Newquay vicar clashes with Victorian Society over plans to ditch historic church pews
THE vicar of a Newquay church has clashed with a heavyweight national history group over his plans to replace Edwardian pews with comfy new chairs.
The Reverend Canon Michael Adams has applied to the Diocese of Truro for permission to sell the seats, which were designed and installed at St Michael's Church by renowned architect John Ninian Comper in 1912.
He says the 22 pews are so uncomfortable that some parishioners – including a former mayor – simply can't bear to sit through a sermon.
But his plans do not sit comfortably with the London-based Victorian Society, which champions Victorian and Edwardian architecture.
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It has objected to the application, claiming the pews are an "intrinsic" part of the design of the grade two* listed building and there is plenty of room for both pews and chairs.
Both sides will now have to argue their case to the chancellor of the diocese, who will make a decision in the next few months.
The Reverend Adams told the Cornish Guardian: "I've had so many complaints about the pews. The backs are too low, they are too square and they basically just aren't comfortable to sit on. Years ago we tried using cushions but this just meant you were raised up and the back of the pew cuts across the small of your back. It's not pleasant."
Money raised by selling the pews would be used to buy 300 chairs that could also be moved to create space for concerts and events, he said.
"This will make the church more user-friendly for a variety of community purposes.
"We are doing nothing to take anything away from the Victorian building itself. It's just about those uncomfortable pews," he added.
However, Tom Ashley, churches conservation adviser at the Victorian Society, said he had visited St Michael's and tried out the pews.
"I didn't notice they were particularly uncomfortable, although I accept you may have a different view if you are sitting there for a long period of time," he said.
Grade two* listed buildings had huge historical significance, making up the top 5.5 per cent of all listed premises, he said.
"It's a really important building by a really important architect, Ninian Comper," said Mr Ashley. "The pews were designed and installed by him. They are intrinsic to his design."
The church fire in 1993 destroyed many pews, meaning the surviving ones became more valuable and there was enough space to incorporate chairs as well, he added. Cushions could also be used and pews altered so the backs were tilted.
"We've attempted to come to a compromise and they haven't met us on this," said Mr Ashley.
To support the Reverend Adams, write to The Vicarage, 20 St Michael's Road, Newquay, TR7 1RA.