Removing church pews condemned as 'architectural vandalism'

·4-min read
St Nicholas Church in Saltdean is removing its pews to "improve accessibility". Right, how the church looked before the pews were removed
St Nicholas Church in Saltdean is removing its pews to "improve accessibility". Right, how the church looked before the pews were removed

REMOVING a 60-year-old church’s pews is “architectural vandalism” and should be reconsidered, according to a former parishioner.

St Nicholas Church in Saltdean Vale, Saltdean, put up notices last month saying its pews would be removed and replaced with chairs "to improve accessibility".

But one former parishioner is concerned it will “destroy the beauty and integrity” of the building which was designed in 1962.

She said it highlights a need for late 20th century buildings to be listed, adding that they are “vulnerable and need greater protection”.

The Argus: How the church has looked for the last 60 years. Picture: St Nicholas Church
The Argus: How the church has looked for the last 60 years. Picture: St Nicholas Church

How the church has looked for the last 60 years. Picture: St Nicholas Church

The church said there was plenty of consultation time and argued the needs of the community have changed since it was first built.

But Deborah Robertson, who lives in Saltdean, said: “I think the pews are beautiful. There seems to be a push now in the Church of England to get rid of pews and create more space.

“I think we’re custodians and what seems trendy and relevant for one generation could seem inexplicable to the next.

The Argus: The church will instead use chairs for easier manoeuvrability
The Argus: The church will instead use chairs for easier manoeuvrability

The church will instead use chairs for easier manoeuvrability

“The pews are contemporaneous with the church being built, they’re part of the whole design. If the decision has gone through, I think it highlights that the listing process for buildings across the country is not sufficiently stringent to protect churches of architectural value that are not ‘old’.

“The congregation isn’t a huge one although it’s very warm and welcoming, there is a church hall on the other side of the car park for functions. I think it’s unnecessary and an act of architectural vandalism.

“I know the church has to be a living, breathing and functioning space, it’s not a museum piece but you have to get the balance right. I’m not the only one who isn’t happy about the decision.”

The Argus: The pews on each side of the altar will remain
The Argus: The pews on each side of the altar will remain

The pews on each side of the altar will remain

Reverend Jim Horton, vicar of St Nicholas church, said the old pews were not suitable and do not fit the needs of the community compared to when they were built 60 years go.

He said: “I think St Nicholas Church is beautiful, but it is not a museum or a stately home, it is a living evolving worshipping community. The needs of the community are not the same as they were when the church was built, we need a space which allows us to thrive and grow.

“Chairs are much better for people with mobility problems, especially those in wheelchairs.  Chairs allow for a worship space that is more flexible and allow us to be more creative. More intimate services can be conducted in the round, our monthly all-age worship can be conducted in a café style.

The Argus: St Nicholas was designed by Sir Edward Maufe who also designed Guildford Cathedral
The Argus: St Nicholas was designed by Sir Edward Maufe who also designed Guildford Cathedral

St Nicholas was designed by Sir Edward Maufe who also designed Guildford Cathedral

“The chairs can be laid out according to purpose, whether in rows, a circle, opposite one another or any formation, different services can be conducted with different seating formations as best for that occasion.

“We also want to use the church for our school holiday children’s activities and for use by the wider community. None of these is possible while the pews are in place.”

A Diocese of Chichester spokeswoman said: “The removal of the pews at St Nicholas Church Saltdean has been approved following due process which included displaying public notices at the church for 28 days, giving members of the public an opportunity to offer their views.

The Argus: Rev Jim said the function room is booked five days a week
The Argus: Rev Jim said the function room is booked five days a week

Rev Jim said the function room is booked five days a week

“The parish also consulted the Diocesan Advisory Committee and the chancellor, The worshipful Mark Hill, who then decided that a faculty authorising the removal of the pews should be granted.

“As the building is not listed, there was no requirement to consult Historic England, or any of the other statutory consultees who would usually be consulted if the proposals affected a listed building. If this was a secular unlisted building, there would have been no consultation or permissions required at all.

“The parish are trying to make the building more flexible and accessible, so that it can be used for a wider variety of church and community events.”

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