise and almost uncanny tenderness for things artistic, stuck on it one of those marvellous creations called a corporation housing estate, and when they found the spot where the original altar stood they covered in the whole of it with asphalt, to make it a playground. I hope we shall not be too keen to give local authorities custodianship over local monuments or sites. I would rather plead that the Minister should have the courage to get on with the preservation of these structures through his Department and through the experience of the old Office of Works.