Hadleigh: Parish church pews prompt unholy row as church tries to replace them with modern chairs

Rev Martin Thrower at Hadleighs St Marys Church

Rev Martin Thrower at Hadleighs St Marys Church - Credit: Archant

A SPAT has broken out between a historic church and the Victorian Society over a bid to sell off scores of ornate pews.

Rev Martin Thrower wants to remove Victorian pews in Hadleigh’s St Marys Church to add removable cha

Rev Martin Thrower wants to remove Victorian pews in Hadleighs St Marys Church to add removable chairs but the Victorian Society is fighting the application. - Credit: Archant

St Mary’s Church in Hadleigh wants to remove antique pews in order to make more use of the space and improve community involvement.

But the Victorian Society, which campaigns to protect Victorian and Edwardian architecture, is objecting to the plan to remove all but eight of what it describes as “high-quality handsome oak pews, each decorated with details of local flowers and foliage”.

Tom Ashley, the Victorian Society’s churches conservation adviser, said: “We all recognise the need for historic buildings to adapt to meet the changing needs of the modern world, but such changes must be made with care.

“Removing some pews may be necessary, but we have not seen any evidence that removing all the pews in the nave is necessary for the parish’s youth outreach work.

“What is certain is that disposing of the pews will be a permanent and substantial loss to Hadleigh’s heritage.

“We hope that St Mary’s can find a way to modernise without sacrificing the contributions of past generations.”

Most Read

He said the pews should not be “hastily and pre-emptively” removed and that he was hopeful a compromise could be reached.

Last night the Rector of Hadleigh, the Very Rev Martin Thrower, said the society had not engaged with the church during a two-year consultation process and that he would not simply “roll over” and drop the plans.

Mr Thrower said: “About three years ago the church had a big open meeting to look at how it could better serve the community and make the best use of the building in the future.

“It’s a big space and we’re the fifth biggest church in Suffolk but we have no church hall or separate rooms.

“The more and more we wanted to allow the community to use the building the more the pews were a point of discussion – we really do need to remove some of them to become more flexible.

“Churches weren’t built with pews in – they were built to be the community space, to have the market in and host big meetings and we have an aspiration to return the building to being the true parish church.”

Mr Thrower said the remaining eight pews would be placed in the Lady Chapel, which would be a designated place of worship.

He said the Victorian Society had been invited to a series of meetings over the past two years, alongside English Heritage and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, but its representatives had failed to attend.

He added: “We went through the process in a very open way for a long time and came to a formal application to the Diocesan Advisory Committee, who said they would support it. Between February 1 and 28 there was a period when people could make a public objection – and that’s when the Victorian Society responded.

“We have been open about this for two years and had not heard a peep from the Victorian Society until we got to the last point.

“Obviously they don’t want to have a conversation. They want to see each other at loggerheads.

“I’m not going to roll over. It’s not fair that a church community that has aspirations for the future of its building will be pushed into a corner and stopper from doing something that will guarantee its future.

“Our understanding is that they have made a visit but it’s disappointing that it was on their own and they have not met with the church community to understand what we want to do.”