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Box Pews

Prior to the Reformation (the breaking away from the Catholic Church), seating within churches was not customary, except for dignitaries.  However, with the rising expectation for congregations to listen to long sermons, seating was introduced for comfort, including the 'Box Pew', which provided privacy and allowed families to sit together.  They were often treated as personal property and could be willed.

The box pews on the ground floor at Christ Church, were rented by Charles Roe to the middle-class patrons of the town to pay for its upkeep.  Those in the gallery were subsidised and free to the poor; this is still evidenced by the stencilled annotations on the sides in the pew aisles.  The pews are generally thought to be original, although there have been a number of changes to the ground floor layout since.
During the mid-19th Century church reforms, box pews were generally swept away and replaced by bench pews.  The box pews at Christ Church are therefore all the more important as a surviving in-situ example within their original church.  They are also referenced within the listing entry of the building for heritage purposes.
"The pews were made to pen a large number of hearers in an attentive straight-backed attitude, focused on the high pulpit.“
Matthew Hyde, local historian.
The pews are not particularly high quality and are in fact made from pitch pine, save for the decorative capping which is mahogany.  Originally, they bore family name plaques in brass, rather than numbers, some more elaborate than others, of which there still remains a few in place.  Families made their own adjustments to the pews according to their needs so many have compartments some with ingenious closing mechanisms for private bibles as well as end pieces to the benches for burgeoning families, especially for children.  The reconfiguration works saw the numbering adjusted and these newer numbers remain stencilled clearly on the sides.  We use these numbers today for events where seating numbers are important.

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