12th February 1641. Best Seats in the House.
Jonathan Swift wrote: ‘A bedstead of ancient mode…was metamorphosed into pews which still their ancient nature keep by lodging folks disposed to sleep’.
Today in 1641 it was ordered that Dr. Pocklington ‘be deprived his two books publicly burnt by the common hangman, and himself made incapable of preferment, and forbidden to go to Court’.
His crime was to oppose pues [pews] which were supported by Puritans.(1)
It was said that [Pocklington] saith that ‘close and exalted pews are profane …which is foolish and fond conceit’.(2)
Protestantism had brought an increased use of the sermon which required pews which effectively separated rich from poor; the squire had his separate heated room, and many owned exclusive Pew Rents. The Rector’s family would also be favoured.
Rented pews shunned casual and poor visitors to the edges-‘pushed to the wall’, on benches, and was to become the norm, despite a court judgement of 1612 which declared that a church ‘is dedicated to the service of God, and common to all inhabitants’.
This confirmed a decree of the 1297 Synod of Exeter which said that it was for the bishops to decide on church seating and any renting, a practice which lasted until the 1970s.
Over 50% pews were rented in the 19thc with ownership plates common, as at All Saints Wakefield (see below), and St. Paul’s, Burton, for the brewer, M.T.Bass.
Mrs Miff the pew-opener in Dickens’ Dombey and Son, was ‘a wheezy little… A mighty dry old lady’, and David Copperfield on the eve of his wedding dreams of a pew-opener, ’as arranging us like a drill sergeant before the altar rails’.(3)
(1) The History of Pues (sic) , a paper read before the Camden Society on Monday, November 22nd, 1841 by John Mason Neale, Warden of Sackville College.
(2) In 1641 Dr Pocklington, already hated by the Puritans for his ‘Sunday No Sabbath’, published in Altare Christianum.
He said that ‘The Practice of Piety was in the Primitive Church, performed in kneeling before their Saviour and Redeemer…the Churches of God did and do detest the profanes that is and may be committed in close and exalted pews’.
(3) Extracts from Dickens’ Novels.
Ref: building conservation.com /Evaluating English Pews.
Ref wikipedia.org/pews/Pic Image at St. Martin’s.
Ref: commons.wikipedia.org/Pic Image of St. Bridget’s.
Ref: Francis Paget’s novel ‘Milford Malvoisin, or ‘Pews and Pewholders’.
Ref: Daily Telegraph.7.5.2010. Christopher Howse. Sacred Mysteries.Pews.