William Morris

Testimony on the Restoration of Westminster Hall

Mr. WILLIAM MORRIS, called in; and Examined. Mr. Dick Peddie.

2095. Do you attend here at the request of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings? - Yes.

2096. And you are therefore able to state generally the views of that society with regard to the proposed building. Would you kindly state shortly the objections which you entertain to what is proposed to be done according to Mr. Pearson's plan? - Our views are very simple. It simply comes to this, that from our point of view the taking down of the old Law Courts has exposed the actual side or flank of the Hall, which seems to us to be a very valuable piece of architecture, that is looking at it from the artistic point of view; and it has also exposed the remains of Rufus' wall and foundations, which from the archaeological point of view are very interesting; and we think that under any circumstances this ought to be, if possible, visible to the public, and that as little as possible ought to be done to the Hall, and that little within the limits of the stability of the fabric merely, and that nothing whatever ought to be done to it from the ornamental point of view. It has been said by some architects (I do not myself know for what reason, as I am not myself an expert on that point), that it is necessary to protect from the weather the newly uncovered side of the Hall, including Richard II.'s arches and the old wall of Rufus. I do not know how that may be, but speaking for my own part, my own impression is that it is not necessary at all: but if it is necessary, I think that whatever is done there ought to be done as a protection for that wall, and ought to be visibly only a protection; that a lean-to ought to be built within the buttresses (because there is plenty of room for that), leaving the buttresses quite clear, and that it ought to be made as simple as possible, and not be looked upon as a piece of ornamental building at all. I see no necessity for making it particularly and specially ugly, but I mean to say that it ought to be perfectly simple and have visibly no intention of restoring or imitating the old work that was there, which, of course we know, followed something like the lines of the proposed restoration. I do not know that there is anything more that I need say.

2097. Does your objection to the new work go to this length, that even if it were shown that it would be an exact reproduction of what was originally there, you would still object to carrying it out? - It is impossible to show that it would be an exact reproduction.

2098. But supposing you assume it? - It is quite impossible, and it is no use assuming an impossibility. But, certainly, assuming that it were in the ordinary sense of the word, and from the ordinary point of view, an exact restoration (which, as you probably know, our society denies the possibility of) of what had been there, we should still object to it.

2099. Would you also object to any buildings there if utility required them or made them desirable? - I should consider it a great disaster. Of course you might have to pull down Westminster Hall some day; but I should consider it a great disaster.

2100. Have you looked at the plan of the proposed building in order to form a judgment as to whether it is a restoration? - I scarcely cared to give much consideration to that point, because I feel that there is nothing on which to base the restoration except pure conjecture; it is distinctly what is known in the trade (if I may call it so) as conjectural restoration; that is to say, a chance shot at what, perhaps, might have been there under totally different circumstances from the present circumstances.

2101. Have you considered the portion of the proposal connected with the north end of the Hall, the raising of the towers? - There, of course, I know perfectly well that the whole face of the work is comparatively modern work, and whatever is done there will not actually destroy the ancient surface. Nevertheless my own impression is that the present front does represent what the Hall was, and I think that the suggestions for the alterations are decidedly a mistake, I mean as regards raising the towers; it would give a totally new character to the Hall, a character from what people were accustomed to, for one thing; and judging by all that one sees of old cuts, and things of that sort, it seems to me that it is wrong.


2102. You are not an architect yourself, I think? - No, I am not.

2103. But you are a prominent member of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings? - I am one of the honorary secretaries.

2104. Were you present when Mr. Somers Clarke and Mr. Stevenson gave their evidence in the autumn? - No. I was not; but I think I know the general drift of Mr. Somers Clarke's evidence at any rate.

2105. Have you read it? - I have.

2106. Then, as I understand, you substantially agree with him as to what should be constructed under the buttresses? - Substantially; that is to say that something shall be done there which is quite plain and simple.

2107. You agree that it is undesirable to leave the wall uncovered? - I cannot say anything about that, not being an architect.

2108. This is not within your cognizance? - No.

2109. Assuming that it is necessary to do something to preserve that ancient wall, would you agree with Mr. Somers Clarke that a lean-to should be erected under the buttresses? - Yes, between the buttresses, leaving the buttresses clear.

2110. And that what is done should be simply for the purpose of preserving the surface of the wall? - Yes.

2111. And with that view you think a lean-to should be erected? - Yes.

2112. For the whole length? - Yes, if it is necessary. I think even that would be a pity, because it would hide the old wall.

2113. But if it is necessary to preserve the wall at all, the preservation should take the form of a lean-to? - Quite so.

2114. I presume that that lean-to would be a wooden structure? - I do not care much what it is.

2115. But have you seen the proposal both of Mr. Clarke and Mr. Stevenson? - Mr. Clarke's proposal, I think, was to make a half timber construction, post and pan, nine feet from the wall of the Hall; and Mr. Stevenson's differed somewhat, if I remember rightly, inasmuch as he suggested that it should be plaster and wood combined, the wood to be black and the plaster white. Mr. Stevenson's proposal was, that it should be after the plan of the old houses in Cheshire.

2116. He and Mr. Somers Clarke do substantially agree; do you agree substantially with those two gentlemen? - I do not care at all what the material is so long as it is plain; so long as it is done simply as a protection to the old wall, and does not profess in any way to be a restoration of the work that has been there. If it is thought better to build it in stone by all means build it in stone.

2117. Do you think that a structure of that kind would be sightly? - I do not see why it should not; I do not see why it should be very particularly unsightly. After all a stone wall is a very good thing. Most stone walls I have seen built at the present day are a great deal better than they are when they have got the architectural additions to them. A piece of architecture may be ugly; a stone wall cannot be.

2118. However inconsistent it may be with the main building? - I want it to be inconsistent; that is to say, obviously modern.

2119. That is one of the principles of your society, that any additions made to an old building should be obviously modern, and should be in no way consistent with the old building itself? - Yes.

2120. And you think that that principle should be carried out in Westminster Hall? - Yes, I think so. That is quite a fair representation of our feelings.

Mr. Dick Peddie.

2121. Of course there are many forms in which a penthouse might be erected besides the post and pan? - Quite so. When I was at the last meeting that I attended here I noticed that it seemed to be assumed that Mr. Clarke's suggestion was final for the post and pan. I do not think that he meant that; anyhow if he did I do not agree with him. I am not at all particular about that, though I should wish myself that it should not be unsightly of course.


2122. At all events, you would wish that whatever is put there should be modern? - That is should be distinctly modern.

Mr. Rylands.

2123. I should like exactly to understand from you whether I am right in supposing that in giving us this opinion you simply suggest a mode of protecting the wall if the wall requires protection? - Yes, that is so.

2124. And that you make the suggestion without any regard in any way to considerations of taste? - It depends upon what you mean by the word "taste," after all. I am an artist, and I consider certainly that that is the only way of dealing with the question, which would absolve you from having committed a crime against taste; that is the fact of the matter.

2125. What I understand is this: that while you would not like this lean-to to be unsightly if it could be avoided, yet if it could not be avoided, and if it were necessary for the protection of the wall, you would not object to it on that ground? - I would accept it.

2126. Will you look round at that model behind you; do I rightly understand that you suggest that a lean-to, either of stone, or some other material, should run within the buttresses the full length of that building? - Yes.

2127. And how high would you suppose it to be necessary to carry it? - I suppose that it would be necessary to carry the top of the roof above the crown of Richard II.'s arches there.

2128. Then that would come up a considerable distance towards the buttresses? - Yes, it would come up to about there (pointing to the model).

2129. Then, as I understand, that long narrow lean-to, which would be a sort of affix to the wall of Westminster Hall, would be intended to enable the public to go from one end to the other to look at this wall of Rufus'? - Yes.

2130. It would have to be lighted, of course? - Yes.

2131. How would you propose that that should be done? - In the first place, if the wall were made a certain height, the roof might be at such a low pitch as not to be visible, but to be concealed by the parapet. In that case the roof might be glass; or otherwise there might be windows cut in the external wall, which would give enough light to enable persons to see the place.

2132. But that would not be material, in your view? - What I want is to preserve both the fact of the buttresses being there, the appearance of them, and also as much as possible all the indications of a former building that has been there, without adding anything to the Hall, which shall be a distinct piece of imitative architecture.

2133. You think that as it is a sort of show place, though the outside might be ugly the inside should not? - I rather protest against its being said that the outside would be ugly; I do not see that it need be ugly at all. A necessary addition made in a reasonable way to a thing runs a very good chance of not being ugly; that is the fact, if it is done reasonably, and without pretence, and so on. At any rate there is one thing to be said about it, it would be small. One objection to all these additions is that they are so large that in point of fact you have got Westminster Hall huddled up in a piece of a modern architect's design (that is the point) which nevertheless professes to be a part of the old Hall, which it most obviously is not, when you come to consider it. You would have to carve on it: "This building was built in such-and-such a year of the reign of Queen Victoria, and was done by such-and-such a gentleman, and it pretends to be old, and is not." That is what you would have to put upon it.


2134. What would be the inscription upon your construction? "This was erected in the reign of Queen Victoria; does not pretend to be old?" - "Certain stupid people having injured the flank of the Hall, we were obliged to put up this utilitarian business here in order to preserve the thing from rapid decay."

Sir Henry T. Holland.

2135. Ought you not to add to that the words which you gave in your evidence in chief, "We are content with this, as it is not specially ugly." You said that you would agree to anything that was not specially ugly? - Yes, I agree to that entirely.

Mr. Walter.

2136. What do you consider to have been the object of the flying buttresses? - I suppose they were put up when the roof was built.

2137. Is it your opinion that they were intended to enclose a space in connection with the Hall, or that they were merely used as an alternative, instead of using ordinary buttresses; I mean that flying buttresses of that character are a very uncommon feature, are they not? - No, they are not uncommon.

2138. But surely in the case of a cathedral they enclose a space inside? - But I have seen plenty of flying buttresses where there is no space enclosed, and where there never could have been any.


2139. Where? - I remember one in the Chapel of Saint Sampson's, at Cricklade.

Mr. Beresford Hope.

2140. That is an exception. There is one at the east end of Ryde Church; but that may be looked upon as an exception? - There are others I am quite sure.


2141. Mr. Pearson said that he knew of only two exceptions, the Chapter House at Westminster and Lincoln? - There is a Chapter House of the kind somewhere or other. I know of another case of a flying buttress at a little church in Oxfordshire, a little way from the Thames; at Langford. The aisle was a transition aisle which was hanging over, and the 14th century people put up a flying buttress there simply because it was convenient. Of course I quite admit that the flying buttresses were put here for convenience of some sort.

2142-3. Were you a Member of the Committee of the Society for the Preservation (sic) of Ancient Buildings which inspected the Hall? - Yes, we went there a year ago, I think.

2144. They reported against the proposal? - Yes.

2145. Who were the other members of the Committee who went with you? - I really could not say after this lapse of time. I think Mr. Stevenson was one.

2146. There were three or four others, were there not? - I think Mr. Stevenson was one, but I do not remember who the others were. There were about half-a-dozen; Mr. Middleton was one.

2147. Was that gentleman, who is an Assistant Surveyor to the Metropolitan Board of Works there? - Mr. Hebb; I think he was, but I am quite sure that Mr. Middleton was there.

2148. Who is Mr. Middleton? - Mr. Middleton is an architect, and now we may fairly say he is an archaeologist; he is engaged in writing archaeological articles for the new "Encyclopedia Britannica."

2149. Was there another gentleman there, an assistant in your own office? - Mr. Wardle, I think he was, but I cannot say for certain.

Sir Edward Reed.

2150. I understand your evidence very well from the ancient monument point of view, but I have a great difficulty in understanding it from the point of view of a resident in this city, knowing that we are dealing with a building which is always in view, and which is on one of the finest sites in Europe. Since we have been charged with the responsibility of doing something, you would surely have larger regard to the view which the building, when finished, presents to the general public moving about it, would you not, than to any other? - After all, one must appeal to the public that are sufficiently educated to understand such things.

2151. I can understand that if you were dealing with an ancient monument on Salisbury Plain you would put up something to protect it, and you would not care much what it was, but I do not see in your evidence any sufficient recognition of the position and circumstances of this building, and the conditions under which it would be viewed as a finished work? - But I have the greatest respect for Westminster Hall as a work of architecture, as every one must have, and in my own opinion the mere external effect of that which I advocate would be decidedly better than the addition of these buildings proposed by Mr. Pearson.

2152. If any such thing as a piece of a Cheshire-like house were put on, do you think that would be better than the proposed buildings? - I think that too much stress has been laid upon that suggestion of the post-and-pan structure.

2153. I only lay stress upon it because it is a suggestion made apparently in complete disregard of everything like what would be seemliness to the passer-by looking at this? - I do not admit that; I think the post and pan is very pretty work indeed.

2154. But would it not be entirely and completely incongruous with the general effect of the building, with the general mass of the architecture? - I do not think anything like so incongruous as the proposed new building would be; that is my opinion.

Mr. Cheetham.

2155. Did you hear the evidence of Mr. Charles Barry? - I think I was present.

2156. Mr. Charles Barry, I think, said that he thought the appropriate treatment would be an entirely open cloister; not a simple penthouse erection, but a cloister which should occupy the whole space between the building and the flying buttresses, to serve both as a protection to the wall and also to serve as a means of communication from one end of the building to the other; would such a structure meet the views of your society? - In the first place I do not think that such a structure would fulfil its purpose. I do not think that an open cloister would preserve the stone. If you have any doubt about that, go into the cloisters of Westminster Abbey and you will see the terrible ruin that the London atmosphere has made in the stone there. On the contrary, I believe that such a cloister would do more harm than leaving the place quite open; because, first of all, you would get the London soot on it (that is to say, sulphuric acid, practically), and you would not have anything to wash it off with. If it were open, the rain would wash it off; but with an open cloister, the London atmosphere would, in the first place, accumulate in it I should think quite as much as if it were entirely open, and then it would keep on, as it were, gnawing at it. Just consider the condition of the cloisters of Westminster Abbey, then you will see how very little protection a mere open cloister is. And so far as that goes, after all my objection to putting up a handsome architectural feature (because that is what I do object to) would apply quite as much to the open cloister as it would to the closed one. Perhaps if you asked me personally what I think about it, I should reply that I should object less to the open cloister, as far as the look of the thing is concerned; but it would have the extra objection, that I do not think that it would protect the wall. An expert would, perhaps, tell you better than I can; but judging from the evidence afforded by the cloisters in Westminster Abbey I should say that it would not.

2157. You would not consider it an objection, would you, that it should combine ornament with utility? - I should; that is to say, I do not want it to have any pretensions to architecture in the full sense of the word; I want it to look like a simple makeshift; I think that is the gist of all I have been saying, really.

2158. Therefore, you would object to a cloister the primary object of which would be to serve as a protection to the wall, if it were treated architecturally? - Yes; otherwise I should not, excepting on the grounds I have stated, that I think, practically, it would fail of its object.

Mr. Dick Peddie.

2159. Are you aware that Mr. Pearson in his original plan suggested an open cloister? - Yes.

2160. He thought, as a practical architect, that it would be a protection to the wall? - I do not think it would.

Mr. Beresford Hope.

2161. When you strongly urge the necessity of a makeshift, I gather from that that the drift of your own mind is great contempt for the supposed enlightenment and development, and all that, of this our age? - No, I do not say that. I look with the greatest interest upon the architecture which is built at the present day, so long as it professes to be what it is, modern architecture.

Bibliographical Note


11th March 1885 Morris testified before the Parliamentary Committee on the restoration of Westminster Hall.


Report of the Select Committee, 2095-2161