‘This programme is rolling’ – says Bath Abbey Footprint Project Director, Charles Curnock – after a Consistory Court gives judgement in favour of allowing the church to permanenty dispense with its nave pews as part of a multi-million pound scheme to stablilise the church floor and improve its facilities.
The future of these Victorian benches was part of a legal battle – played out in the Abbey – between the church authorites and the Victorian Society in which the Chancellor of the Dioces heard evidence from both sides and then – weeks later – delivered a written judgement.
The Victorian Society had argued that Bath Abbey’s plans to permanently remove the nave pews, a major element of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s reordering of the church in the mid nineteenth century, were unnecessary and would harm the significance of this listed building.
Judicial permission to remove them permanently comes with conditions – and this will involve the Abbey in making a display – using parts of the benches – and explaining the history of the Victorian pews.
I asked Footprint Project Director, Charles Curnock, for his reaction to the judgement.
In a statement the Director of the Victorian Society, Christopher Costeloe, has described the decision as ‘ a defeat for Bath’s heritage.’
The full statement from the Society is given below.
“The Chancellor of the Diocese of Bath and Wells has granted permission for Bath Abbey to permanently remove its fine nave pews, despite opposition from the Victorian Society.
This follows a two day court hearing which took place in October, where the Victorian Society and Bath Abbey put forward their opposing cases to the Chancellor.
The Victorian Society argued that Bath Abbey’s plans to permanently remove the nave pews, a major element of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s reordering of the church in the mid nineteenth century, were unnecessary and would harm the significance of this listed building.
Christopher Costelloe, Director of the Victorian Society, said: “Obviously we are disappointed with the Chancellor’s decision. The loss of the Victorian nave furnishings would permanently diminish the interest of the Abbey. We will now give careful consideration to appealing against the judgment.”
Subject to any appeal, it is thought that Bath Abbey will now press ahead with the plans for this element of their multi-million pound ‘Footprint’ project, which would involve removing the pews.
James Hughes, Churches Conservation Adviser for the Victorian Society, who was also present at the court hearing, said: “We fought our case well but sadly in the end the Chancellor judged in the Abbey’s favour. We are grateful for the high level of support we had from members of the public via our online petition; it’s always wonderful to see people eager to protect their heritage. We are only sorry the outcome was not what we hoped for in this case.”
Bath Abbey is a Grade I-listed building, an acknowledgement of its exceptional historic and architectural significance. Unlike listed secular buildings, Church of England places of worship are exempt from the requirement to obtain listed building consent from local councils to undertake internal or external changes which would normally warrant such consent. The ecclesiastical court hearing, which took place in the Abbey itself, was as a result of our objections to the Abbey’s plans.
The architect of the pews, Sir George Gilbert Scott, was a renowned 19th century architect, best known for designing St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial. Bath Abbey retains an almost complete set of Scott furnishings; in most other medieval churches or cathedrals of a similar size Scott worked on only the chancel furniture is left.
The nave pews are unique to the Abbey and are excellent examples of Scott’s work, with the carved pew ends modelled on surviving medieval examples in other 16th century Somerset churches. The Victorian Society believes that their loss will significantly diminish the Abbey’s architectural and historical significance.”