Whether to retain church pews is a matter of debate in many churches. Visitors like to see a church in what they think is its traditional format with rows of bench seating facing forward, but fixed pews can limit not only new types of worship, they also prevent the church being used for other activities – and tend not to be particularly comfortable.
In fact pews are a relatively modern invention. Until the eighteenth century, seating in church was usually only available for the wealthy who had seating built to their own specification and could face in any direction. St Mary’s was one of the first churches to have all its pews facing forward. These were introduced by a new curate, Henry Thomas Ellacombe, in 1822, who cut down the existing box pews and remodelled them so that they all faced towards the altar. Theses pews were notoriously uncomfortable and were replaced in the 1880s by Ellacombe’s son who succeeded him as vicar. It is these pews, made of oak and elm, each with an individually carved end or side, that are still in use in the church today.
Pews have already been removed from the back of the church, but the decision has been taken to retain ten rows (20 pews in all) plus the decorated fronts. To enable the church to be used flexibly they are to be fitted with retractable castors so they can be moved around when necessary. The opportunity has also been taken to make them more comfortable by widening the seat and adding cushions.
A prototype pew has already been designed and is available for view in the church.
The work has been generously supported by charitable trusts as well as individuals or groups who have sponsored pews. As a result we now have sufficient funds to undertake work on the pews. The church architect has invited bids for the work which is expected to be completed before Easter 2024.
We are most grateful to the following have very generously supported this part of the development programme:
Individual Pew Sponsors
Julia and David Mace
The Knitting Group
Pam and Jon Booth
Stephanie and David Bailey
Organisations & Charitable Trusts
Bitton Parish Council
The Bristol Archdeaconry Charity
Gloucestershire Historic Churches Trust
The Asda Foundation
The Renishaw Charities Committee
The Ken Biggs Trust
The Julia and Hans Rausing Trust