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Save Bath Abbey’s exceptional Victorian interior!

Grade I-listed Bath Abbey has put forward proposals to remove historic Victorian pews designed by the famous architect Sir George Gilbert Scott from the abbey.

Bath Abbey pews, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott

Regular listed building consent is not needed for these damaging proposals which the Victorian Society believes would have an extremely detrimental effect on the historical significance of this important religious building.

Christopher Costelloe, Victorian Society Director, said: “Bath Abbey is one of the best examples of Victorian church restoration by perhaps the era’s most prominent architect – Sir George Gilbert Scott. There is no doubt that removing these pews would harm this Grade I-listed church’s significance, and there is no need for such drastic changes in a thriving church when other options are available. The last decade or so has seen Victorian church schemes ripped out all over the country and once they’re gone they’re gone for good. We urge the public to speak out against these unnecessary changes.”

Sir G.G. Scott, the architect of St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial, was one of the most successful and highly respected church architects of the Victorian period. Scott’s major restoration of Bath Abbey in 1859-74 was intended to ‘complete’ the church as it would have been if the Reformation had not stopped its construction. Bath Abbey retains an almost complete set of Scott furnishings. In most other medieval churches or cathedrals of a similar size Scott worked on only the chancel furniture is left. The nave pews are unique to the Abbey and are excellent examples of Scott’s work, each one modelled on those in other 16th century Somerset churches. 

Prosperous Bath Abbey have secured Heritage Lottery Funding of £12.1 million for its Bath Abbey ‘Footprint’ plan which would remove the nave pews – one of the Abbey’s key Victorian elements. Scott’s restoration scheme was a major phase of the Abbey's development and has great historical and aesthetic importance. Breaking it up would certainly harm the Abbey's significance. Bath Abbey justifies its plans with its desire for a more flexible style of worship and the ability to accommodate disabled people, though the Victorian Society believes this could be accommodated in other, less destructive ways such as greater use of the transepts which are already empty. The small benefits of removing these historic pews in no way justifies the substantial harm it would cause this highly significant historical building.

The plans have already distressed local residents, including Daily Mail columnist and author Bel Mooney, long-time resident of Bath. She said, “I believe that people in the future will look back and decry the early 21st century fad for ripping out church pews and replacing them with expensive modern chairs which do nothing to enhance the building, and (when not needed for some reason) have to be stacked in ugly towers. What is this for? The Abbey has worked beautifully (for concerts as well as worship) since the Scott pews were installed and will continue to do so when common sense, aesthetics and economics prevail to retain them.”

Church of England churches are exempt from the requirement to obtain listed building consent from local councils and its parallel consent system is difficult to understand and largely unknown to the public. Decisions are instead made by the Chancellor of each diocese, a lawyer appointed by the church to adjudicate on these matters. The Society urges the public to sign this petition to urge Bath Abbey to revise its destructive plans and save these treasured interiors for generations to come. 

Tuesday 21 February, 2017

More recent item: Why we object to proposed reordering of listed Longthorpe church
Earlier item: Footballers' towers spell disaster for Manchester’s heritage

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