Abbey’s congregation pews will go.

Abbey’s congregation pews will go.

Bath Abbey has now confirmed that what l discovered on Facebook this morning is correct.

Emeritus organist at the Abbey,  Peter King made the following announcement.

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Peter told me the decision came through yesterday and ‘It’s great news!’

Now the Abbey has issued the following statement:

‘We were very pleased to learn yesterday evening that an application for permission to appeal against the decision regarding future seating in the Abbey has been refused, enabling the Abbey’s Footprint programme to now go ahead without the threat of another court hearing.

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This means that, once the collapsing floor has been repaired, the Abbey has permission to reveal the historic floor of the Abbey for the first time in 150 years and to use comfortable chairs in the main body of the church.

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This is a vital part of our #FootprintProject – to find out more about our future plans for the Abbey, click here:http://www.bathabbey.org/footprint’

Charles Curnock who is Project Director told me: ‘this is another very positive step along the way to making Footprint a reality.’

I have also asked The Victorian Society for comment. The Choir and Corporation pews will be retained.

If you care to read on – here is the judgement!

IN THE ARCHES COURT OF CANTERBURY
IN THE MATTER OF THE CHURCH OF ST PETER AND ST PAUL (BATH ABBEY)
ON AN APPLICATION BY THE VICTORIAN SOCIETY FOR PERMISSION TO APPEAL CONSISTORY COURT OF THE DIOCESE OF BATH AND WELLS
(CHANCELLOR TIMOTHY BRIDEN)

DECISION

1. As the chancellor said at the outset of his judgment, [2017] ECC B&W 1:

“Bath Abbey…occupies a commanding position in the centre of the City of Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Abbey is a Grade I listed building, and ….one of the architectural gems of England. It is also a focal point for worship and community activity in and beyond the City boundaries”.

Following a hearing which attracted considerable news coverage, the chancellor allowed, subject to conditions, a petition for the removal of the nave pews and their replacement by chairs of a particular design, notwithstanding the objection of the Victorian Society as party opponent. The Victorian Society now renews its application for permission to appeal (permission having been refused by the chancellor).

2. I gave directions under rule 23.4(2)(a) of the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015 for the purpose of determining the application on consideration of written representations, and in reaching my determination I have had regard to the Victorian Society’s Grounds of Appeal (“the Grounds”) and Reasons in Support of the renewed application (“the Reasons”), to the petitioners’ Response to Grounds of Appeal (“the Response”), and to the Victorian Society’s Reply thereto (“the Reply”). The factual background was very fully set out in the judgment itself, and I have not been supplied with, nor considered it appropriate or necessary to obtain, either the “Evidence Bundle” or the closing submissions of the parties (though reference was made to these in both the Grounds and the Response).

3. Under rule 22.2 permission to appeal may be granted only where:

“(a) the appeal would have a real prospect of success; or

(b) there is some other compelling reason why the appeal should be heard”.

Under rule 23.4(3) the determination of an application for permission to appeal “must state the Dean’s reasons”.

4. Under rule 27.11(2) if the appeal were to proceed to a substantive hearing, the appeal court can only allow an appeal where the decision was –

“(a) wrong; or

(b) unjust because of a serious procedural or other irregularity in the proceedings in the lower court”,

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As the Court of Arches said in In re St John the Baptist, Penshurst [2015] PTSR D40 para 33 :

“……when challenges are made to a judge’s reasoning and to the adequacy of the reasons he gave:

“the essential test is: does the judgment sufficiently explain what the judge has found and what he has concluded as well as the process of reasoning by which he has arrived at his findings” (Re B (Appeal: Lack of Reasons) [2003] 2 FLR 1035 para 11).

Allied to this is the need not to adopt too narrow a textual analysis of a judgment when approaching the question of whether a judge has misdirected himself.”

5. The Response kindly describes the Grounds and the Reasons as “extensive”. The former runs to 15 pages (18 paras and many sub-paras), the latter to 4 pages (14 paras) (by contrast its Reply is commendably brief). In the Reasons the Victorian Society summarises its criticisms of the judgment under six headings, and I shall follow the approach taken in the Response “that these are advanced as the VS’s ‘best’ points”, whilst bearing mind mind the claim in the Reply that “the Victorian Society will [presumably if the matter comes to a substantive hearing] comment on the Petitioners’ omission to deal in their Response with many points relied upon by the Victorian Society in its Grounds and Reasons”.

(1) Alleged bias

6. The allegation is that the chancellor “revealed bias against the Victorian Society” in his treatment of the evidence, because he accepted as evidence of support for the scheme the letters attached to the Rector’s witness statement, whereas in respect of the signatures to a Memorial opposing the scheme, the chancellor commented upon “the notable absence of any objection from parishioners (or others having proper interest) in response to the public notice….” (his para 26). This is said to have been “quite unfair”, and it is claimed that “it is even unclear what “public notice” he was referring to”. It is entirely clear that the public notice was that to which the chancellor had referred in the first sentence of his para 9, and which had “elicited no objection to this or any other feature of the works”. As the chancellor said (para 26), “The response of others having a proper interest ought to have been in the form of letters submitted after public notice”. He noted that these replies were to an online petition which had been “couched in terms of protest” (“…we ask you to sign our petition to urge Bath Abbey to halt their destructive scheme”), and that “the objectivity of the signatories is obviously open to question”. That was a view he was entitled to take, and in any event he observed that “Wisely Mr Blackett- Ord [counsel for the Victorian Society] did not put the online petition at the forefront of its case”, which makes it the more surprising that the chancellor’s treatment of the online petition should now rank foremost in the Victorian Society’s Grounds and Reasons. So far as concerns the chancellor’s treatment of the letters in support of the scheme, which in the Victorian Society’s view were less than objective, the chancellor’s reliance on them was limited to the observation that they “lend support to the practical grounds which have been advanced by way of justification” (para 31). I share the view expressed in para 3 of the Response that the chancellor’s judgment, both on this aspect and taken as a whole, was “scrupulously fair and balanced”, and I do not consider that there is the slightest chance of an appeal succeeding on the ground of bias.

(2) Approach to the status and value of the pews

7. The allegation is that the chancellor “played down the status of the pews, and their value as part of the whole church interior”. Complaint is made that it was “perverse” of the chancellor to have concluded that the nave pews form “the subsidiary part of a coherent seating system” (para 47) and are not a “distinguished element” (para 62) of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s scheme of restoration. The difficulty for the Victorian Society is that, as is admitted in the Reasons, the

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chancellor accepted (para 49) that the nave pews were unique in that they are “the best set of their type attributable to Scott”. Nevertheless, on the basis of the evidence before him, it was open to him to reach the conclusion (not, I think, disputed) that the nave pews were of lesser distinction than the choir and corporation pews (which are to be retained), and also of lesser distinction than much else of the Scott’s restoration scheme. His conclusions, if seeming perverse to the Victorian Society, fall far short of perversity as understood by lawyers.

8. The nub of the complaint is the chancellor’s finding (para 51) that “the significance of the nave pews, put in the context of the perpendicular interior of the Abbey, is moderate”. However, the chancellor listed his reasons for this finding in the final sentence of that paragraph, and adverts to corroborating evidence in the subsequent paragraph of his judgment. This then led on to his finding, under the third Duffield question, that “the harm arising from loss would also be moderate”, in the sense of being “less than serious but greater than insubstantial” (para 56). There was no error of law in the chancellor’s conclusion, though others could rationally have concluded that the harm was more serious, as the Victorian Society contended. Whether the chancellor in that paragraph wrongly telescoped Dr Brandwood’s answer to the chancellor’s own question (para 50) is immaterial, nor do I consider it to be properly arguable that the chancellor misunderstood or failed to have regard to the evidence of Dr Miele, quoted in para 3 of the Grounds, that “the interior…is wholly a product of the Victorian period”. In this context I deliberately ignore the observation of the chancellor in refusing permission to appeal that his conclusion under the fifth Duffield question would have been the same, even had he found the harm to be serious, rather than moderate.

(3) and (4) Conclusion on public benefit

9. The allegations are that the chancellor’s conclusion on public benefit is confused and not clear; that he failed to analyse the various heads of justification individually; and that if he had done so, “he would have perceived that each amounts to almost nothing, even if it actually exists”. The Response looks carefully at the chancellor’s approach, and robustly concludes that “there is accordingly no lack of clarity in the Chancellor’s consideration and the VS attempt to manufacture confusion in this regard…is simply a cover for a disagreement with his clear conclusions”. I need only set out one sentence from para 61 of the judgment:

“In terms of public benefit the advantages of innovative liturgical use of the nave, the availability of comfortable seating adaptable to the requirements of the disabled or very young, the ability to put the nave to multiple community purposes, and the opportunity to appreciate the original architectural form of the nave and the collection of ledger stones make a formidable combination”.

There is no confusion, lack of clarity or irrationality, nor is the chancellor properly to be criticised for having addressed the petitioners’ justification in the way he did, concisely, albeit in two different sections of his judgment. There was no failure to address the Duffield questions “in the right order”. In particular, whilst the Victorian Society assert (para 5 of the Grounds) that the chancellor’s reference (in para 36) to an improvement in appreciating the nave’s perpendicular style involved several “errors of fact”, his conclusions on the various matters were within the bounds of what was properly open to him. The same applies to a related assertion in para 10 of the Grounds. Nor can the chancellor’s alleged failure “to take into account the visual mess that would be made by the presence of up to 600 loose modern lightweight chairs in the nave” be properly categorised as an error of law, in circumstances where the chancellor plainly had regard to the evidence about the visual aspect of the proposed chairs (paras 36-41).

(5) Erroneous approach to the fifth Duffield Question 10. The allegation is that the chancellor:

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“did no more than pay lip service to the requirement of the fifth Duffield Question, which requires not a simple balance between the actual harm and the perceived future social benefit, but a strong presumption against the harm being allowed. The petitioners get nowhere near satisfying such a presumption even if they were right on all the factual “justifications” that the Chancellor found in their favour. The trivial or illusory hoped-for benefits go nowhere against the harm to the splendour and utility of the building that would be suffered….”.

This ground is entirely hopeless for two reasons. First, it assumes that the benefits were “trivial and illusory”, whereas the chancellor found them to constitute “a formidable combination” (para 61). As the Response pithily points out, “the VS assertion… relies on circular logic which assumes the truth of what it sets out to prove”. Second, the chancellor expressly referred (para 63) to “the listing of Bath Abbey and the strong presumption against change”, as matters “properly brought into account”. There is no warrant for the allegation that this was mere “lip service”, and the chancellor has adequately indicated that the desirability of preserving the listed church and any features of special architectural interest which it possesses “is a consideration of considerable importance or weight” (see In re St Peter, Shipton Bellinger [2016] Fam 193 para 48).

(6) Failure to consider the Victorian Society’s alternative

11. The allegation is that the chancellor “failed to give any consideration to the Victorian Society’s proposal that three rows of nave pews at the front and four at the back might be removed to allow ample space around the nave altar and for manoeuvrability at the back whilst retaining three-quarters of the pews”. This allegation is entirely without merit. I need merely set out para 59 of the judgment:

“It has been necessary to consider with care whether the Petitioners’ objectives are compatible with the retention of some or all of the Scott nave seating. The Victorian Society propose that the pew platforms be abandoned so as to enable the pews to be moved. This suggestion was properly investigated by the Petitioners, but I accept the evidence of Mr Rich [the petitioners’ architect] that the weight of the pews and their unsuitability for stacking renders this arrangement impracticable. I have also concluded that the preservation of an isolated block of pews in the nave would serve no useful purpose, especially as the Corporation pews with their benches behind them preserve a visible example of Scott’s work as well as providing a suitable area for traditional services.”

I am at a loss to see how it could be argued that the chancellor failed to give any consideration to the matter. Moreover, in respect of the chancellor’s phrase “isolated block of pews”, that description is not to be challenged as “an error of law”, merely because three-quarters of the nave pews would have remained.

(7) Other matters

12. A fusillade of alleged errors of fact and law is contained in paras 3-10 of the Grounds, some only of which were specifically relied upon in the Reasons, without any being formally abandoned. Most of these I have already addressed. Of these the only one of which I need say more relates to the chancellor’s holding (para 35 of the judgment) that “Mr Rich has given satisfactory evidence that the future risk of erosion [to the ledger-stones] may be addressed by a combination of strategies including the placement of vulnerable stones in protected areas, the careful levelling of the floor and the creation of appropriate visitor routes”. The Victorian Society relies on answers by Mr Rich said to have been given under cross-examination that he had not concluded that there would be no damage to the ledger stones; and that no investigation or report had been commissioned to investigate the effect of 450,000 persons walking over the stones, but he was making investigations which “still had some way to go”. Even assuming that, in the overall assessment which had to be made in this case, the possibility of some damage to

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the Georgian ledger stones (which appears to have been a matter initially raised by the SPAB rather than by the Victorian Society, see para 4 of the Grounds) was an issue of more than relatively minor importance, the chancellor’s careful wording “satisfactory evidence”/“may be addressed” falls some way short of a finding that there would be no damage whatsoever to them. Accordingly the alleged error of fact does not appear to have been made.

Overall conclusion

13. In several recent cases the Victorian Society has successfully identified errors of law in first-instance faculty decision-making (Penshurst and Shipton Bellinger, both cited above); and in Re St Botolph’s, Longthorpe [2017] EACC 4 it was granted permission to appeal, although the proceedings resulted in a consent order. But in the present instance, whilst its initial objection was entirely understandable and the issues deserved the close scrutiny which a consistory court hearing involves (and did involve in this case), I am satisfied that its application for permission to appeal does not meet the test of having a real prospect of success. Nor do I consider that the undoubted importance of Bath Abbey (or any other matter) is such as to provide “some other compelling reason why the appeal should be heard”, nor does the Victorian Society so contend.

Costs

14. Under rule 23.5(1)(b) of the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015, I have a discretion in relation to costs. The Victorian Society shall bear the petitioners’ reasonable costs of submitting the Response (to be taxed by the Provincial Registrar if not agreed), and the court costs of considering and determining the application. Such costs shall be paid within 14 days of receiving notification from the Provincial Registrar of the amounts concerned. Although rule 23.5(1)(b), unlike rules 19(2) and (3) which (by virtue of rule 2.1(2)) apply to substantive appeals, make no provision for representations on costs to be made, I shall allow the Victorian Society 7 days to submit (if so minded) any representations as to why it considers a different order for costs should be made.

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1 March 2018

CHARLES GEORGE QC Dean of the Arches

 

Battle of the Pews – not over yet.

Battle of the Pews – not over yet.

Seems the battle of the pews in Bath Abbey is not over yet after all.

The Victorian Society has applied for leave to appeal against the recent judgement in favour of removing the nave pews from the historic church.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey interior

Late last year the Chancellor of the Diocese of Bath and Wells granted permission for Bath Abbey to remove the Victorian pews from the abbey nave as part of their multi-million pound ‘Footprint’ project.

The pews were designed by renowned architect Sir George Gilbert Scott and are an almost complete set, unusual for churches of this size.

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How the news of the appeal appears on the Victorian Society’s website.

In a statement – released today, Thursday, December 11th, the Victorian Society say they believe:
“The permanent removal of the Gilbert Scott pews is unnecessary and would harm the significance of the Grade I-listed building. We objected to the plans when they were first issued and eventually became party opponents at the Consistory Court hearing which took place within the abbey in October 2017.”

Christopher Costelloe, Director of the Victorian Society

Christopher Costelloe, Director of the Victorian Society

Christopher Costelloe, Director of the Victorian Society, said: “We were disappointed with the Chancellor’s decision to allow the pews to be removed, but believe we have strong grounds to appeal against the judgement. We are continuing to fight against a decision which we believe would cause significant harm to an outstanding listed building.”

 

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Bath Abbey’s ‘Footprint’ project involves the removal of the Gilbert Scott pews from the nave and aisles in order to install contemporary underfloor heating. The Victorian Society is objecting to the abbey’s plans to make that removal permanent and to instead replace the pews with new seating.
The pews were designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott who was one of the Victorian era’s most celebrated architects and is best known for designing London’s St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial. His major restoration of Bath Abbey in 1859-74 – says the Victorian Society – was intended to ‘complete’ the church as it would have been if the Reformation had not stopped its construction.

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The central aisle inside Bath Abbey

 

The Society says the nave pews, which would be lost if this scheme is permitted, are unique to the abbey and are excellent examples of Scott’s work, each one modelled on those in other 16th century Somerset churches.
James Hughes, Churches Conservation Adviser for the Victorian Society, said: “We received significant public support for our campaign to save the Gilbert Scott pews, including over 1500 signatures on our online petition and dozens of comments and letters from the public expressing outrage that they may be lost forever.

There is clearly strong feeling, from the general public and Bath residents alike, that the pews are irreplaceable and significant to the historic and architectural importance of the Abbey.”

A Bath Abbey spokesperson said the church would wait to see if an appeal IS allowed before making any official comment.

 

‘This programme is rolling’ – says Abbey Project Director.

‘This programme is rolling’ – says Abbey Project Director.

‘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.

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The Director of Bath Abbey’s Footprint Project, Charles Curnock.

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.

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The pews in the nave of Bath Abbey.

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.

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The aisle end of one of the nave pews – or benches as the Victorians would call them. Unlike the higher grade choir and Corporation stalls – these seats were produced on a steam-driven cutting machine. However, the end carvings were finished by hand. No two are the same. Either end of each bench is different. The carvings drew inspiration from existing carvings in medieval churches in Croscombe and North Wootton. They form part of Scott’s ensemble and – according to The Victorian Society – form an important part of the high-quality oak furnishings of the church which survive intact to a ‘very unusual degree.’

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.”

Holding court in front of the choir stalls

Holding court in front of the choir stalls

Who would have thought that l would be sitting in a pew in Bath Abbey watching court proceedings unfold in front of the choir stalls!

However, dispell any image you might have of Rumpole of the Bailey at work –  though this was a bit of local church history in the making.

What l have been calling the ‘battle of the pews’ and a legal ‘confrontation’ between the Churchwardens of Bath Abbey and The Victorian Society in what the Church of England calls a Consistory Court hearing.

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The pews in the nave of Bath Abbey.

To bring you up to speed. The church has received a extremely generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help meet the costs of emergency treatment to the Abbey floor.

It’s money being spent on other improvements too, as part of the Abbey’s Footprint Project – the church’s ‘vision for the future.’

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The Abbey floor is covered with memorial – or ledger – stones

All those departed souls buried beneath today’s worshippers  – and visitors –  may have risen to heaven but they have left giant cavities in the ground which will need filling to stabilise things and stop the floor collapsing into the voids.

This will involve moving the pews – either side of the central aisle – and lifting all those amazing ledger stones that lie beneath them.

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Easier to stack than pews maybe? Are these the seats of the future for Bath Abbey.

The church authorities see this as a golden opportunity NOT to put all those Victorian benches back – once the memorial stones have been re-laid.

This, they say, would not only reinstate the empty space this medieval building originally had at its west end but make it more flexible to the needs of modern-day worship.

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Cain Ormondroyd – the lawyer representing the Parochial Church Council of the Abbey Church of St Peter and St Paul.

It would also expose – for the first time in nearly 180 years – the hundreds of inscriptions to the ‘dearly departed’ that have lain hidden beneath the pews.

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Mark Blackett-Ord – the lawyer representing the Victorian Society. He is also Chancellor of the Leicester Diocese.

Bringing in chairs – when needed – would allow more flexibility for worship and with the added bonus of different configurations to accommodate everything from concerts and lectures to theatre in the round! It would – says the church – also make the nave truly accessible to all – whatever their level of mobility.

But those machine-tooled pews were designed by renowned Victorian architect George Gilbert Scott – the man responsible for St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial. Removing them – the Society argues – would harm this Grade l-listed church’s historical significance and status.

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The one man l could not photograph was the man who sat behind the desk in the middle of the crossing. He is Mr Timothy Briden, the Chancellor of the Bath and Wells Diocese and the lawyer who has to make the final decision. His appearance meant this court was in session and no photography is then allowed.

There is also concern that, without the protection of the pews, the ledger stones would be exposed and subject to the footfall of about 450,000 visitors a year and possible damage from chairs being moved and replaced on them.

 

The Abbey argue fabric strips on chairs would ensure they did not do any damage and that the finer and more socially and historically-significant memorial slabs would not be relaid in areas of high footfall.

Bath Abbey is a medieval jewel but one that wasn’t ‘complete’ until Scott was called in to restore or re-order it. It’s a good example of a major church interior as reimagined by the Victorians in medieval style.

He installed the stone fan vaulting in the nave to match the existing medieval ceiling over the choir and chancel.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey interior

He organised a restoration of the West Front.

Inside, the screens that separated the chancel from its aisles were removed.  Windows were reglazed, memorial tablets attached to the pillars transferred to the walls of the aisles,  gas chandeliers erected and the present oak seating placed in the nave.

It was the first time this space had offered permanent seating and – with the chancel screen gone – opened the interior from end to end to enable it to be used for very large congregations.

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Though general tourism was not allowed during the two-day hearing, Bathonians were allowed to come in and watch the proceedings. Here are some of them during a court break.

Bath Abbey is probably unique in retaining so much of its Scott interior. An argument that hinges partly on the ‘ensemble value’ created by this famous church architect.

So here we sit – in a church bereft of its usual crowd of milling tourists – witnessing a little bit of ecclesiastical local history in the making.

The Church of England is exempt from the usual planning regulations. Changes proposed for its layout do not need to go before a B&NES planning committee.

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The only time that l – or anyone else l would hope – would be allowed to take coffee into the Abbey pews. I did take the cup out with me!

However there is a built-in check on things – which can trigger a church court hearing. In this case it is The Victorian Society that has become ‘the party opponent’ to the Abbey’s plans to not put the pews back in the nave – once the repairs to the floor have been done.

So l – and around fifty Bathonians – are witnessing counsel for each party, in turn examining and cross-examining witnesses who have produced reports for and against the proposal.

For the Abbey it’s Mr Cain Ormondroyd and, for The Victorian Society ,Mr Mark Blackett-Ord who are appearing in front of the Chancellor of the Diocese of Bath and Wells, Mr Timothy Briden – who is himself a trained lawyer.

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The Abbey’s legal team with Mr Cain Ormondroyd sitting on the right.

It is he who – in six weeks or so – will deliver his verdict and either allow or not allow the permanent removal of the pews to go ahead.

Proceedings are slow and methodical with the Chancellor stepping in now and again to help oil any legal difficulties or points that witnesses do not understand. Those watching events were also grateful to him for ordering breaks in the unfolding legal arguments for us to stretch our legs.

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The Victorian Society’s legal team with Mr Mark Blackett-Ord on the left.

The irony wasn’t lost on me that the legal teams were seated on the sort of chairs that may replace the benches in question that – on this day –  bore the weight of us spectators.

The event was also a history lesson in the Abbey’s history. I hadn’t known the Victorians called the congregation’s seating arrangement benches and that to them pews were Georgian ‘boxes.’

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The aisle end of one of the nave pews – or benches as the Victorians would call them. Unlike the higher grade choir and Corporation stalls – these seats were produced on a steam-driven cutting machine. However, the end carvings were finished by hand. No two are the same. Either end of each bench is different. The carvings drew inspiration from existing carvings in medieval churches in Croscombe and North Wootton. They make up part of Scott’s ensemble and – according to The Victorian Society – form an important part of the high-quality oak furnishings of the church which survive intact to a ‘very unusual degree.’

How many knew that Gilbert Scott found the church pillars covered in memorial stones and removed them to the walls to get rid of the central clutter. Bath, apparently, is only surpassed by Westminster Abbey in the number of ledger stones it contains.

Memorials for men would display a shield above the wording and a diamond shape for women – l was told during a break in proceedings – but Scott’s workmen mixed some of those up when they were re-hung.

In the end – it seems – the Chancellor has to base his judgement on a point of law established in a previous church court case regarding a church in Derbyshire called St Alkmund’s.

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What the nave would look like with the pews taken away.

It’s all a question of whether the ‘resulting public benefit’ outweighs ‘the harm to the significance of the church as a building of special architectural or historic interest?’

Do the benches ‘link the nave liturgically on a grand scale’ or should these wooden seats be seen as ‘an army of pews’ to be eradicated.

I am glad l am not the man who has to decide – after this two-day hearing.

in the meantime the Abbey moves on with its Footprint Project plans and a building contractor to do the work will be appointed – from a shortlist – by Christmas.

‘Courtroom’ drama begins at Bath Abbey.

‘Courtroom’ drama begins at Bath Abbey.

Bath Abbey is going to be the unusual setting today – Wednesday, October 4th – for a ‘courtroom’ drama as the ‘battle of the pews’ gets underway.

bath abbey

The church is having to remove its Victorian pews next year as the floor of the building has to be stabilised. Once the work has been done – it will be undertaken section by section – the authorities do not want to put the pews back.

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What the nave would look like with the pews taken away.

The Abbey argues that  the church was built as a big empty space and – being able to return to that format but with removable chairs replacing fixed pews – the building will be made more flexible and improve access for all.

However, The Victorian Society believes their removal would have ‘an extremely detrimental effect on the historical significance of this important religious building.’

They will now be a ‘party opponent’ at a Consistory Court hearing being held over two days next week. The hearing will be held today and tomorrow – October 4th and 5th  – and each session will  last from 10.20 to 4.30 pm.bath abbey

Though the Abbey will be closed to tourists for those two days, Bathonians are allowed to watch proceedings – ironically from the pews in question. The hearing will be held on the crossing – under the tower.

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The ‘crossing’ where the two-day hearing will be held.

Each side will have a barrister present to argue their case before the Diocese Chancellor who will make a decision based on the proceedings.

Church of England places of worship 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.

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George Gilbert Scott’s nave pews.

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.bath abbey

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 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.

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Bath Newseum was there in 2013 when a trial section of the flooring was treated. A liquid concrete-styled solution was injected into the voids. Afterwards the memorial tablets were replaced. A lifting frame is being used to hoist and lower the slabs into place. This was taken through the plastic-covered observation window.

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.

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The pews behind the hand-carved Corporation 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.

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The whole Abbey floor is covered in ledger stones. They are all being recorded and photographed before being taken up.

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.

Bath Abbey

Will it be chairs or pews? These are temporary seats and not a style that the Abbey would buy for permanent use!

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.

Floor trial and ledger stone recording - L-R-Volunteers Mark Hudson Sandra Brown and Priscilla Olver SMALL

Floor trial and ledger stone recording – L-R-Volunteers Mark Hudson Sandra Brown and Priscilla Oliver Small

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.’

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The memorial stones on the Abbey floor.Many of them are hidden under the pews.

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.

It is going to be an interesting hearing. History in the making.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.