Pews - use them or lose them!

 

Uncomfortable or cushioned, solid or creaky - pews are the one of the most recognisable features in many churches. 

This year the  National Churches Trust is celebrating 200 years of the Incorporated Church Building Society (ICBS), one of our predecessor charities. Out of the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars and the industrial revolution, the ICBS funded the building and enlargement of churches in new industrial centres and across the counties of England and Wales.

Just as importantly, it funded the provision of hundreds of thousands of seats in ‘free pews’, in contrast to the then customary provision of 'paid-for' private pews to the rich and prosperous who could afford to pay. The work of the ICBS made Anglican worship accessible to all in a dramatic new way and is one reason churches are so full of pews. 

We want to see your pews!

We've put together a photo gallery of pews on this page, and we're adding pictures of your favourite pews (or even the hard ones you find uncomfortable to sit on!)

 

Share your pictures of good, bad, beautiful and unusual pews with us on Twitter or Facebook, email info@nationalchurchestrust.org, or just use the form below and we'll make a gallery of the best.

 

We'll also award a bottle of bubbly to the photo we think is the best - not to be drunk sitting in a pew, of course, unless you happen to have one at home!

Five things you might not know about pews

1. The word 'pew' has evolved from the Latin 'podium', via old French and Middle English. It originally meant a raised place where gentry might sit.

2. Pews were a comparatively late introduction to churches. Early and medieval churches would have had only a few benches to rest on. Pews only became widespread as the importance of the sermon in services grew after the Reformation.

3. From the seventeenth century enclosed box pews, with high walls and doors, were paid for by the richer landowners and those of higher social standing. They had doors to protect against drafts, and sometimes even private stoves! 

4. The Incorporated Church Building Society helped create 2.4 million pew spaces in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, free for anyone to worship. 

5. St Peter's church in Sark, one of the Channel Islands, is the last church in the British Isles to still have rented pews. The £1,000 cost of building the church in the early 19th century was partly met by 40 families, who subscribed for pews in perpetuity. The rent now provides an income of less than £5 a year. 

 

Submit your pictures of pews

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  • St Andrew, Cherry Hinton, Cambridgeshire

  • St Peter and St Paul, Cranfield, Bedfordshire

  • Lanercost Priory, Cumbria

  • Capel Als, Llanelli

  • All Saints, Old Buckenham, Norfolk

  • St Lawrence, Bishops Lydeard, Somerset

  • Holy Ghost, Crowcombe, Somerset

  • St Mary, Huntingfield, Suffolk

  • West Melton United Reformed Church, Yorkshire

  • St Mary the Virgin, Ecclesfield, Yorkshire

  • St Michael and All Angels, Great Thoughton, Yorkshire

  • St John on Bethnal Green, London, funded by the ICBS

  • (Margaret Bond)

  • Brookland, Kent, St Augustine, graffiti in box pew with ship (John Vigar)

  • Fawsley, Northamptonshire, St Mary, woodwork, man and woman in bed (John Vigar)

  • Frenze, Norfolk, St Andrew, Squire`s Pew (John Vigar)

  • Hill, Gloucestershire, St Michael, Manor Pew, 18th century (John Vigar)

  • Langley Marish, Berkshire, St Mary, Kedermister Pew (John Vigar)

  • Laxfield, Suffolk, All Saints, Pews labelled for young men and boys (John Vigar)

  • Little Barningham Church, Norfolk, 17th century pew, skeleton in shroud (John Vigar)

  • Redenhall, Norfolk, St Mary, Gawdy Pew, tortoise (John Vigar)

  • Ringmer, Sussex, St Mary the Virgin - Henry Thurloe Shadwell, who died 1807, buried under his pew (John Vigar)

  • St Helens Church, Sefton, Merseyside, possible depiction of Christ with the corn representing the Bread of Life (Angela Rushton)

  • St John, Ravenhead (Paul Henry)

  • St Mary, Aldham, Suffolk, bench end with poppy head and carved animal (Nick Clarke)

  • St Mary, Hadleigh, Suffolk, curious carved figures (Nick Clarke)

  • St Mary, Nettlestead, Suffolk, bench end with poppy head and lion (Nick Clarke)

  • Wanstead, Essex, St Mary, box pew with bible box (John Vigar)

  • Winterbourne Tomson, Dorset, St Andrew, box pews viewed from the gallery (John Vigar)