THE permanent removal of the doors of Georgian and Victorian box pews would result in harm to the significance of the Grade II* listed St Cuthbert’s, Over Kellet, as a building of special architectural or historic interest, the Diocesan Chancellor of Blackburn ruled. He therefore refused to grant the parish a faculty for their removal.
Before the application for the faculty, the doors of 27 late-Georgian (1819) box pews and three Victorian (1863) box pews had been temporarily removed and safely stored pursuant to a Temporary Minor Re-ordering Licence issued by the Archdeacon of Lancaster.
In January 2021, the then Vicar, the Revd Paul Boulter, together with Linda Thomas, who was serving as churchwarden, and Dr John Halsey, the PCC Secretary, who is now churchwarden, applied for a faculty for the permanent removal of the pew doors.
The parish’s Statement of Significance described St Cuthbert’s as a Grade II* listed 16th-century church with early-13th-century remains. It said that the proposal to remove the pew doors would have no impact on the congregational seating in the box pews, and that the removal would be of low impact, because the doors were not a heritage asset. The parish said that it needed the pews to be more accessible and welcoming, and that the existing pews were impractical and presented a health and safety risk.
The statement said that with Covid-19 restrictions likely to be in place for the foreseeable future, pews without doors would reduce the number of surfaces being touched and thus reduce the risk of virus transmission. It was for that reason, after the imposition of Covid-19 restrictions on church services in 2020, that the temporary licence for the removal of the pew doors had been granted. The PCC unanimously resolved to apply for the faculty for permanent removal of the doors.
As part of the DAC’s consultation process, several amenity societies were consulted. Objections were received from Historic England, the Ancient Monuments Society, the Victorian Society, and the Georgian Society. They said that the retention of box pews added to the significance of St Cuthbert’s as a Grade II* listed building. Late Georgian box pews were rare, and rarer still for retaining their doors. These particular box pews were considered even rarer because they demonstrated the practice of imitating wood grain through using paint, typically applied to less aesthetically pleasing sections of timber to give the impression that they were actually of high-quality timber.
The amenity societies said that the parish’s assertion that the pew doors were of no interest or value was “simply wrong”, and that every effort should be made to retain them.
In response to those objections, the parish said that access to the pews was easier and safer without the need to open pew doors, especially for those with limited mobility and walking aids, and that children were at risk of trapping their fingers in the doors. It also said that, after the temporary removal of the doors, the church looked brighter, more accessible, and welcoming, so that it had been beneficial and had improved the visual appearance of the church.