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CHURCH ARCHITECTURE by Edward Wyatt

PEWS

In the early middle ages no regular seating was supplied in the nave except for the occasional stone bench around the base of a pillar or a wall. These would be used by the old and the infirm, which gave rise to the saying "Let the weak go to the wall." With the development of carpentry (after the Black Death) wooden benches and pews, some elaborate, were provided and leased to parishioners to provide a source of income. When not in use they would be locked. The pews at Hill are 14th century. By the 15th century pews were common and the local lord even had a private pew. Some even had a fireplace installed! Fine carvings were inscribed on the bench ends, and poupee heads, carved with animal heads or a figure, appeared on the tops of the ends of pews. These are evident at Edgeworth and Tidenham. There are good examples in East Anglia and the West Country as well.

In an attempt to keep out the draught pews were given raised backs and doors. By the end of the 18th century this had developed into the box pew. Later large box pews for families became popular, there are some at Didmarton. When the occasion and finance arose churches were re-pewed, Dursley was in 1832. On occasion many church fittings, including pews, came from other churches which had discarded them or were made redundant. The pews in St Bartholomew, at Churchdown, came from the old church at Imber, on Salisbury Plain. Today the trend appears to favour chairs; these are installed in several churches, at Boxwell, Toddington and in the Cathedral at Gloucester.

On his visits the bishop sits in the place of honour, in the north return stall on the south side. Often within the altar rails can be found an old sanctuary chair, frequently Jacobean.

Hinged seats were used, invariably in the choir, and a carved bracket supports them when they are not in use and turned up. In this state they offer support to a standing person, eg a monk in days of old, and are known as a misericord, or miserere. The word means compassion or pity. Misericords were elaborately carved and their finest examples are in Hereford Cathedral. The carvings, rarely of a sacred subject, invariably had a meaning. Samson, carrying off the gates at Gaza, relates to the Resurrection. In Exeter Cathedral there is a carving of an elephant.


Grotesque heads and vine leaves on misericords at Duntisbourne Rouse

ROYAL ARMS

The Royal Arms are usually painted onto a square board although sometimes they are carved in plaster, stone or wood. There are none earlier than those of Henry VIII, visible above the window over the chancel arch at Cirencester. Only two examples of the Royal Arms of Edward VI are known, at Preston in Suffolk and at Westerham in Kent. Within Gloucestershire, at Ashleworth, the Royal Arms may be those of Edward VI or even of Elizabeth I, or possibly both! After the Restoration it was decreed that all churches should display the Royal Arms. For this reason the arms of Charles II are common. At the time of the Jacobite Rebellions the Stuart Arms were ordered to be destroyed. Leonard Stanley has the arms of William after the death of Mary. During the reign of George I many churches brought the earlier arms of Charles up to date by changing the C into a G!

By law Roods were removed in 1548 during the first year of the reign of Edward VI. Often the Royal Arms were set up where the Rood had been. However, the process was reversed by Mary Tudor, and yet again by Elizabeth I.

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The Parochial Church Council of the Ecclesiastical Parish of St Mary and St Nicolas Prestbury Cheltenham - Registered Charity No 1130933

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