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THE HISTORIC VENTILATION SYSTEM OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, 1840–52: RE-VISITING DAVID BOSWELL REID’S ENVIRONMENTAL LEGACY

  • Henrik Schoenefeldt (a1)

Abstract

Between 1840 and 1846 the Scottish physician David Boswell Reid produced a scheme for a central ventilation system serving the Palace of Westminster. This scheme included a proposal for a sophisticated ventilation and climatic control system in the House of Commons. Although the plans for a central system were abandoned after six years, Reid was able to implement his idea within the confines of the House of Commons. Existing literature on Reid’s involvement in the design of the Palace of Westminster has focused largely on his difficult relationship with the architect Charles Barry, but his actual contribution to the design of the ventilation system has remained largely unexplored. Neither his unfinished early proposal nor his final design for the House of Commons has been studied in any depth before. This paper retraces the evolution of Reid’s original plans, and provides a systematic reconstruction of the ventilation system implemented inside the House of Commons between 1847 and 1854. The historic system is now completely lost, but new archival research, involving the study of several hundred letters, sketches and plans, has yielded detailed insights into its design and how it performed historically. In addition to revealing the ventilation system’s physical arrangements, research has uncovered how scientists and engineers had evaluated its design empirically from a human and technological perspective. As such, this paper provides a new perspective on antiquarian studies and illuminates how architectural technology in the mid-nineteenth century was shaped, evaluated and refined based on environmental performance. Although environmental factors, such as climate or air purity, were more transient dimensions of architecture, in the case of the House of Commons this paper shows that they were key drivers of architectural form.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

References

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Parliamentary papers
Barry, C 1845. ‘Report as to the present stage of the works’, 3 January, (HC 1845 100) HMSO
GB Parliament 1835. House of Commons Select Committee on the Ventilation of the Houses of Parliament, ‘Report of the Select Committee on the ventilation of the Houses of Parliament’, (HC 1835 583) HMSO
GB Parliament 1836a. Royal Commissioners Appointed to Consider the Plans for Building the new Houses of Parliament, ‘Report of commissioners appointed to consider the plans for building the new Houses of Parliament’, (HC 1836 66) HMSO
GB Parliament 1836b. House of Commons Select Committee on Permanent Accommodation of Houses of Parliament, ‘Report’, (HC 1836 245) HMSO
GB Parliament 1838. ‘Letter from Doctor Reid to Lord Duncannon on ventilation of House of Commons’, 28 March 1838, (HC 1837–38 277) HMSO
GB Parliament 1839. House of Commons Select Committee to Superintend Experiment of Mr. Gurney to light House, ‘Report, minutes of evidence, appendix, index’, (HC 1839 501) HMSO
GB Parliament 1841. House of Commons Select Committee on Ventilation of the New Houses of Parliament, ‘Report from the Select Committee on ventilation of the new Houses of Parliament’, (HC 1841 2–51) HMSO
GB Parliament 1842. House of Commons Select Committee on Ventilation of the New Houses of Parliament, ‘Report from the Select Committee on ventilation of the new Houses of Parliament’, (HC 1842 536) HMSO
GB Parliament 1843. House of Commons Select Committee on Smoke Prevention, ‘Report from the Select Committee on smoke prevention’, (HC 1843 583) HMSO
GB Parliament 1844a. Royal Commissioners for Inquiring into the State of Large Towns and Populous Districts, First Report No. 572, HMSO, London
GB Parliament 1844b. House of Lords Select Committee on Progress of Building of Houses of Parliament, ‘Second report’, (HL 1844 629) HMSO
GB Parliament 1844c. House of Commons Select Committee on State of Building of Houses of Parliament, ‘Report, minutes of evidence’, (HC 1844 448) HMSO
GB Parliament 1846a. House of Lords Select Committee Appointed to Inquire into the Progress of the Building of the Houses of Parliament, ‘Reports from the Select Committee of the House of Lords appointed to inquire into the progress of the building of the Houses of Parliament, session 1846’, (HL 1846 719) HMSO
GB Parliament 1846b. House of Commons, ‘Report upon the system proposed by Dr D B Reid for warming and ventilating the new Houses of Parliament, session 1846’, (HC 1846 447) HMSO
GB Parliament 1846c. House of Commons, ‘Dr Reid’s reply to the report of the referees appointed to consider the warming and ventilating arrangements for the new Houses of Parliament, session 1846’, (HC 1846 555) HMSO
GB Parliament 1846d. House of Commons Select Committee on Westminster Bridge and New Palace, ‘First report, session 1846’, (HC 1846 177) HMSO
GB Parliament 1846e. House of Commons Select Committee on Westminster Bridge and New Palace, ‘Second report’, (HC 1846 349) HMSO
GB Parliament 1846f. House of Commons Select Committee on Westminster Bridge and New Palace, ‘Third report’, (HC 1846 574) HMSO
GB Parliament 1852a. House of Commons Select Committee on Ventilation and Lighting of the House, ‘Second report’, (HC 1852 402) HMSO
GB Parliament 1852b. ‘Copies of the submission to arbitration between Her Majesty’s government and Dr Reid’, (HC 1852–53 498) HMSO
GB Parliament 1852c. ‘Copy of the report of Mr Goldsworthy Gurney to the Commissioners of Works, respecting the lighting of the House of Commons’, (HC 1852–53 911) HMSO
GB Parliament 1852–3. ‘Report of the Standing Committee on the ventilating and lighting the House of Commons’, (SC HC 1852–53 570) HMSO
GB Parliament 1854a. House of Lords Select Committee Appointed to Inquire into the Possibility of Improving the Ventilation and Lighting of the House, ‘First report’, (HL 1854 384) HMSO
GB Parliament 1854b. House of Commons Select Committee on the Ventilation of the House of Commons, ‘First report’, (HC 1854 149) HMSO
GB Parliament 1854c. House of Commons Select Committee on the Ventilation of the House of Commons, ‘Second report, minutes of evidence’, (HC 1854 270) HMSO
GB Parliament 1943–44. House of Commons Select Committee on House of Commons Rebuilding, ‘Report from the Select Committee on House of Commons rebuilding’, (HC 1943–44 109) HMSO
Gurney, G 1852. ‘Second report on the ventilation of the new House of Commons’, (HC 1852 252–371) HMSO
Office of Works 1853–1947. ‘Registers of temperature control and ventilation for the House of Commons 1853–4’, Parliamentary Archives: OOW/5
Reid, D B 1845. Second Report on the State of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Other Towns in the Northern Coal-mine Districts, HMSO, London
Plans and sketches
Anon n.d.(a). ‘Longitudinal section through House and Commons lobby looking west’, PRO: Work 29/2993
Anon n.d.(b). ‘Cross section through House and divisional lobbies looking south’, PRO: Work 29/2994
Anon 1843a. ‘Plan of central hall including Peers’ inner court and Commons’ inner court, ground floor’, 27 March 1843, PRO: Work 29/101
Anon 1843b. ‘Plans and sections of south-west corner of House, showing provision for ventilation’, 19 March 1843, PRO: Work 29/2856
Anon 1852. ‘Annotated drawing dated 6 November 1852 of Reid’s “Plans of offices for ventilation”’, 22 September 1851, PRO: Work 29/3106
Barry, C 1849. ‘Basement plan of central eastern portion showing warming and ventilating ducts’, 20 October 1849, PRO: Work 29/2923
Barry, C 1850. ‘Plan of central hall showing pipe runs’, 5 January 1850, PRO: Work 29/2927
Barry, C 1851a. ‘Plan of principal floor’, 10 January 1851, PRO: Work 29/3090
Barry, C 1851b. ‘Section through gangway and seats’, 10 January 1851, PRO: Work 29/3093
Barry, C 1851c. ‘Ceiling above equalizing chamber with supply tubes, valves and flaps’, 28 June 1851, PRO: Work 29/3100
Barry, C 1852. ‘Plan of basement and ground floor of Victoria Tower to Central Tower showing air channels’, 14 October 1852, PRO: Work 29/2969
Faber, O and Scott, G G 1944. ‘Ventilation and air conditioning scheme’, July 1944, HLRO: ARC/PRO/WORK 11/425
Lord Campbell 1843. ‘Report’, 11 September 1843, PRO: Work 11/16, 88
Reid, D B 1844a. ‘Plan and elevation of wall under gallery at south end of House under principal floor line, showing provision for ventilation’, 4 March 1844, PRO: Work 29/2863
Reid, D B 1844b. ‘Plan and elevation of risers in east and west wall’, 19 February 1844, PRO: Work 29/2864
Reid, D B 1845a. ‘House of Lords: plan above the ceiling showing provision for ventilation’, 1845, PRO: Work 29/2888
Reid, D B 1845b. ‘Longitudinal section of House of Commons and adjoining parts, showing ventilation’, 11 October 1845, PRO: Work 29/2891
Reid, D B 1845c. ‘House of Commons plan and section showing ventilation at north end’, 11 October 1845, PRO: Work 29/2892
Reid, D B 1845d. ‘Plan and sections of ceiling showing arrangement of chambers for ventilation’, 16 July 1845, PRO: Work 29/2897
Reid, D B 1845e. ‘Section through Royal Gallery looking south showing ventilation flues’, 1845, PRO: Work 29/2883
Reid, D B 1845f. ‘Plan of principal floor’, 1845, PRO: Work 29/2894
Reid, D B 1846. ‘House of Lords: plan and section of air chambers over ceiling’, 10 July 1846, PRO: Work 29/2896
Reid, D B 1847a. ‘Longitudinal section’, 5 April 1847, PRO: Work 29/2905
Reid, D B 1847b. ‘Plan of basement’, 5 April 1847, PRO: Work 29/3007
Reid, D B 1847c. ‘Plan of ground floor’, 5 April 1847, PRO: Work 29/3008
Reid, D B 1847d. ‘Plan of equalizing chamber’, 5 April 1847, PRO: Work 29/3014
Reid, D B 1847e. ‘Plans and sections of principal heating apparatus’, 5 April 1847, PRO: Work 29/3026
Reid, D B 1847f. ‘Plan of roof’, 5 April 1847, PRO: Work 29/3027
Reid, D B 1847g. ‘Plans and section of ventilating system of House of Lords to form basis of the proposed arrangement for House of Commons’, 5 April 1847, PRO: Work 29/3035
Reid, D B 1847h. ‘Detail of air valves’, 5 April 1847, PRO: Work 29/3041–3
Reid, D B 1847i. ‘Drawing of auxiliary heating and ventilating apparatus in air channel between House lobby and Central Tower’, 5 April 1847, PRO: Work 29/3046
Reid, D B 1847j. ‘Tracing of a sketch plan made in Dr Reid’s office showing ventilation shaft in Central Tower’, 15 June 1847, PRO: Work 29/3049
Reid, D B 1847k. ‘Section of Central Tower illustrating discharge of vitiated air and one of the sources of supply of fresh air’, 31 May 1847, PRO: Work 29/3051
Reid, D B 1847l. ‘Section through Central Tower showing various ventilating designs’, 15 June 1847, PRO: Work 29/3052
Reid, D B 1847m. ‘Plans and sections showing valves at top of vitiated air shaft’, 19 July 1847, PRO: Work 29/3054
Reid, D B 1848a. ‘Nine drawings outlining lighting scheme’, 10 March 1848, PRO: Work 29/2820–8
Reid, D B 1848b. ‘Plan and cross-section of roof inlet’, June 1848, PRO: Work 9/2910
Reid, D B 1848c. ‘Plan, elevations and sections of vitiated air shaft’, 24 February 1848, PRO: Work 29/2916
Reid, D B 1848d. ‘Plan and section of central chamber’, 26 April 1848, PRO: Work 29/3063
Reid, D B 1848e. ‘Drawing showing modification proposed for the supply of fresh air’, 7 June 1848, PRO: Work 29/3066
Reid, D B 1848f. ‘Section through roof over St Stephen’s Hall showing construction and arrangement of smoke and air flues’, 29 June 1848, PRO: Work 29/3067
Reid, D B 1850a. ‘Details of new apparatus in air chamber in the roof over Commons’ corridor’, 22 January 1850, PRO: Work 29/3083
Reid, D B 1850b. ‘Details of underfloor plate radiator’, 22 January 1850, PRO: Work 29/3081–9
Reid, D B 1851a. ‘Plan and section over the groins of St Stephen’s Hall and St Stephen’s Porch showing flues and air channels in roof’, 27 December 1851, PRO: Work 29/2960
Reid, D B 1851b. ‘Cross-section’, 10 January 1851, PRO: Work 29/3094
Letters
Barry, C 1839. ‘Letter to D Reid’, 22 October 1839, PRO: Work 11/12, 15
Barry, C 1845a. ‘Letter to D Reid’, 10 May 1845, Work 11/12, 140
Barry, C 1845b. ‘Letter to D Reid’, 15 April 1845, PRO: Work 11/12, 124
Barry, C 1845c. ‘Letter to D Reid’, 7 May 1845, PRO: Work 11/12, 138
Barry, C 1848a. ‘Letter to A Milne’, 22 March 1848, PRO: Work 11/13, 409
Barry, C 1848b. ‘Letter to Commissioners for Completion’, 6 July 1848, PRO: Work 11/13, 464
Barry, C 1848c. ‘Letter to H Cole’, 26 October 1848, PRO: Work 11/13, 518
Barry, C 1849. ‘Letter to H Cole’, 5 March 1849, PRO: Work 11/13, 551
Barry, C 1851. ‘Letter to Commissioners for Completion’, 3 July 1851, PRO: Work 11/14, 643
Barry, C 1852a. ‘Letters to Commissioners of Works’, 20 February 1852, PRO: Work 11/14, 704–5
Barry, C 1852b. ‘Letter to J Manners’, 17 June 1852, PRO: Work 11/14, 733
Barry, C 1852c. ‘Letter to J Manners’, 30 June 1852, PRO: Work 11/14, 737
Commissioners for the Completion 1848. ‘Resolution of Commissioners for the Completion of the Palace’, 30 October 1848, PRO: Work 11/13, 521
Commissioners for the Completion 1849. ‘Letter to the Treasury’, 10 March 1849, PRO: Work 11/13, 550
Commissioners of Woods 1848. ‘Letter to D Reid’, 18 November 1848, PRO: Work 11/13, 535
Commissioners of Works 1851. ‘Letter to D Reid’, 19 December 1851, PRO: Work 11/14, 672
Commissioners of Works 1852a. ‘Letter to C Barry’, 14 February 1852, PRO: Work 11/14, 679
Commissioners of Works 1852b. ‘Letter to D Reid’, 16 February 1852, PRO: Work 11/14, 701
Commissioners of Works 1852c. ‘Letter to M Faraday’, 21 February 1852, PRO: Work 11/14, 702
Commissioners of Works 1852d. ‘Letter to D Reid’, 21 September 1852, PRO: Work 11/16, 81
Commissioners of Works 1854a. ‘Letter to G Gurney’, 7 April 1854, PRO: Work 11/14, 850
Commissioners of Works 1854b. ‘Letter to G Gurney’, 12 April 1854, PRO: Work 11/14, 854
Gardiner, J 1853. ‘Letter to J Phipps’, 9 May 1853, PRO: Work 11/16, 140
Gore, C 1841. ‘Letter to C Barry’, 27 July 1841, PRO: Work 11/12, 68
Gurney, G 1853. ‘Letter to Commissioners of Works’, 12 March 1853, PRO: Work 11/14, 784
Gurney, G 1854a. ‘Letter to Commissioners of Works’, 7 April 1854, PRO: Work 11/14, 842
Gurney, G 1854b. ‘Letter to Commissioners of Works’, 10 April 1854, PRO: Work 11/14, 847
Locke, J and Stephenson, R 1852. ‘Report to Commissioners of Works’, 3 August 1852, PRO: Work 11/16, 73
Manners, J 1852. ‘Letter to D Reid’, 9 September 1852, PRO: Work 11/16 nr. 747
Meeson, A 1853a. ‘First report on the state of the warming, and ventilation and lighting of the Houses of Parliament’, 8 January 1853 PRO: Work 11/14, 768–81
Meeson, A 1853b. ‘Letter to Commissioner of Works’, 8 January 1853, PRO: Works 11/14, 767
Meeson, A 1853c. ‘Letter to Commissioner of Works’, 11 March 1853, PRO: Work 11/14, 829
Meeson, A 1853d. ‘Letter to Commissioner of Works’, 14 March 1853, PRO: Work 11/14, 786
Meeson, A 1853e. ‘Letter to Commissioner of Works’, 18 April 1853, PRO: Work 11/14, 788
Meeson, A 1853f. ‘Second report on the warming, ventilating and lighting arrangements’, August 1853, PRO: Work 11/14, 791–812
Milne, A 1840. ‘Letter to D Reid’, 24 January 1840, PRO: Work 11/12, 30–2
Milne, A 1848. ‘Letter to D Reid’, 22 March 1848, Work 11/13, 410
Office of Works 1852. ‘Letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord John Manners and Earl of Derby’, 22 July 1852, PRO: Work 11/16, 68
Phipps, J 1852. ‘Notes on the ventilation work still to be completed’, 3 September 1852, PRO: Work 11/14, 744–6
Reid, D B n.d. ‘Letter to Lord Duncannon’, PRO: Work 11/12, 17
Reid, D B 1839a. ‘Letter to Department of Woods and Forests’, 7 November 1839, PRO: Work 11/12, 19
Reid, D B 1839b. ‘Letter to Department of Woods and Forests’, 1 December 1839, PRO: Work 11/12, 24
Reid, D B 1840. ‘Letter to Viscount Duncannon’, 7 July 1840, PRO: Work 11/12, 34
Reid, D B 1841. ‘Letter to Department of Woods and Forests’, 28 April 1841, PRO: Work 11/12, 45
Reid, D B 1845a. ‘Letter to Commissioners of Woods’, 10 February 1845, PRO: Work 11/12, 147
Reid, D B 1845b. ‘Letter to C Barry’, 9 May 1845, PRO: Work 11/12, 139–40
Reid, D B 1845c. ‘Letter to C Barry’, 7 May 1845, PRO: Work 11/12, unnumbered
Reid, D B 1845d. ‘Letter to C Barry’, 12 May 1845, PRO: Work 11/12, 141
Reid, D B 1845e. ‘Letter to Commissioners of Woods’, 12 May 1845, PRO: Work 11/12, 142
Reid, D B 1845f. ‘Letter to Commissioners of Woods’, 20 May 1845, PRO: Work 11/12, 152
Reid, D B 1846. ‘Sketches enclosed in letter to Lord Morpeth’, 14 December 1846, PRO: Work 29/300
Reid, D B 1847. ‘Letter to the Commissioners of Woods’, 19 July 1847, PRO: Work 29/3053
Reid, D B 1848a. ‘Statement accompanying Dr Reid’s letter to the Commissioners of Woods’, 10 March 1848, PRO: Work 11/13, 387
Reid, D B 1848c. ‘Letter to Commissioners of Woods’, 10 March 1848, PRO: Work 11/13, 391
Reid, D B 1848d. ‘Letter to H Cole’, 26 April 1848, PRO: Work 11/13, 441–2
Reid, D B 1848e. ‘Letter to Commissioners for Completion’, 23 July 1848, Work 11/13, 485
Reid, D B 1848f. ‘Letter to Commissioners for Completion’, 28 October 1848, PRO: Work, 11/13, 519–20
Reid, D B 1848g. ‘Letter to Commissioners for Completion’, 10 November 1848, PRO: Work 11/13, 527
Reid, D B 1849. ‘Petition to the House of Commons’, 23 February 1849, PRO: Work 11/16, 14
Reid, D B 1851. ‘Letter to Department of Woods’, 3 December 1851, PRO: Work 11/16, 61
Reid, D B 1852a. ‘Memorandum’, 7 February 1852, PRO: Work 11/14, 678
Reid, D B 1852b. ‘Report of measures required for the health and comfort of the House of Commons’, 10 March 1852, PRO: Work 11/14, 711–14
Reid, D B 1852c. ‘Supplementary report’, 29 June 1852, PRO: Work 11/14, 735
Reid, D B 1852d. ‘Letter to J Manners’, 27 August 1852, PRO: Work 11/14, 741
Treasury 1849. ‘Letter to Commissioners for Completion’, 28 March 1849, Work 11/13, 558
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