Plans to permanently remove the pews in Bath Abbey have been given the go ahead following a decision by the Church of England’s consistory court that they can be replaced with stackable chairs.
This will enable the Abbey to open up its nave, install eco-friendly underfloor heating and repair its collapsing floor.
The work is part of the Abbey’s innovative Footprint project, a programme of capital works and interpretation, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, that will secure the Abbey’s physical future and improve its hospitality, worship and service to the city. A major aspect of the project is to replace the Abbey’s antiquated heating system with an innovative design using underfloor heating powered by energy from Bath’s natural hot springs.
Following nearly a decade of planning, consultation and development work, building work inside the Abbey is expected to start in the spring of 2018. However, before any work could take place, the Abbey had to apply for permission from the Church of England for the fixed pews to be removed.
Revd Edward Mason of Bath Abbey said. “We are delighted with the decision of the Consistory Court.
We strongly believe in the benefits of removing the pews. It will enable us to open up the Abbey’s nave and side aisles to all and make it possible for people of different physical ability to sit where they choose. Stackable chairs mean that the nave can be used for a wide variety of traditional and contemporary worship and restore the Abbey to the community use for which it was first designed.”
“It will also mean that for the first time in over 150 years, hundreds of the Abbey’s historic ledger stones, previously hidden beneath the pews, will once again be seen, revealing a whole layer of 17th and 18th century ancestry and heritage.”
Revd Mason continued: “We are aware that change to a historic and much-loved building like the Abbey can be difficult to understand and can provoke strong reactions. However, we have had considerable support for this change from the local community and honestly believe that freeing the nave of pews will greatly benefit the hundreds of thousands that come into the Abbey every year.”
The Consistory Court was initiated by the Victorian Society which opposed the permanent removal of the nave pews.
Revd Mason said, “We remain very appreciative of the significant contribution the Victorians made to the interior of the Abbey, in particular architect, Gilbert Scott. Much of their contribution remains valuable today such as the fabulous nave ceiling. Gilbert Scott himself did exactly what we’re aiming to do with our Footprint programme: he tried to repair the floor, put in advanced heating and lighting and changed the seating to cater for the needs of the day. Before 1860, the Abbey would have been completely open plan with no fixed seating at all. With our Footprint programme, we are simply following in the footsteps of many before us in changing and renewing the Abbey for today’s needs and for future generations.”
Bath Abbey Footprint is a £19.3 million programme of capital works, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which includes:
- Repairing and restoring the collapsing floor
- A sustainable, eco-friendly heating system using energy from Bath’s famous hot springs
- Creating new spaces underground including a Discovery Centre, meeting rooms, kitchens and cloakrooms
- Providing first-class facilities that will enable the Music Department to work with local choirs, schools, and hundreds of visiting children
- An exciting interpretation and activities programme to share stories about the Abbey’s past and present.
- Footprint will enable the Abbey to fulfil its vision of becoming a place of congregation, equal access and hospitality, and ‘A People and Place Fully Alive’
To find out more, please see www.bathabbey.org/footprint.