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Hadleigh’s enchanting botanical pews in danger

Carved pew-ends provide a record of the flora around a Suffolk village in the late nineteenth century

St Mary's, Hadleigh

St Mary’s in Hadleigh, one of Suffolk’s finest medieval churches, boasts high-quality handsome oak pews, each decorated with details of local flowers and foliage. The wild flowers, sculpted into the backs and armrests of the Victorian pews, were carved from plants gathered by local children. The rows of pews contribute to the nave’s soaring vastness and the fine acoustics of this Grade I-listed church, said to be Suffolk’s fifth largest.

St Mary’s hosts the Porch Project’s educational and recreational activities aimed at improving the social welfare of young people in Hadleigh and surrounding parishes. Informal seating, pool and snooker tables already sit side by side with the oak pews. The Victorian Society is fighting St Mary’s recent application to remove all but 8 of the beautiful pews and replace them with modern chairs.

“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,” said Tom Ashley, the Victorian Society’s Churches Conservation Adviser.

“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.”

“The children who picked those daisies and primroses are most likely to have been the grandparents and great-grandparents of some of Hadleigh’s current residents. We hope that St Mary can find a way to modernise without sacrificing the contributions of past generations.”

St Mary’s is also making plans to change the entrance and remodel the interior, build new offices and a kitchen and replace the flooring. The Victorian Society has asked St Mary’s to consider the future of the pews as part of that overall design and to incorporate them in the reorganised spaces. The pews should not be hastily and pre-emptively removed.

The Victorian Society hopes that a compromise can be found to rearrange the interior to suit the church’s worship and community functions whilst preserving these fine pews.

Tuesday 23 April, 2013

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