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Tony Grist

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Pews [Dec. 23rd, 2017|10:18 am]
Tony Grist
Bath Abbey is taking out its Victorian pews. Not everyone is thrilled.

But I'm all for it because:

1. Medieval churches were built as basilicas- big, adaptable, community spaces. They were never meant to be choked with heavy furniture. Medieval people expected to use them for all sorts of things beside worship, for meetings private and public, for festivity, for the conduct of business, for storage and shelter. Pews tyrannise; they impose sight lines, encourage passivity and limit functionality. They are instruments of theocracy. You won't wander about, they say, but sit still, all look in the same direction and pay attention to the parson. 

2. Pews are bloody uncomfortable.

In our traipsings round the country we often visit churches that have passed out of the care of the Church of England and into that of the Churches Conservation Trust. CCT churches have usually had their pews removed- and once you've seen a church with its floor space open- and felt the airiness and freedom that results- you really don't want to move the furniture back in.


[User Picture]From: puddleshark
2017-12-23 02:13 pm (UTC)
I've very fond of box pews - especially since I learnt that when the church at Winterborne Tomson went out use, donkeys were kept in the box pews. Now I have visions of all those Georgian folk in their stalls...

But yes, on the whole, taking out the pews transforms the space.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2017-12-23 04:13 pm (UTC)
Box pews have acquired a certain period charm. There are churches down on Romney Marsh that look almost exactly as they did in the 18th century.
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[User Picture]From: steepholm
2017-12-23 05:01 pm (UTC)
Going into pewless churches (York Minster a while back, and Romsey Abbey more recently) is a bit of a shock at first, but I agree. What a clutter they must have seemed when first installed!

Also, those pews make lovely seats in hipster cafes.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2017-12-24 01:08 pm (UTC)
The Victorian Society is kicking up a fuss about Bath. "But those pews were specially designed for their setting" they say.

I have little sympathy. The Victorians fundamentally misunderstood medieval architecture. They thought it was about gloom and clutter when really its about light and colour and space.
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