Royston church pews removal prompts strong reaction from community

PUBLISHED: 07:02 20 August 2019

Emergency services on the scene at Royston St John the Baptist Church, Melbourn Street after a fire inside in December 2018. Picture: DANNY LOO

Emergency services on the scene at Royston St John the Baptist Church, Melbourn Street after a fire inside in December 2018. Picture: DANNY LOO

©2018 Archant

The decision to replace the historic pews at Royston's parish church with chairs has been met with a strong reaction from people in the town.

Evidence of the fire damage at Royston St John the Baptist Church, Melbourn Street after a fire inside. Picture: DANNY LOOEvidence of the fire damage at Royston St John the Baptist Church, Melbourn Street after a fire inside. Picture: DANNY LOO

The pews at St John the Baptist Church were subject of a case in the Consistory Court of the Diocese of St Albans, after Rev Heidi Huntley and churchwardens Nick Hindle and Rob Fox petitioned to have them removed to make the space more adaptable at the church - which is being rebuilt after it was devastated by a fire in December last year.

Rev Heidi Huntley said the move would open up the space - and make the church open to the idea of schemes such as a winter night shelter for the homeless.

Removal of the 19th-century pews was opposed by The Victorian Society, who argued that that the pews were part of a furnishing scheme appropriate to the building, replacing them with chairs would create a cluttered interior and that pews have been integral to the church's interior for several hundred years.

The Victorian Society's stance was that "any proposal for the partial or complete disposal of the seating should form part of a wider scheme that addresses holistically the entire building, not just its seating."

Evidence of the fire damage at Royston St John the Baptist Church, Melbourn Street after a fire inside. Picture: DANNY LOOEvidence of the fire damage at Royston St John the Baptist Church, Melbourn Street after a fire inside. Picture: DANNY LOO

A report regarding the court's decision was published on August 5 and the story was covered in last week's Crow.

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On our Facebook page, there were lots of comments from those who backed the decision.

One said: "I think the vicar's rationale behind the decision is reflective of her loving and welcoming ethos: what could be a better use for a church than a night shelter for the homeless?"

Another said: "I understand people's sadness regarding the history of the church, but it will make it more user-friendly and comfortable."

"Great news for the church and Heidi. At the end of the day, it's not a museum," said another.

There were also many comments from those who didn't agree with the decision.

"Really won't be the same without pews," said one person.

Another said: "For those of us who don't believe in an unproven, some might say imaginary, God, but who do believe in the importance, beauty, and protection of very real historical buildings this is both a tragedy and a travesty of justice."

And another person said: "What a shame, can't imagine weddings will be as nice with a load of chairs!"

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