Prayers for Bath Abbey court hearing.

Prayers for Bath Abbey court hearing.

Special prayers – it seems – were offered up in Bath Abbey last night (Thursday, September 14th) ‘ for the mission and ministry of the Abbey.’

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey – the lantern of the west!

They came as the church faces a special Consistory Court hearing in response to the nationally based Victorian Society’s objection to the removal of most of the pews following work to stabilise the floor.


The Rector Bath Abbey, the Rev Preb Edward Mason.

In a letter to the congregation, the Rector, the Rev Prebendary Edward Mason, explained that the Society were objecting to an element of the Footprint Project.

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The poster explaining why the floor has to come up.


‘Footprint will stabilise the Abbey floor to quite a deep level, install under-floor central heating with energy from the hot springs, and repair and re-lay the wonderful set of ledger stones.

To do this, all the furniture in the Abbey will be removed. Equally, our application proposes that all the furniture will be replaced – except for the nave pews.

We believe that freeing the nave of pews will enhance the mission and ministry of the Abbey in the present and leave it much better placed to respond to the changing needs of church and community in the future.

Bath Abbey - Looking West 2

A cross section of how the Footprint Project will evolve.

The Victorian Society does not agree and insists on the nave pews being replaced. The Consistory Court is a normal (but rare) means by which church planning issues like this are clarified.

The Court will be held in the Abbey early in October and there is full representation of both sides by legal teams. The judgement is made by the Chancellor of the Diocese, himself a practising lawyer.


An artist’s impression of what the nave will look like with the floor repaired and the pews removed.

In the light of this process, we feel it particularly important that we gather in prayer.’

The Rector said prayers were for the Abbey’s mission and ministry.

‘In particular, we pray that our core values expressed in worship, hospitality and justice will continue to be fully expressed through the development and future use of the Abbey.’

It is my understanding that the court hearing will be held in Bath Abbey on October 4th and 5th during which time the church will not be open to tourists.

Abbey damage made good.

Abbey damage made good.

With thousands of tourists – every year – stopping to pose for a picture in front of the West Door of Bath Abbey it’s not surprising to hear that damage can be done.

Accidental or deliberate – we don’t know – but part of the carved decoration on these 17th century commemorative oak doors was seen to be broken off.


The West Door of Bath Abbey

The elaborately carved doors were a gift from the Lord Chief Justice,  Sir Henry Montagu to celebrate his brother, Bishop James Montagu who was Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1608 to 1616. Each door bears an heraldic shield for each of the brothers.

They symbolically come together when the doors are closed.


The damaged carving.


After repair!

Not sure who has done the repair but the before and after show how well it has been done.


Something to sing about!

Something to sing about!

Bath Abbey Girls’ Choir is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. This milestone is being marked with a celebratory concert on 23 September at Bath Abbey in recognition of all that the choir has achieved since its inception.

Current or former members of the Girls Choir are also being asked to share their photos and memories with the city’s parish church via social media using #AbbeyGirls20yrs.

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The Abbey Choirs of Girls and Men with Huw Williams, Bath Abbey’s Director of Music, singing during a Sunday morning service in the Abbey. © Deborah J Coleman

The Abbey Girls’ Choir was founded in 1997 by Dr Peter King, Bath Abbey’s Director of Music from 1986-2016 and was one of the first girl choirs in the country at the time with Salisbury Cathedral having paved the way only six years earlier.

While remarkable in itself, there would have been the sound of female voices on the Abbey site long before 1997, and it could be said that the girl choristers are simply continuing a centuries-old choral tradition, which plays a vital part in the musical life of the Abbey and the city of Bath. In AD 676 there was a community of women worshipping in Bath in a convent run by Abbess Bertana and the site would have been filled with the sound of female voices as the girls and women sang their services.

Therefore, it is only fitting that as well as celebrating 20 years of the Abbey Girls’ Choir, the concert will be drawing inspiration from the generations of women in the Christian faith. The Abbey Girls’ Choir will sing the hauntingly beautiful music of Hildegard of Bingen from the 11th Century and a special commission by well-known composer Judith Bingham ‘The Sleeping Soul’ with words by the 13th century female mystic St Mechthild of Magdeburg. There will be texts by women – notably from Mother Julian of Norwich and the Magnificat (the song of Mary). Other music includes Schubert Psalm 23, Brahms’ Ihr habt nun traurigkeit (written in memory of his mother), Grieg’s Ave Maris Stella, Bruckner’s Ave Maria and music by Mathias, Stanford, Britten and Mendelssohn.

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Some girl choristers pictured in the choir stalls. © Deborah J Coleman

Huw Williams, Bath Abbey’s Director of Music, said: “Since joining the Abbey earlier this year I have been impressed with the quality of the Abbey Girls Choir and am delighted to be part of the 25th anniversary celebrations. We are immensely proud to have been one of the first churches in the country to introduce a girls’ choir. While almost every English Cathedral now has a girls’ choir, at the time it was a real innovation and to this day remains a remarkable achievement by my predecessor, Dr Peter King. whose original vision of a girls’ choir at Bath Abbey crowned his distinguished career here

“Occasions like this also allow us to celebrate our choristers as well as to thank all those who have helped champion and supported our Girls Choir over the years, benefactors, friends and family all included. As a former choir parent myself, I recognise that there’s a lot required of parents and guardians, and that it’s greatly appreciated. It will also be an opportunity for a wonderful reunion as we are hoping many of our former girl choristers, family and friends will be joining us for this very special event. We also plan to honour Dr Peter King’s contribution in some way.”

Since the girls first sang in the Abbey in the autumn of 1997, the Bath Abbey Girls’ Choir has flourished year on year, delighting congregations and audiences at services, concerts and through television and radio broadcasts and recordings. They have toured extensively, sung for the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Royal Family, and earlier this year performed Handel’s Messiah to great acclaim with soprano solos performed by members of the choir. One of the most anticipated events in the city’s calendar is the Advent service at the Abbey. The girls also sing an evocative performance in candlelight and accompanied by harp of Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols annually.

The Abbey has no Choir school, they are from a variety of local schools, both primary and secondary. The Girls’ Choir alternates with the Boys’ Choir to join the Men singing services on Sundays and important days in the church calendar. Since 1997, over 150 have graduated through the ranks. A significant number have subsequently become choral scholars in the Oxbridge Chapel Choirs, some have sung with the country’s top choral groups including the Monteverdi Choir and several are professional musicians.

Tickets for the concert celebrating the Bath Abbey Girls’ Choir’s 25th anniversary on Saturday 23 September at 7.00pm in the Abbey are available from the Bath Box Office. Tickets are priced at £10, £12 and £15.


Raising a glass to Thomas.

Raising a glass to Thomas.

Exactly what was quenching the thirst of the people of Bath in the summer of  1856.   Turns out beverages sold by Thomas Steele (1805-1859) – a chemist at 6 Milsom Street in the city were hitting the right spot 160 years ago. Flavours that included gooseberry and mulberry.

This little snippet of social history comes via Bath Abbey’s Footprint Project – a multi-million pound scheme of works to make the Abbey floor safe and improve facilities in the church.

As part of the work volunteers are researching the hundreds of historic memorial stones in the building which will have to be lifted to allow the structural work to take place.


Thomas Steele’s memorial stone.

Thanks to one of them, it’s been discovered that Thomas – one of thousands of people granted burial under the floor – once placed a notice in the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette on 31 July 1856 advertising all types of flavours and included various ways on how these could be used to flavour tarts, jellies and spirits.

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He is one of the hundreds of Bathonians commemorated in the Abbey and researched for the Bath Abbey ledger stone project as part of #Footprintproject.

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You can visit the blog site of Abbey archivist, Anna Riggs to check out the advert:


Stepping up to the flag

Stepping up to the flag

Don’t worry. Bath Abbey wasn’t in the process of installing an aerial for a mobile ‘phone company.


The scaffolding was in place to enable the flagpole – on top of the tower – to be repaired.

Though l didn’t envy conservators from Sally Strachey Conservation being on that platform. At 49 meters, this is the tallest structure of its kind in Bath.


The tower of Bath Abbey

The Abbey flag is now flying again after an unofficial flag-raising ceremony took place at the top of the Tower earlier today.


The flag bears the arms of the Diocese of Bath & Wells shown in the top left-hand canton of the St George flag. If you’re a history fan, here’s a fun fact…In 1938, the Earl Marshal of England laid down that the proper flag to be flown on any church in England is the Cross of St George with the arms of the see in the first quarter.

The Bath & Wells Diocesan flag is flown from the top of the Abbey Tower every day come wind, rain or shine.

Scaffold Tower flag pole 11 July

An Abbey spokesperson told Bath Newseum: ‘Unfortunately our flagpole takes quite a bit of battering from Mother Nature so has been out of action for a while.

Thank you to Sally Strachey Historic Conservation who did a great job of fixing the broken finial and rope on our flagpole and allowing us to proudly fly our flag once more!’

It’s effort enough for me climbing the 212 on a tower tour without then having to go on to the finial at the top of the flagpole! You would certainly need a head for heights!

Joking aside, l do know some churches with spires do make a little extra income renting out space to mobile ‘phone companies.

I remember seeing an aerial inside the spire of St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol. It’s not so bad when you can hide the mast inside.

Stand by Bath – for the ‘battle’ of the pews.

Stand by Bath – for the ‘battle’ of the pews.

Bath Abbey’s plans to permanently remove the 19th-century pews in the church nave – after the floor has been repaired – have not gone down well with The Victorian Society.

It’s a London-based organisation that campaigns for the preservation of Victorian and Edwardian architecture.


Looking up the centre aisle of the nave towards the East end of Bath Abbey.

This autumn – probably October – it will be sending a barrister to ‘square up’ against the Abbey’s own legal team in an ecclesiastical court hearing which will decide whether the pews stay or go.


Should they stay or should they go? The ‘battle’ for the nave pews in Bath Abbey.

Church of England churches are exempt from the requirement to obtain listed building consent from local councils. Decisions are instead made by the Chancellor of each diocese – a lawyer appointed by the church to adjudicate on these matters.

The pews were designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott – the architect of St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial. He was one of the most successful and highly respected church architects of the period and his major restoration of Bath Abbey in 1859-74 was intended to ‘complete’ the church as it would have been if the Reformation had not stopped its construction.

Scott completed the stone fan vaulting above the nave and designed a chandelier lighting system for the church – as well as designing the pews, which were modelled on those in other 16th-century Somerset churches.

Christopher Costelloe, Victorian Society Director, said: ‘Bath Abbey is one of the best examples of Victorian church restoration by perhaps the era’s most prominent architect – Sir George Gilbert Scott.

There is no doubt that removing these pews would harm this Grade 1 listed church’s significance, and there is no need for such drastic changes in a thriving church when other options are available. The last decade or so has seen Victorian church schemes ripped out all over the country and once they’re gone they’re gone for good.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey interior

Bath Abbey has a different point of view and is at the start of a massive multi-million-pound project – boosted by the Heritage Lottery Fund – to deal with the threat of the church floor collapsing because of massive holes discovered beneath it. They have been created as a result of the six thousand odd people who have been buried below the stone flooring.

It means all the fixed furniture – including the pews – will have to be lifted as the repair is carried out – section by section – so the Abbey can stay in business throughout.

According to Charles Curnock – Director of the Footprint Project – once the floor has been stabilised and underfloor heating, powered by energy from the hot spring nearby, installed – they intend reinstating the hand-carved Corporation Pews and most of the machine-tooled pews behind them.


An illustration showing how the nave might look without its pews.

However, they want to leave the nave clear – the way it was when the church was built. It would mean people would get a clear view of the hundreds of ledger stones that have been hidden beneath the pews for nearly 180 years.

It would also give the Abbey more flexibility in how the space was used – with chairs replacing pews for seated events – allowing different layouts for gatherings big and small. It would improve access for those with disability issues and allow visitors more freedom in exploring the church.


Chairs would replace the nave pews – making for more flexible use of the space. These chairs were just spotted in the Abbey. I am not saying they would be the type that would be used.

The Victorian Society argue that the pews have protected the ancient ledger stones from heavy foot traffic and that just removing the pews from the aisles would ease the flow of visitors.


The removal of the pews would allow people to see more of the ancient ledger stones, says the Abbey. The Victorian Society says the pews have helped protect them.

They have launched an online petition – which has attracted over a thousand signatures – and say the complete removal of the nave pews would ‘ strip the Abbey of a major layer of its interest and richness, permanently harming the interior.’

Bath Abbey feels this is an opportunity to change how the floor space can be used to better serve the city, its visitors and future generations.  That an open nave will release the Abbey’s potential as a place for worship, celebration and community events in a way it previously hasn’t been able to offer.


Bath Abbey

The Victorian Society will now be a ‘party opponent’ at a Consistory Court hearing later this year, regarding the permanent removal of pews from Bath Abbey.

They will have a barrister present to argue their case before the Chancellor makes his decision.  Bath Abbey will also be legally represented.

Both sides seem confident they will win the day. A date for that has yet to be announced.


Widcombe Councillor to be 790th Mayor.

Widcombe Councillor to be 790th Mayor.

Widcombe councillor Ian Gilchrist will be the 790th Mayor of Bath – it has been announced. He is a former Chairman of B&NES.

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Cllr Ian Gilchrist.

The Deputy Mayor will be Lambridge councillor Rob Appleyard.


Cllr Rob Appleyard.

The annual mayor making ceremony will be held in Bath Abbey on Saturday, June 3rd at the annual meeting of the Charter Trustees of the City of Bath.

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Mayor Making 2016.  Mayor Councillor Paul Crossley and Deputy Councillor June Player for The Charter Trustees of the City of Bath  © Sam and Wendy Farr