Survey of London Monograph 1, Trinity Hospital, Mile End. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1896.
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CHAPTER VI. THE PROTEST AGAINST THE DESTRUCTION OF THE COLLEGE.
I have now sought by description and illustration to explain what I mean by the object lesson in National History, and so bring my task up to the present day.
Protests against the destruction.
It is, perhaps, a bitter reflection on this object lesson, that a Corporation of such great memories as the Trinity Guild should have grown so callous and regardless of its past history and its moral responsibilities both towards pious founders and to the general public, as to propose such a scheme as was recently submitted to the Charity Commissioners. The manner in which it was received, and the voices of those who spoke in protest, in so far as they will also be regarded as having their share in this little episode in National History, justify, I hope, the insertion of the following letters. They are selected from among a great volume of correspondence that appeared in the public press, and, as will be seen, not with any bias, since they represent both sides. I am indebted also to the Editors of The Times and The Daily Chronicle for their kind permission to reprint some of them. When the Corporation shall have accomplished their desire of sweeping away the last vestige of the old mediæval collegium, and the sacred Stuart memories, and sold what can be sold towards swelling their list of out-pensions, these protests may remain on record. I give, at the close of the chapter, what is I think, a sufficiently complete reference to the various press notices, in them the full reports of the Charity Commissioners' Inquiry may be consulted.
The following letters are only selections, but they are sufficient to show the storm of indignation that was aroused by the scheme for the destruction of the Hospital which was presented by the Trinity Corporation to the Charity Commissioners. The net reflection on the whole inquiry was that the Corporation had as little knowledge of what they were doing as the public had of what they were about to lose.
Sir Walter Besant to "The Daily Chronicle."
Sir,—The thanks of all who respect things that are lovely, precious and of good repute, are due to the writer of the paper on the Trinity Almshouses in The Daily Chronicle of Saturday last. He has said exactly what ought to be said, and that with no uncertain note. It only remains to be seen whether he has spoken in time.
Meanwhile, it is well that your readers should know what else has been done. The committee of the Essex House Crafts Guild have drawn up a remonstrance, or memorandum, which has been signed by Mr. Ashbee, the president, and by the committee, and has been presented to the London County Council and to the Charity Commissioners. It is hoped that this document will receive attention.
Your writer spoke strongly on the cruelty of turning these old people into the street. He might have added that the original foundation of this house contemplated a college, or place of common residence, for the companionship and solace far more necessary in age than in youth. If, therefore, the present residents are separated and dispersed the act seems to become nothing short of a breach of trust.
But we are told that the drains are defective; that they have been condemned by the London County Council; that there are no funds to set them right; and that, in consequence, the place must be sold. This seems to make the destruction of the place a sad, but stern necessity. On further inquiry, however, it comes out that £5 for every house will cover all the repairs necessary—about £150 in all. This being the case, I venture to ask you, Sir, if you will receive subscriptions from your readers in order to obtain this sum. If 3,000 will send 1s. each, if 1,000 will send 3s. each, the thing is done, and the Trinity House would no longer have any excuse for desiring to destroy what ought to be their most precious possession.
Your writer spoke also of the love with which the nation regards all sailors alike. It is a feeling which ought to be fostered and encouraged in every possible way. How better can it be encouraged than by the existence of this Haven of Rest in the very heart of an industrial population? But consider for what class of sailors the house is founded. There is not among all our people any class more respected than the officers of the Mercantile Marine. There is no man, anywhere, more loyal, more true to his trust, less self-seeking, more courageous than the British skipper. In every history of wreck we know what to expect—we read the thing without surprise—we accept it as a matter of fact, whether it be shipwreck by fire, or by tempest, or by rocks—the captain is always the last to leave the vessel; the captain goes down with the hands which have not been able to escape. This college, the only place of the kind, is the one standing testimony to the respect and the affection with which the nation regards this class. It is more—it recalls to one generation after another, the work done by the men who made the country in the years gone by; they were the merchant men who carried the flag to unknown shores and felt their way over seas of which there were then no charts. We cannot afford to forget the history of our merchant captains. In the inner court of the House may be seen the merchant captain as he walked the deck 200 years ago, as splendid in wig, ruffles, lace, and gold embroidery as a leaden effigy will allow. He was set up here at the beginning of our East India trade. For 200 years he has looked on while the captains have come and gone—the men who made the country rich—the men without whom the great Company of Merchant Adventurers would have been powerless. It is, indeed, a very sacred place. We cannot let it go.
Few, indeed, at the East-end, or anywhere else, are the monuments which appeal to any sentiment of patriotism or duty, or self sacrifice. Once there was a venerable and beautiful place called St. Katherine's-by-the-Tower—which was ruthlessly and needlessly destroyed—that place might have been made to become for East London what the Abbey church of St. Peter is for West London. Yet even its abolition was not so mischievous, so destructive, as would be that of these almshouses. The virtues which it recognises, the achievements which it rewards, the history which it commemorates, the gratitude which it illustrates, the love of adventure which sent these men to sea; these things do not grow on the kerb of the Whitechapel Road, nor are they cultivated in the streets which branch off to north and south. Take away the Trinity Almshouses and the memory of these things will perish. For the sake, then, of the young men who walk up and down that boulevard, as well as for the sake of the captains themselves, we must not let this college go.—I am, Sir, your obedient servant, Saville Club, November 23.
Mr. William Morris to "The Daily Chronicle."
Sir,—Allow me to add my thanks also to you for your straightforward attack on the cant which assumes that a public body having the administration of charities has but one mandate, to wit, the increase of its money at the expense of every other consideration.
As to the Trinity Almshouses, looking at the beauty and charm of the buildings and their immediate surroundings, and the reproach they throw on us for the squalor of the outside world of East London; and looking also at the pleasure and decency of life which they confer on the present inmates, I can think of nothing which (mutatis mutandis) fits the case better than the lines of Omar Khayyàm:—
I often wonder what the vintners buy
One half so precious as the goods they sell.
We must all recognise to the full my friend Mr. Ashbee's single-hearted and indefatigable efforts on behalf of the London citizens; and none, I am sure, are more anxious to do so than our Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings; but lest anyone should think that we have been neglecting our duties, I may venture to tell you that we have been doing our best to help him.
I enclose my subscription toward the sum of £150, which, as it seems, the Trinity Brethren are too poor to find, and am, Sir, yours obediently, Kelmscott House, Upper Mall, Hammersmith, Nov. 25.
Canon Rawnsley to "The Times."
Sir,—Unless strong remonstrance is made at the public meeting of inquiry which will be held at the Trinity House at 11 o'clock of next Wednesday, November 27, and unless good cause can be shown to the contrary, one of the most interesting and ancient of the English guilds, the guild of "the Mariners of England," will lose its habitation; one of the cleanest books of record of a useful charity for the past 400 years will be closed; and by the will of the Trinity House Corporation and the Charity Commissioners the fair haven of rest for ancient mariners in Mile End will be swept away.
There may, of course, be something to say for outdoor relief as opposed to indoor charity. Almshouses for old people may perhaps with profit be removed from London fogs to country air. Doubtless if, as we hear, a big brewer offers a big price for the site, the charity may be the gainer in £. s.d. The Skinners' Company would tell us so. But we can ill afford to part with the few picturesque associations with the past of our great seamanship at this time of day.
The merchants of London owe too much to the history of the flag which was taken from the Spaniards by Sir Francis Drake, which still hangs in the old hall of the Brethren—of which Sir Francis himself was one—to be able lightly to let its memory perish from their midst. "We are a nation yet," but we owe it largely to our strong sea-arm that it is so. And every year that adds to the prose of London life the poetry that remains to us is more dear.
H. D. RAWNSLEY, Hon. Sec. National Trust, 1, Great College Street, Westminster.
Mr. F. C. Penrose. P.R.I.B.A. and Mr. Alfred Waterhouse, R.A. to "The Times."
Sir,—The Council of the Royal Institute of British Architects are desirous of drawing public attention to an inquiry which is to be held by the Charity Commissioners on Wednesday, the 27th inst., for the purpose of considering a scheme involving alterations in the method of dispensing certain charities connected with the hospital or college of the Trinity House Corporation in the Mile End Road. The council are advised that one of the results of the said scheme will be the demolition of the buildings in question.
We shall therefore be much obliged if you will allow us to point out that the buildings referred to are believed to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and that they are among the most interesting examples of his work in London. They were erected in the year 1695, and are thus contemporary with St. Paul's Cathedral. Robert Seymour, in 1734, refers to them thus:—"This Trinity College or Hospital," he says, "is a handsome structure of Brick and Stone, near Mile End, north of the high Road, with a graceful entrance consisting of two Rows of building one storey high fronting each other, the length whereof on both sides is paved with freestone; in the middle a Grass Plot enclosed with Pallisadoes, and set with young Fir Trees, and at the further end, Northward, stands a very comely Chapel, with a Clock, ascending with divers steps." This is an interesting description, but Seymour might have added that the buildings are rich in stained glass, carving, wall panelling, and leadwork. It is indeed a monument of unique architectural interest; and when it is remembered that it stands on the borders of crowded Whitechapel and that its quadrangle forms a breathing space of great value to the district, we venture to express a hope that the Trinity House Corporation will exhibit sufficient public spirit to abandon any intention of demolishing the buildings, and that so interesting a relic of the past may be preserved by them in its entirety. We have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servants,
F. C. PENROSE, President, R.I.B.A.
A. WATERHOUSE, Chairman of the Art Standing Committee, R.I.B.A.
The Royal Institute of British Architects, 9, Conduit Street, London, W., Nov. 23.
Lord Leighton, P.R.A. to Sir Henry Longley.
Dear Sir Henry Longley,—Although the state of my health forbids my attending any public meeting, or taking part in any public discussion, I am extremely anxious that my absence from to-morrow's meeting should not be attributed to indifference on my part to the grave matter before it. I feel, on the contrary, the keenest anxiety in regard to it, and should deplore more deeply than I can say the destruction of the most delightful and characteristic group of buildings which is to-day menaced—a relic unique in its artistic character, and unlike many relics, still in the full efficiency of its usefulness. A relic, too, which surely the historic associations which are connected with it, should keep in the reverence of patriotic people. I should be grateful if you could make my feelings, for what they may be worth, known to your meeting.
Believe me, dear Sir Henry, sincerely yours, FREDERIC LEIGHTON.
2, Holland Park Road, Kensington, W., November 26.
Nauticus to "The Daily Chronicle."
Sir,—In a lecture delivered last night by Mr. Seymour Lucas, A.R.A., he stated that when preparing for his picture "Peter the Great at Deptford," although he had been able to find in the Print Room of the British Museum prints depicting the costume of various classes in the reign of William III., he had been unable anywhere to get a representation of a naval officer of that period until he fortunately discovered one in a statue in the beautiful grounds of the Trinity Almshouses.—Yours, &c.,
Crouch End, November 27.
Miss Octavia Hill to "The Times."
Sir,—I have watched with keen interest the course of the inquiry into the proposal to destroy Trinity Almshouses. It seems to me amazing that a building of such great architectural value, situated in a district where any beauty or space is blessing, possessing an historical interest calculated to call out national heroism and gratitude, should not be considered clearly worth the cost of drainage. I wonder what America or France would think of us. In the richest city in the world, possessed of a building reported to be the work of one of our greatest architects, a building which for 200 years has been associated with our national history, are we going to allow one generation to actually destroy the fabric for lack of money to drain it, and that when apparently there are funds left for its maintenance?
"Oh!" but the Trinity House appears to be answering, "it is not only that we grudge the cost of drains, but we could do much more with the proceeds of the sale of the ground. We have been for some time asking possible future beneficiaries whether they would like anything better than what was left for them."
Englishmen! here is a gift of a collegium founded to provide this sort of home, it is
full, the residents implore not to be turned out, it is no case of an obsolete charity, and
yet it is proposed to abolish it because certain people say that they would prefer that
the money should be differently applied. Is this the principle on which our charities are
to be administered? Is it faithful to the donor? Is it encouraging to donors in time to
come? If a donor leaves money for a training school for teachers, are our future
Charity Commissioners to ask if the teachers would prefer pensions? If some one
leaves a piece of land for an open space, are future Commissioners, while people are still
using and enjoying that open space, to say to them, "Would you prefer the money which
would be realized by selling it?" Surely an almshouse built and founded in old days,
and still used and cared for by the residents, has a claim to the ground on which it
stands, and to money enough to redrain it, either from the funds left for its preservation,
or from that which would be gladly contributed by a public who care for these small
oases of beauty, for quiet, old-world life, and for air and light in an East End district
inhabited by thousands, and with little left to cheer its monotony.—I am, Sir, your
190, Marylebone Road, N.W., November 29.
The Right Hon. W.E. Gladstone, M.P. to Mr. Ernest Godman.
Dear Sir,—In answer to the letter of your Guild, and to the resolution which I have received from the Institute of Architects, I beg to say that I have for many years been only a nominal member of the Trinity House Board, and consequently feel myself disabled from any interposition. Nor do I know the merits of the case, which would depend upon particulars not now within my cognisance. But so far as my private sentiments go, I must say that I lament increasingly the barbarous work which has been so ruthlessly carried on in London, and the desecration, unless in cases of strict necessity, of many characteristic buildings and ancient local features.—I remain your very faithful. W. E. GLADSTONE.
E. Godman, Esq. November 29, 1895.
Secretary to the Committee for the Survey of the Old Memorials of Greater London, Essex House, Mile End Road, Bow, London, E.
The Duke of Argyll to the Earl of Meath.
My dear Lord Meath,—Although as a mere matter of taste I sympathize with the desire to retain a building which relieves the hideous miles of brick in the east of London, I cannot without more detailed information on the facts take any part in the agitation against a scheme which the corporation has deliberately framed in the interests of those whom it represents.
Your letter does not satisfy me that the case has been considered from the point of view which must be that of the Elder Brethren. As one of the honorary members I have from time to time to dispose of one of the pensions to aged master mariners, and it has been my painful duty to select some one out of the numerous applications which come to us. The cases are often so piteous and so far more numerous than can be adequately dealt with that this duty of selection is a terrible revelation of sufferings in a most deserving class of men, which cannot be met out of the funds at our disposal. If the sale of a "home," however beautiful as a bit of architecture, would add materially to those funds I should feel it to be an absolute duty to support it. It would be an immense comfort to feel that a larger number of most afflicting cases could be met from year to year; and it is quite irrelevant to this consideration to argue that the home has revenue enough for its support. Out pensions are in numerous cases far more desirable than support in a home. Wives and daughters are thus enabled to live with poor and aged husbands and parents, and are relieved sometimes from exhausting and yet unavailing toil. Considerations connected with open spaces naturally attract your attention who have taken such an honourable and benevolent part in securing these for the poor of London, but this is no reason for sacrificing any considerable revenue for the relief of those for whom the Trinity Corporation are bound to provide out of the property which belongs to them. Those who desire the ground for other purposes of the neigbourhood ought to try to enter the field as purchasers. It is hardly fair that men whose profession is one of continual danger and exposure, and who are often reduced to the greatest penury in old age and sickness, should be called upon to sacrifice for such purpose their interest in the only charity which was specially intended to help them in their extremity. I almost feel sure that if you had to look over the list of cases which come before us only too often you would feel, as I do, the absolute duty of making the very most of the inadequate funds at our disposal.—I am, my dear Lord Meath, Yours very truly, ARGYLL.
Inverary, Argyllshire, December 3, 1895.
Lord Barnard to "The Times."
Sir,—Miss Octavia Hill's letter on this subject published in your issue of yesterday, though based, I do not doubt, upon the most generous motives, is an attempt to influence the judgment of the public upon this question by what I cannot but consider as most misleading and unfair arguments.
I know nothing of the case of these almshouses beyond what I have read in your paper, but I do know a good deal of the Charity Commissioners and of the law which they administer. It is obvious that Miss Hill knows nothing of the latter, and I should infer from her letter that she knows nothing of the former.
If the object of this charitable trust is to maintain "building of great architectural value," or to provide the blessing of "beauty or space" in the district, or to "support an historical interest calculated to call out national heroism and gratitude," I have no doubt that the Charity Commissioners, like the other Englishmen to whom Miss Hill appeals, will do their duty and see that the rights of the public to these undoubted advantages are secured. But if, on the other hand, it should turn out that the object of the founders was to benefit "decayed mariners" or any similar class, I fail to see why all these other blessings should be provided at their expense, even if the law allowed it, which it does not.
Surely, Sir, the persons who are so anxious to secure these advantages for the nation or the district should undertake the responsibility of providing for them, and not attempt to shift them to the shoulders of the poor decayed mariners.
Funds subject to a trust for training teachers could under no circumstances, as the law now stands, be diverted to providing pensions for the same persons.—I am, Sir, your obedient servant, BARNARD.
Raby Castle, Darlington, December 3.
Mr. J. Macvicar Anderson, F.R.I.B.A. to "The Times."
Sir,—In the excellent letter of Miss Octavia Hill, which appears in your paper of to-day, it seems to be implied that there is a lack of funds to carry out such work as may be found necessary in connexion with the sanitation of these buildings. It is well that it should be understood, once for all, that such is not the case.
In the inquiry held last week at the Trinity House by an Assistant Charity Commissioner the secretary to the Trinity Corporation stated that, "Apart from the funds which were dealt with by the Public Accounts Committee, by Parliament, or by the Charity Commissioners, the Trinity House had an income of something like £8,000 a year," and it was shown that of this less than one-half is required to supplement the special endowments by which the charity is maintained. It was further stated by the Assistant Commissioner that "it might be taken from the evidence given that there was ample money to keep up the almshouses."
This is conclusive. We have it on the best authority that there are ample funds applicable to the maintenance of the almshouses. It was further established at the inquiry that the buildings are in a sound and substantial structural condition, and only require some necessary sanitary improvements in order to bring them into conformity with the scientific requirements of the day.
In view of these facts, and seeing that a comparatively trifling saving would be effected were the scheme of the Trinity Corporation to be adopted, it is difficult to conceive on what reasonable grounds the Charity Commissioners could sanction a proposal which would involve the demolition of buildings which, from a practical point of view, admirably fulfil their purpose, and from an æsthetic point of view constitute, in the opinion of all who are capable of judging, a unique and beautiful example of late 17th century work.—I am, Sir, your obedient servant.
J. MACVICAR ANDERSON.
6, Stratton Street, W., December 2.
The case from the Trinity House point of view to "The Times."
(From a Correspondent.)
The Charity Commissioners inquiry recently held at the Trinity House had a much wider scope than the public seemed to realize. In effect, the inquiry extended over the administration of all the charitable trusts of the Trinity Corporation, and the almshouse question was dealt with incidentally in due course. Any one who sat through the prolonged inquiry and carefully followed the points raised by the Commissioner could not fail to have been impressed with the careful and conscientious manner in which the various trusts are administered. But, in addition to the searching investigation of the Charity Commissioners, the corporation has had to endure much criticism of its proposed scheme for abandoning the almshouses at Mile End with a view to the extension of the out-pension system. The silence of the Elder Brethren on this subject has been misunderstood, but the truth now appears to be that, their proposal having been formally submitted to the Charity Commissioners for adjudication, they felt it would be hardly right for them to appear in the public Press, arguing, defending, and passing judgment on the case which they had submitted for the Commissioners' consideration and judgment. Now that the inquiry is over and the heat of newspaper discussion is past, it may be well to look a little more carefully into the case presented by the Elder Brethren.
But, in the first place, it is necessary to clear away the effect of certain misstatements. It has been asserted that the income of the corporation is £300,000 a year, and on this statement many arguments have been founded and much literary indignation has been expended. The statement is quite untrue, for the corporate income is in reality only about £17,000 per annum. It must here be explained that the corporation exists in a dual capacity. It is the general lighthouse authority of England and Wales and collects light dues for keeping up the lighthouse system, but pays all the money so collected into the Mercantile Marine Fund, over which the Board of Trade has entire control. Not one penny of this income is applicable to the charitable purposes of the corporation; it is all spent on lighthouses and other maritime purposes, and the amount so collected averages about £400,000 a year. In its second capacity the corporation is an ancient guild or fraternity, possessing property of its own and charged with the administration of numerous specific charitable trusts, and for these and other purposes of the corporation the total income is, as I have said, about £17,000 per annum. From the evidence given before the Commissioner it appeared that between £8,000 and £9,000 of this income is appropriated to specific charities, and of the remaining moiety, known as the general funds of the corporation, an average of £4,000 per annum is devoted to the relief of decayed master mariners and their widows, the balance being appropriated to the general expenses of maintaining the corporation.
In the discussion in the newspapers a very strong point was made of the tempting offer said to have been put forward by a brewery company to purchase the land upon which the almshouses now stand. Holding the views they do on the subject, it is very probable that the Elder Brethren would have been glad to have received such an offer, but on inquiry at the Trinity House it is positively asserted that there is no truth at all in the statement. It is nothing but surmise on the part of those eager to find a telling argument against the project. No offer whatever has been made directly or indirectly, and the value of the site if realized has been only estimated according to the value of land in the neighbourhood.
One other misapprehension has gathered some strength. It was assumed that the defective drainage of the place was the chief factor in determining the Elder Brethren to enter upon their policy of disestablishment of the almshouses, and that £150 would cover the cost of repairs to the drains. As a matter of fact, the tentative demand of the Mile End Vestry was equal to an expenditure of £225, and this was to be followed by the demand of the Bethnal Green Vestry for about £370; then the surveyor of the corporation advised that the work could not stop there, but that all the old brick drains would have to be renewed, which would cost about £1,800, making a total of, say, £2,400, instead of the paltry £150 upon which so much stress has been laid.
The main reasons which have induced the Brethren of Trinity House to propose the change are that, being the custodians of this charity, for the benefit of decayed master mariners and their widows, they wished to extend the benefits as much as possible, having hundreds of applicants on their lists; that the almshouse system is costly and allows only a limited number to be benefited, 2nd many of the eligible candidates decline to go to an almshouse, preferring to live by the sea at their own homes in preference to the breezy delights of the Mile End Road. Upon all this came the drainage projects, with their uncertain liability as regards expense, and then the Elder Brethren propounded their scheme. It is quite understood that the present inmates will not be allowed to suffer. All the talk about turning them out into the streets is absurd and deceptive. Every consideration would be shown to the old people, some of whom it is known would be glad to receive an enhanced pension and go to live with their friends by the sea. Those who do not desire to leave the almshouses will in all probability be allowed to end their days there, for the Elder Brethren would never force them out. But as the almshouses became vacant they would not be refilled and new out-pensioners would be chosen from the list. The effect of this change would in time be that the number of persons benefited would be increased by probably 15 or 20 per cent.
What does the merchant service say to this? This is a maritime charity, intended for ancient mariners all over the country; it is not specially a London institution, and the Corporation of Trinity House, in trying to make it more beneficial for the class for whom it is intended, have brought down upon themselves a storm of reproach. From whom? Not from master mariners and their widows, not from the shipping interests of the country, but from archæologists and antiquaries, who fear that the change will involve the demolition of some interesting old buildings. The obvious answer is, let the archæologists and antiquaries buy the houses and keep them up; the charity will then be benefited by the enhanced value obtained on account of the antiquarian interest of the houses, and all will be satisfied. Of the eligible applicants for the benefits of the charity, not 5 per cent. desire almshouses, and there are several hundreds of such applicants.
Miss Octavia Hill to "The Times."
Sir,—In a letter which appeared in your columns yesterday it seems to be assumed that I made an attack on the Charity Commissioners. I am sorry that this should be so. My letter was not so meant; the Commissioners have not even pronounced on this scheme. My letter was intended to protest against the prevalent tendency to change the form of trusts too readily, with too exclusive a view to money value, and by reason of the votes of possible future beneficiaries. Westminster Abbey, or a park in a crowded neighbourhood, might on this principle be swept away because the land they occupy would realize a large price.
Nor certainly was I urging the preservation of works of architectural value and beauty and space for the benefit of others at the expense of beneficiaries. What I meant to plead for was the fulfilment of the trust. I gather that it does not enjoin the giving of charitable relief to the largest number of decayed mariners, but the provision for a certain number of them in these houses. Are we to assume that there was no idea in the mind of the founder beyond that of money grant to decayed mariners—that he cared nothing for the dignified and somewhat stately little home, for the nearness to the river where their old ships come and go, for the gathering together of men of one profession? If the old homes have become more dignified by age and historical association, if they are a blessing to the neighbourhood and the nation, that appears an added reason for preserving them; but it seems to me to be done by the simple fulfilment of the trust. I think trusts ought to be administered with perception of all these various values.
But the Duke of Argyll says there are numerous pitiful cases of decayed mariners
amongst whom it is hard to choose. To me this seems a reason for our generation
helping them in whatever way we consider best. Surely we are not so poverty-stricken
that we need to pull down old buildings and sell land given freely to us in times past to
provide for our poor. Why is all the cost of helping decayed mariners to be thrown on
this trust at the expense of changing the form of bequest?—I am, Sir, your obedient
190, Marylebone Road, N.W., December 7.
P.S.—I do not quite understand the last paragraph of Lord Barnard's letter. Surely we have in our own day seen the transfer of large funds from eleemosynary to educational purposes legally effected, and in such a way that the whole class of beneficiaries is also changed.
Mr. C. R. Ashbee to "The Times."
Sir,—The letters from the Duke of Argyll and Lord Barnard in your issue of December 6, following as they do upon the statement from the Trinity House point of view, cannot be allowed to pass unanswered, for all three waive the main question at issue. The point is not whether certain almshouses and whatever pertains to them shall be sold, and the charity thereby increased with a greater number of out-pensions, but whether a venerable body like the Trinity House is justified in the eyes of the public in turning its historic assets into cash for charity.
Nobody would deny for a moment that it would be unfair to burden a charity, and so indirectly the needy sea captains whom it is intended to benefit, with the maintenance of an historical memorial, unless by express wish of the founders; but surely it may reasonably be expected that a wealthy corporation like the Trinity House should be mindful of its trusts as well as its charities, and not plead the latter as an excuse for shifting upon the public the responsibilities of the former.
A straightforward appeal on behalf of their old seamen's charity, with the Elder
Brethren heading the list. would, I am convinced, meet with instant and warm response
from all Englishmen, but the sale of an historic trust, to the great loss of the whole
community, can only merit condemnation.—Yours obediently,
C. R. ASHBEE.
Essex House, Bow, E., December 7.
Mr. Poynter, R. A. to "The Times."
Sir,—While the public mind is occupied with Sir Christopher Wren and the Trinity Almshouses, I shall be glad to be allowed to call attention in your columns to another work of this great architect which, if not in such imminent danger of destruction, is suffering much from neglect, and, as will be seen further on, from worse than mere neglect.
But first, with reference to the correspondence which has appeared on the subject of the almshouses, I should like to draw attention to a point which seems to have been missed by those who urge their removal, and this is, that the Brethren of the Trinity House, when they instituted the almshouses which are now proposed for demolition, thought it worth while to go to the greatest architect of the day for a building which should be worthy of the charity which they were endowing, and in doing so no doubt acted in the simple spirit which has inspired the founders of so many glorious and noble buildings in past ages, that they were working for the glory of God. I cannot help being reminded by the arguments brought forward by some of your correspondents of a certain box of ointment "which might have been sold for more than three hundred pence and given to the poor." And, moreover, once launched over this ground, where are we to stop? There is another building of the same architect covering a vast space of ground in the most valuable part of the City; extend the argument a little, and there is no reason why St. Paul's itself should not be pulled down and the money derived from the shops and warehouses erected in its place devoted to charities. Then, no doubt, should we see Lord Barnard's argument again produced—that it is for those who wish to save St. Paul's to subscribe their money and not to deprive the deserving poor. The principle is one to which any of our glorious monuments might be sacrificed, and will always appear reasonable to those who are not touched by works of beauty and imagination.
* * * * * *
Mr. Poynter then proceeds to discuss the neglected state of Sir Christopher Wren's banqueting house at Kensington Palace.
Sir Robert Hunter to "The Times."
Sir,—There is a certain naïveté about the concluding paragraph of your correspondent "W.S.'s" letter in The Times of to-day. He attended the recent inquiry of the Charity Commissioners on the first day, and, having heard the case of the Trinity Brothers, he concluded that it is unanswerable, without taking the trouble to hear the other side! It is perhaps a pity that the question should be rediscussed in the Press, for both sides were fully heard by the Assistant Commissioner, and the Charity Commissioners have now all the materials in their hands upon which to come to a decision upon the application made to them. But, as the subject has been reopened, you will perhaps allow me to offer a few remarks.
In the first place, it must be borne in mind that it is the Trinity Brothers and their supporters who seek to disturb the present state of things. The almshouses are in existence and are in good repair; their inmates are singularly healthy, and devotedly attached to their quarters. If "W.S." had attended throughout the inquiry he would have found that the suggestion of any necessity for "an outlay of thousands" was absolutely baseless. The almshouses are at the present moment "cheerful and healthy homes." Further, there has never been the slightest difficulty in filling the cottages, and the Trinity House have ample funds to maintain them. The Trinity Brothers, who conducted their case with conspicuous fairness and moderation, substantially admitted all these facts, and ultimately based their application wholly on the ground that by selling the almshouses they could provide a greater number of pensions.
This brings me to the second consideration. Captain Henry Mudd, who founded the charity, did not leave money for pensions. He gave a piece of land for almshouses. The exact words of his will, which probably many of your correspondents have not seen, are as follows:—
"I give and bequeath unto the Master, Wardens, Brethren, and Assistants of the Corporation of Trinity House, of Deptford Strond, in the Coy. of Kent, all that my poore (piece) or parcell of land or ground with the appurtenances lying and being in Milend, in the parish of Stepney alias Stebunheath aforesaid, near the Road there, for and during all my lease and term, to the end that the said corporation shall build almshouses thereon for the use and habitation of some of their poor."
Now it is a question whether the Charity Commissioners have power wholly to change the character of a charity of this kind, where there are means of maintaining it in accordance with the donor's wishes. But, assuming that they have, it is certainly a question whether they should exercise such a power when there are abundant reasons of public policy why they should not do so, Parliament is open to the Trustees of the charity, if the Commissioners decline to act; and Parliament seems to be the most fitting tribunal to effect a change of so radical a character. Parliament did not, however, think fit to sanction the demolition of the Charterhouse in order to establish pensions, although the arguments for a change were in that instance much stronger, as the Governors pleaded insufficiency of funds.
May it not be reasonably argued that questions of this sort should be treated either on narrow or on broad principles, and not upon some confused mixture of the two? If the original intention of the charity is to be maintained, the almshouses should not be touched. If, on the other hand, considerations of general expediency are to prevail, then it is difficult to see why the welfare of a whole neighbourhood, the interests of art, and the preservation of a visible and inspiring memorial of the kindness of a bygone day are not to be taken into account as well as the supposed interests of a particular class. Why should a charity be recast when it is doing good work, and when to recast it in the way proposed would inflict an irreparable injury upon the community at large ?
One word as to the alleged preference for pensions. Too much importance should not be attached to a circular issued by the Governors of a charity in the midst of a controversy in which they are known to be deeply interested. The vote of those in the almshouses seems to possess a more real significance. Moreover, the Trinity Brothers have already numerous pensions to bestow, so that to a large extent a choice is already offered to applicants. And it should be borne in mind that there is no herding of men or women, as so many individuals, in these almshouses. Men are accompanied by their wives and daughters, and each little cottage is a home of family life.
Apologizing for the length to which this letter has run.—I am yours obediently,
Reform Club, December, 13.
P.S.—There is another consideration which I have omitted to mention, but which I cannot help thinking should have weight. The Trinity Brothers would not dream of selling the almshouses, were it not that the site has greatly increased in value. This increase is due to the growth of Mile End and the East End of London generally. The additional value thus conferred upon the property of the charity by the existence of a dense population at the East End should not be turned to account to their detriment, through the agencies of public bodies, such as the Trinity House and the Charity Commissioners.
With these letters, and especially Sir Robert Hunter's, my Monograph on the Hospital may fitly close. The arguments for or against its destruction will probably weigh with each man according as he values a great national memorial; but a final reflection may be permitted.
It is impossible to study the history of the Trinity Guild, without being impressed by the wise and loyal regard which the Brethren have had throughout English history for the wishes of the founders: it is impossible not to recognise their sense of charity and the admirable way in which the poorer Brethren have always been tended, and above all, the manner in which, up to now, they have maintained their position as Trustees of national greatness, and preserved the records of their own past history and humanity. It comes as a shock to our regard for so venerable and dignified a body as the Corporation, that they should permit a little group of officials, however well meaning, to propose a scheme for the destruction of so noble a monument of their old time charity and patriotism.