Historic seating can be significant in its own right as well as a major element of the significance of the church as a whole. Changing or replacing it can have a big impact on the interior of your church.

We can help you understand your seating and the options for making changes.

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A man smiling on pew in church talking with other people Adam Shaw

The value of historic seating

Seating is an important part of the furnishing of a church and makes a key contribution to the character of the interior. It usually includes:

  • Individual chairs or stalls for the clergy in the chancel
  • Choirstalls in the chancel
  • And seating for the congregation in the nave and aisles (e.g. chairs, open benches and pews, some with doors and panelling and known as box pews.)

The interest of the seat furniture will be made up of its:

  • Age
  • Rarity
  • Quality
  • Workmanship
  • And its importance as part of the building

Where the seating is of great historic or artistic interest the case for retention may be overwhelming. Medieval seating is particularly rare and highly prized. There is a presumption against removing or altering any pre-Victorian and especially pre-Reformation seating. Many churches have nineteenth-century pews or benches that are not of great artistic merit in themselves yet contribute greatly to the overall character of the church. This is especially true if they were installed as part of a wider restoration and reordering. Some may have been designed by the architect who restored the building. If so, the case for keeping the seat furniture would be much stronger.

Remember: Historic seating can be significant in its own right as well as a major element of the significance of the church as a whole.

Do you need permission?

Yes. Any change to your church’s seating requires a faculty.

Assessing the case for new seating

The decision to remove historic seating should be made on a case-by-case basis following a careful assessment of significance, needs and impacts.

There is a presumption against any change that will harm the historic character of the church. This means that, if you wish to replace all or some of your church’s seating, you will need to demonstrate that the need for change is strong enough to justify the harm.

We recommend a step-by-step approach:

Step one: Evaluate the current situation
Step two: Assess and define your needs
Step three: Consider the available options and decide what to do
Step four: Assess the impact of your proposal
Step five: Consult experts
Step six (if you are making the case for replacing all or some of the seating): Choose new seating
Step seven: Consult and gain approval