A FACULTY was granted by the Consistory Court of the diocese of Chichester for the selective removal of a small number of pews in a Grade I listed church, since the character of the church as a building of special architectural or historic interest would not be affected.
The churchwardens and honorary treasurer of St Mary’s, Ringmer, a Grade I listed building dating from the 14th century, petitioned the court for a faculty for the removal of two short pews at the west end of the south aisle of the church, and the provision of two additional bookshelf units, and the removal of the rearmost pew on the southside of the nave to provide additional space for wheelchairs.
The DAC recommended the proposals, and Historic England had no objection to the proposal since the proposals were considered to be modest, involving the removal of a small number of fairly standard Victorian benches.
One person objected to the removal of two pews, however, because they were, he said, in "an ideal position for sidesmen or churchwatchers or for any member of the congregation who is late or wishes to leave early with small children".
The Diocesan Chancellor, the Worshipful Mark Hill QC, said that the legal test was whether the proposal was likely to affect the character of the church as a building of special architectural or historic interest. In considering that question, the Chancellor had to have regard to the opinion of the DAC and the assessment of Historic England.
The objection was based on the utility of the pews during services, and not on the deleterious effect on the building which would be occasioned by their removal. The petitioners had demonstrated a sound and compelling case for the removal of a small number of pews from two particular parts of the church.
It would allow pushchairs to be positioned in such a way as not to block the aisles. The pews did not need to be retained for "churchwatchers", since they could perform their responsibilities to equal or better effect from other locations within the church.
The Chancellor accepted the petitioners’ view that the removal of the pews as proposed would be positively beneficial.