*  Of interest to Family Historians - Hertfordshire Church of England Parish Registers from 1538 are now available online - only most recent registers are held at the church   *
Pew Ends

SEATING OVER THE YEARS


When St Mary’s was re-ordered recently several people lamented the loss of the choir stalls and other pews removed at this time. It appears that a few people believed they were medieval.

However, all the pews in the church are Victorian, dating from 19th century restorations. The large box pew belonging to Potterells, situated almost exactly where the re-positioned choir now sits was retained, as was a smaller box pew in the chancel for North Mymms House.

If you look at the framed drawing dated 1859 on the NE wall, above the candle stand, you will see, with some difficulty, the seating arrangement which was used. Apparently there were so many objections to the re-pewing that the archdeacon was called in! **

It is interesting to see that the large houses in the parish each had their own family pew near the front, with servants graded by seniority at the back. At a later restoration, in 1871, the box pews were removed and the choir stalls built.

In medieval times there was practically no seating in the church, only perhaps a stone ledge running round the wall for the lame and elderly. This led to the phrase ‘the weakest go to the wall’. The congregation either stood or possibly knelt, a practice still evident in Orthodox churches today.

Some of the medieval pews were beautifully carved, with ‘poppy-heads’, and animals and even scenes from the Bible. Animals and even mermaids were quite commonly seen.

Our pew-ends have simple leaf decorations. If you look carefully you will notice variations.

After the Reformation the sermon became the most important part of the service, often lasting up to one hour, and seating was needed, first benches, and later backs to these.Then came the large box pews, some of which even had fireplaces! Rents were usually paid for these, a custom which has only recently disappeared.

Lately the need for pews has diminished. Services now take different forms, with the congregation moving about more. Also, flexibility is now important, and many churches have removed most or even all of their pews and introduced stacking chairs to allow for greater space for church events.

KNOW YOUR CHURCH

Some years ago, Patricia Cook, a former Churchwarden at St. Mary's, wrote a series of informative articles on interesting aspects of the fabric of St. Mary's for the Parish Magazine. These are reproduced here, together with line drawings by Jean Atkinson, a well known local artist, who has been closely involved with St. Mary's for many years, including serving on the PCC.

The Amber Tankard Holy Water Stoup The Mass Dial
Seating over the years A hidden gem Gargoyles, Corbels or Label-stops?
Decalogue Board A rare tomb Elephants and Royal Arms
Pulpit Kesteven Brass The Somers Memorial
 
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