Second Parliament of George II: Fourth session (4 of 9, begins 16/2/1738)

Pages 85-96

The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons: Volume 10, 1737-1739. Originally published by Chandler, London, 1742.

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In this section

Lord Sundon. ; Sir Robert Walpole.

February, 16. My Lord Sundon acquainted the House, that he had a Petition in his Hand from the Dean and Chapter of Westminster. Upon which he opened the Nature of the Pe tition, and Sir Robert Walpole, by his Majesty's Command, acquainted the House, that his Majesty being inform'd of the Contents of the said Petition, recommended it to their Consideration.

Then the said Petition was brought up and read, setting forth that said Collegiate Church came into the Hands of the first Dean and Chapter unfinished, and by Length of Time and Badness of the Materials, became so ruinous, that in the eighth and ninth of William III. in Regard to its being of antient and Royal Foundation, an annual Sum for a certain Term of Years, was granted by Parliament for repairing the same, under the Direction of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Lord Chief Justice of the King's-Bench, and the Dean of Westminster, who were appointed Commissioners for that Purpose: And that by an Act passed in the ninth of Queen Anne, a Sum of four thousand Pounds per Annum for a certain Term of Years was granted to the said Commissioners, towards repairing and finishing the said Collegiate Church and the Chapels of the same; and that in Order to the finishing it, as directed by Parliament, Sir Christopher Wren, then the Surveyor, form'd the Design of erecting a Spire in the middle Tower, a Model of which he then prepared, and a Draught of which with the rest of the intended Building, was laid before this House, the last Session of Paliament; and that by Acts passed in the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 10th, of his present Majesty, the several Sums of four thousand Pounds each Year, have been issued and applied towards carrying on the said Works: And an Account how the same has been expended, has been annually laid before this House, and that all the Monies granted as aforesaid being expended, the said Works are now at a Stand, which the Petitioners submit to the Consideration of this House, acknowledging the Favours already conferred on the said Collegiate Church, as well by the present as by former Parliaments, and praying for the Continuance thereof.

Sir Wm. Yonge.

After which Lord Sundon mov'd, that the said Petition be referred to the Consideration of the Committee of the whole House, to whom it was referred to consider further of the Supply granted to his Majesty. He was seconded by Sir William Yonge, and then Sir Thomas Aston spoke to the following Effect:

Sir Thomas Afton.


'I remember a Story that was told of a great Favourite of King Charles the Second. This Gentleman, who was a true Cavalier, fought for the Father, and was banished with the Son, whom he attended all the Time of his Exile. Upon the Restoration of the Royal Family he still continued to follow his Master's Fortune, but never minded his own; 'till his continual Attendance at Court, his giving into all the fashionable Expences of the Times, and the Figure which his Intimacy with his Majesty obliged him to support, at last exhausted every Shilling of his Estate. But such was the Gentleman's Modesty, (a Virtue, you'll say, very rarely to be met with in the Favourite of a Monarch) that he never made one Solicitation in his own Behalf, tho' he had many Opportunites of doing it. At last the King, being informed of his Circumstances, took Occasion one Day, as the Gentleman was solliciting a Post for one of his Friends, to tell him, "Sir, says he, you have been a very faithful and a very constant Servant to me; I have had great Satisfaction in your Company without your being a Shilling the better for me, though I am persuaded your Estate has suffered confiderably in my Service. As you are a Man of Sense, and fit for Business, why do not you ask something for yourself ? The Gentleman made no other Return to his Majesty at that Time but a profound Acknowledgment of the Honour he had received, by his Majesty's being so mindful of him; but some Time after, being all alone with the King; Pray, Sir, says he to his Majesty, be so good as to lend me half a Crown. Half a Crown ! answers the King, what do you mean ? if you have Occasion for a larger Sum, you may have it.— No, no, replies the Gentleman, this small Piece does very well to begin with; for I have often observed, that once put you in the Way of giving, it is easy to keep you in it, and then you do not care how much you give.

'Though this Story, Sir, especially as to the Modesty of the Petitioner, may not in every Respect be parallel to the Case now before us; yet I think there is something in the giving Humour of the Monarch pretty applicable to our Conduct on former Occasions of this Nature. The Sum, Sir, that was originally asked for, and granted, for Purposes mentioned in this Petition, could have made no great Figure in the publick Accounts, had we stopt there; but an Accumulation of that Sum, Sir, from time to time, obtained when we were in the giving Humour, would make, I think, no despicable Article, if applied towards the Discharge of some Part of the national Debt. Therefore, Sir, I think we should rather stop now than later; and I hope this Petition will lie upon the Table.

Mr. Worsley spoke next to the following Effect:

Mr. Worsley.


'Though I have a most profound Respect for the Dean and Chapter, and should be glad to see our Churches make a Figure becoming the Grandeur of his Majesty and this Nation; yet, I own, I cannot approve that the Disposal of the Parliaments Bounty for that Purpose should be intirely in the Hands of the Clergy. I do not speak this as if they were capable of misapplying any Part of it; but merely from my having so great a Respect for that venerable Body, that I am unwilling they should be burdened with any other Cares besides those of their Function, which are many and weighty. I am therefore, Sir, surprised that the honourable Person who brought up the Petition, should appear so pressing for us to grant it; since it is certain we cannot do it without putting these good Men to very great Trouble. The Overseeing of a Work, Sir, that costs four thousand Pounds every Year, takes up no small Part of a Man's Time; and though some Laymen are joined in the Commission for managing this Bounty, yet we know the Fatigue of it is intirely left to the Reverend Clergy. Now, Sir, this is an Injustice done not only to them but to the Laity also, who must suffer greatly by their spiritual Guides having so many Avocations from the Duties of their Functions; besides, Sir, we are to confider, that the Way of Life in which these Reverend Persons have been educated, gives them no Opportunity of knowing the Prices and Materials of Working Men, or of forming a right Judgment upon the Sufficiency of their Work; both which are very necessary Qualifications in the Overseers of a Business of this Nature: So that I dare say, Sir, the Reverend Gentlemen will think themselves highly obliged to this House if we should ease them of that Trouble; and this upon a double Account. First, as they will have more Leisure for looking after their spiritual Concerns, which, to such disinterested good Men as they are, is a most invaluable Blessing; and secondly, as we can put the Inspection of the Work into Hands who will take care to have it done to the best Advantage, and at the least Expence. Therefore, Sir, I am for letting this Petition lie upon the Table till a Lay Commission for overseeing the Execution of the Work is made out.

Sir Robert Walpole said next:

Sir R. Walpole.


I am intirely of the honourable Gentleman's Mind who spoke first, in thinking that more Money has been expended upon the Desire of this Petition than perhaps the Parliament expected when they made the first Grant for this Purpose. But that, Sir, is the very Reason, why, in my Opinion, we ought to agree to the Petition; for it would be very absurd in us, after the great Expence the Nation has been at on this Account, if we should leave the Work unfinished to save a trifling Sum. The Reasons that induced the Parliament at first, Sir, to promote and encourage the Design of repairing and finishing this Church, were such as were worthy so august a Body. Should we let the Church where the Bodies of our greatest Princes are deposited, and which lately received the Remains of a Princess whose Memory must be ever dear to Britain, be the only Church in the whole Kingdom not properly provided for, we should justly expose ourselves to the Censure of the rest of Europe, and of every Stranger who visits us. The Expence therefore which the Desire of this Petition requires, is an Expence we ought to be at for own Honour, for the Honour of the Nation, and let me add, for the Honour of the Royal Family. These, and no other, are the Motives, Sir, that incline me to give my Vote for our granting the Petition, and I am persuaded Gentlemen will easily concur, when they compare the Reasonableness of the Thing to the Smallness of the Expence.

'As to what was urged by the honourable Gentlemen who spoke last, in that the Inspection of the Work ought to be committed to Laymen, I seriously own that I was once of his Opinion, and I remember one Year that the Experiment was actually made. But at the same Time I remember, that when the Accounts were examined, and the Work surveyed, it was found that we neither had managed so frugally, nor was the Work so well executed, as when it was under the Inspection of the Clergy. Besides that, Sir, the Commissioners being Men who had a great deal of other Business to mind, feldom thought it worth their while to meet, and to concert Meafures for the more effectual carrying on this Work, which by these Means was neglected, and it must still suffer if we shall put it under the Inspection of Laymen intirely. For, Sir, though we should suppose that they had it at Heart to carry the Work on in the most frugal Manner; yet every one will trust to another, till the whole is neglected. But, Sir, when we leave the Commission in the Hands of the Clergy, they think it their Duty, they make it their Business, they take a Pleasure, I may say, a Pride, in seeing it carried on to the best Advantage. As to the honourable Gentleman's Fears of its being too great a Burden, to those Reverend Gentlemen, if they do not esteem it such, I see no Reason that we should. The Clergy is very seldom oppressed without complaining; and I dare say we never should have been troubled with the Petition, if our granting it must be attended with any Inconvenience to the Petitioners. We are to consider, Sir, that the Situation of the Clergy who attend this Church, is different from that of those who have the Charge of whole Parishes on their Hands; the Petitioners have Time and Leisure enough to spare; and give me Leave to say, Sir, it is a Part of their Office to take all the care they can both of the Reparations and the Additions which are made to that Church by which they live. Therefore, Sir, I am for referring the Petition to the Committee of Supply, and for making no Alteration in the Commission.' George Heathcote, Esq; spoke next as follows:

George Heathcote, Esq;


'I don't think that in the present State of our publick Credit, and while the People are already overwhelmed with Taxes, that we ought to agree to the giving away one Shilling of their Money on any Occasion but where it is absolutely necessary. The Sum required of us by the Petition, is not indeed a very large one; but small as it is, we are to consider that it comes out of the People's Pockets, and the Purposes for which it is granted can be of very little, if any Benefit to them. I cannot pretend to account for the Motives that induced the Parliament to lay out so much of the publick Money in adorning and repairing a Church; but whatever these Motives were, I think they ought to have no Influence with us, because in those Days, Sir, the People could bear to save a little Money on an Occasion of this Kind, their Taxes being neither so heavy, nor their Debts so large, as they are now. The right honourable Gentleman who spoke last, gave indeed one Reason, which he supposed influenced the Parliament on this Occasion; and that was, because many of our Kings lie buried in that Church. This Reason, Sir, would have come with a better Grace from that right honourable Gentleman, could he have added at the same Time, that all the Kings there interred were Friends to the Liberties of the People.

'Besides, Sir, I don't like these annual Petitions; they look somewhat like annual Bills. By indulging the Petitioners from Year to Year, they may at last come to claim it as a Kind of Right, and never give it over. Let Gentlemen consider, Sir, how easy it is for them to prepare a Model of new Additions to this Church, under Pretence that they are necessary, and that we cannot do too much for adorning and repairing such an august royal Fabrick. The Reasons, Sir, for our granting the Desire of this Petition would then be just as good thirty Years hence as they are now; and according to the right honourable Gentleman's Way of Reasoning who spoke last, much better; for it seems the more we grant, the less we ought to refuse. Therefore, Sir, I should have been much better pleased, and should have thought it a much fairer Way of Proceeding, had the Petitioners, instead of asking the annual Bounty of four thousand Pounds, petitioned at once for as much as, in the Opinion of competent Judges, will be sufficient to compleat the Work according to the present Model. This, Sir, would have been a fair Way of acting; we should have then known what we were about, and we could have granted it in what Proportions and at what Times we found most convenient: Whereas, what we do now is in the dark; we know not when the Work will be finished; and unless it is finished, all that we shall grant now is to no Purpose. For this Reason, Sir, I think it would be extremely proper, before we proceed any farther in this Affair, that the Petitioners should lay before the House an Estimate of the Expences that the Reparations and Additions to the Church will cost in the whole.'

To this Lord Sundon answered to the following Purpose:

Lord Sundon.


'What the honourable Gentleman who spoke last proposed, indeed appears very reasonable; but I do not think it very practicable. Every Gentleman who has Experience in Building, knows very well how hard a Matter it is to calculate the Expences he must be at, though perhaps he has a great Part of the Materials upon his own Land; but it is much harder to do it in a Work of this Kind, that is subject to many Accidents, that requires such a Variety of Workmen of all Kinds, and where all the Materials must be purchased from different Hands and at different Prices. However, Sir, I have heard that Subject talked of, and have made it my Business to enquire how much the Whole may cost. And Sir, though I never could certainly be informed, nor have any Authority from the Petitioners to say any thing on this Head; yet, by the nearest Computation I can make, it may cost about thirteen thousand Pounds more, which, I hope, Sir, is a Sum we may spare, without laying any great Burden on the People.'

Joseph Danvers, Esq; spoke next as follows:

Joseph Danvers


'The Business of half my Life has been to pull down and build up an old House, and had I known how much it would have cost me when I first began to build and repair it, it should have gone to Ruin before I had spent a Shilling on it. So that, Sir, I intirely agree with the noble Lord who spoke last, in thinking it impracticable to determine the exact Sum that this Work may require. Had I, Sir, foreseen that the Repairs of this old House of mine would have cost me more Money than the building a new one, does any Gentleman imagine that I would not rather have set about the one than the other? Therefore, Sir, I think it is of no Consequence to us to have any Estimate laid before us, because it is impossible we can have a just one; and while we grant the Petition from Year to Year, the Managers will be the better Husbands of what Money comes to their Hands, and the Work will be carried on to more Advantage, in order to encourage us to grant more.'

Mr. Wynn spoke next to the following Effect:

Mr. Wynn.


'I am for letting the Petition lie upon the Table, and for doing nothing in the Affair this Year, were it for no other Reason but to put the Petitioners in Mind, that we may grant or refuse this Money just as we please. For, Sir, if this Bill should pass in course every Session, the Reverend Petitioners may claim that as a Right which is now only an Indulgence.'

Sir Wiliam Yonge replied to this as follows:

Sir William Yonge.


'I believe, Sir, that there is no civilized Nation in the World, that does not look upon the repairing and improving those Works which their Ancestors or their Princes left as Monuments, either of their Piety or their Grandeur, to be a publick Concern. Former Parliaments, Sir, in this Nation, seem to have been of Opinion that no Work more deserved the Regard of the Publick than Westminister-Abbey, which I look upon to be the finest Thing in this Nation; and it would give Foreigners a very odd Notion of our Politeness, and of our Gratitude to the Memory of our Princes, if we should let it stand in its present Condition, especially as so small a Sum is required to finish it. For, Sir, I dare say the noble Lord was right in his Conjecture, that it will not require above thirteen or fourteen thousand Pounds more; and when it is compleated, I will be bold to affirm, that it will excel any thing of its Kind in Europe. Gentlemen may remember what an Expence the Nation was put to by our voting fifty new Churches to be built. But, Sir, in my Opinion, it is as worthy the Dignity of this House to preserve and adorn this old Church, as it was to build fifty new ones. Give me leave likewise to say, Sir, that this Petition would not have met with half the Opposition it has, had it been offered for the Reparation of any Building but a Church.

'As to the Fears the honourable Gentleman who spoke last is under, lest the Petitioners should claim that in Time as a Right which is now only an Indulgence, I think the Parliament fully answered that Objection two or three Years ago; for I remember, Sir, that when this Petition was presented, the Parliament thought fit to reject it. Another honourable Gentleman seemed to apprehend that further Additions would be made to the Fabrick, and such as might involve us in unforeseen Expences. We have all, Sir, seen the Model of the Building that is design'd, and we can never imagine that the Reverend Overseers of the Work will make any Additions to that Model, without the Approbation of this House. And if no Additions are made to the Model, I see no Reason for our apprehending that we shall be put to any extraordinary Expence. The Money that has already been granted for this Effect, has been duly accounted for by the Petitioners, and I never have yet heard that any Objections were made to their Accounts; on the contrary, I have heard it often affirmed, that the Money that has been granted was managed in the most frugal Manner, and to the best Advantage. When we find that it is not so, it will be time enough then to put the Management of the Work into other Hands, or to withdraw our Bounty entirely. These Considerations, Sir, are, I think, more than sufficient to determine us to come to a Resolution upon the Motion made by the noble Lord who brought up the Petition; but there is another Consideration that I hope will always have its Weight with this House, and that, Sir, is, his Majesty's Recommendation. I think, Sir, it will be treating his Majesty with Disrespect, if we should have no Regard to his Recommendation in an Affair that can cost us so very little, and which, tho' it did not come so strongly recommended, is in itself so highly reasonable.'

The Petition referred to a Committee.

No Reply being made to this, the Question was put, If the Petition should be referred to the Consideration of the Committee of the whole House, to whom it is referred to consider further of the Supply granted to his Majesty? A Division followed, and the Question pass'd in the Affirmative.

On a Division, Yeas 174. Noes 61.

Immediately after this Question was over, before the House proceeded on any other Business, George Heathcote Esq; spoke as follows:

Alderman Heathcote moves for an Estimate of the Revenues of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster.


'As I think that on all Hands it has been agreed that it is the Interest of the Reverend Petitioners that Westminster-Abbey should be finish'd and repaired according to the Draught of the Model laid before this House last Session, and as very great Encomiums have been made upon their Integrity as well as good Management, I think it would be very proper for us to enquire whether or not some Part of the Revenues annex'd by the Royal Founders to the Abbey, have not been allotted for the Expences of the Fabrick. This, in my Opinion, will have a very good Effect. First, it will give us an Opportunity of doing Justice to the Integrity of the Reverend Petitioners. Secondly, it will be of great Use to Gentlemen when this Affair comes to be settled in the Committee. Besides, Sir, tho' it should appear from the Enquiry that no such Allotment has been made, I think Gentlemen ought to make themselves Judges how far it is reasonable, that some Part of the large Revenues enjoyed by the Reverend Dean and Chapter, ought to be set apart for these Purposes. This, Sir, I think is extremely proper, especially as no body makes a Shilling by the Fabrick besides themselves. I likewise don't doubt, Sir, but that it will appear in the Course of this Enquiry, that many of the Clergy have expended large Sums out of their own Revenues upon the Reparations and the Additions of the Fabrick. Therefore, Sir, I humbly move, 'That the Dean and Chapter of Westminster prepare an Estimate of the Revenues belonging to the Dean of the Church, distinguishing the several Appropriations.'

Sir Robert Walpole's Answer to this, was as follows:

Sir R. Walpole.


'I own this is the most extraordinary Motion I ever heard in this House. I should be glad to know how the hon. Gentleman would take it, if he should be required to lay before this House a particular Inventory of his own Estate, that he may receive Directions from the House in what Manner he is to apply it: I believe the hon. Gentleman would think it a very unjustisiable Way of Proceeding; and give me Leave to say, Sir, that if such a Proceeding is unjustifiable in Cases of private Property, it is much more so where a Body of Men upon a Foundation, and a Royal Foundation too, is concerned. Nor can I see, Sir, how we can agree to this Motion without violating all the Rules of common Justice, and shaking the Foundations of all Property. Besides, Sir, the honourable Gentleman does not reflect, that we are no Court of Record, and therefore cannot oblige the Petitioners to exhibit their Rights to these Possessions before us. So that it is not really in our Power to come to any Resolution upon this Motion. And Sir, should we make a Stretch in this Case, I should be very sorry to fit in this House while we came to a Resolution, that might give the World Reason to think, that we design'd to carry our Power farther than our Justice. There may, indeed, some particular Cases come before us, in which it is necessary, that one of the Parties explain or prove his Right of Possession; but this, tho' it seldom happens, is always done voluntarily by that Party, that the House may more clearly comprehend this Case. And, Sir, I believe the hon. Gentleman cannot find one Precedent where this House obliged a Party to submit to our Judgment, or the Papers and Securities by which he or they enjoy their Estates or Income. We have no Reason to doubt, Sir, that the Clergy have as good a Right by Law to what they enjoy as any of us have to our private Estates: Nor do I think that either Justice or Reason oblige them to lay out any Part of their Income upon repairing the Church, or upon these Alterations or Additions. As for their living by the Church, all the Clergy throughout the Kingdom live by their Churches; yet, Sir, that is no Reason that each of them should be at the Expence of repairing his respective Church. So that, I hope, Sir, when Gentlemen consider the Consequence of this Motion, they will let it drop. I dare say, no Gentlemen suspects that I oppose it from any other Motives than the Principles of common Equity, which are always agreeable to the Maxims of good Policy. There was, indeed, a Time, when this House, and the Legislature in general, had Reason to be jealous of every Concession in favour of the Clergy; but, Sir, that Set of Clergy is almost extinct, and the Principles and Actions which once gave us very good Grounds for such a Jealousy, are now almost entirely worn out. And as their Successors behave with that Submission and Regard for the Government that becomes their Character, I think, Sir, they deserve the Protection and Indulgence of Parliament. I believe it cannot be pretended by Gentlemen, that fince, I had the Honour to be concerned in the Administration, the Clergy have met with any extraordinary Indulgence from the Government, or that any of the High-Flyers amongst them have been encouraged. But, Sir, I must own, that a Petition from the Clergy, if they act as Ministers of Peace, and if the Petition is reasonable in itself, will never be less agreeable to me because it is in favour of the Clergy. I should not have troubled the House about an Affair which I think has taken up but to much of our Time already, had I not perceived an unusual Spirit of Opposition to this Petition from Gentlemen whom by their former Conduct I never suspected as Enemies to the Clergy, even in the most exorbitant Claims, and their most exalted Tory Principles.

William Pulteney Esq; spoke next as follows.

William Pulteney ; Motion for an Account of what they receive from Monuments and breaking Ground in the Abbey, &c.


'I am sorry that I am obliged on this Occasion to differ from the honourable Gentleman who made the Motion; but glad of having one Opportunity of speaking on the same Side of the Question with my right honourable Friend who sits by me. It is certain, Sir, that it would be a very unprecedented thing in us so much as to pretend to make any Alteration in the Funds appointed for the Maintenance of the Dean and Chapter. It is likewise certain, Sir, that we cannot compel them to make any Contribution out of their private Emoluments towards repairing or finishing the Church. A great many Reasons, Sir, induce me to be of Opinion that the Revenues of the Church cannot be better disposed of than they already are; and one among the rest, Sir, is, that the right venenable Bishop is Ground-landlord to several very convenient Lodgings there, extremely proper, as they are so near the Parliament House, for his Brethren to live in. So that their Country, Sir, is sure, on every Pinch, and upon the shortest Warning, of their immediate Attendance in the Parliament. But, Sir, tho' I think we have no Right to oblige them to comply with the Terms of this Motion, yet there are certain Revenues which arise from the Pavement and the Walls of the Abbey. These Emoluments, Sir, I think we have a just Title to enquire after, as the Money we grant is for the Support of the Fabrick; and, Sir, I think they ought to be laid before us. I should have been very well pleased to have complied with the honourable Gentleman's Motion, if the Sum petitioned for were to be applied for the Support of the Clergy. But as that is not the Case, Sir, I beg Leave humbly to move, that the Dean and Chapter of the Collegiate Church of St. Peter Westminster do lay before this House an Account of what Money has been received by them for seven Years last past, for breaking up Ground in the said Church or Places adjacent, for Burials, and for erecting Monuments there, and how the said Money has been applied by them towards the Repairs and finishing of the said Church and Edifices thereunto belonging, for seven Years last past.

No Opposition being made, the House came to a Resolution upon this Motion; and the said Account was accordingly agreed to.