Pew replacement in St Edmundsbury Cathedral

The Cathedral Church of St James and St Edmund, Bury St Edmunds (“St Edmundsbury Cathedral“) is one of the last Church of England cathedrals to replace its pews with chairs. The pews were scheduled to be removed at the end of February and six-seater and eight-seater pews made available for purchase. The Cathedral has observed:

“The Victorians retrofitted churches and cathedrals with pews that suited the society at the time, and now it’s time for us to do the same. Both Gilbert Scott and Dykes Bower, great visionaries of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, had chairs in the restoration plans, which means that in 2024 we are completing a vision first created in the 1860s.”

On 14 July 2023, the Chapter of the Cathedral Church of St James and St Edmund, Bury St Edmunds applied for approval of the proposal concerning the nave, north aisle and south aisle re-seating, (Form 8) and (Form 10), extracts of which are reproduced below. Readers will note a number of similarities with proceedings relating to the replacement of pews in the consistory courts

Summary of the application

To remove and dispose of the existing nave, north aisle and south aisle benches, retaining six benches in the cloister. To provide 300 chairs in the nave, Luke Hughes “Edmund” chair. To provide 300 “Theo” chairs for use in the north and south aisles, to be kept stored out of the cathedral church when not in use for specific services or events.


Representations in writing in respect of the above proposal were received from: Historic England, 3 August 2023 – detailed comments; Victorian Society, 24 August 2023 – strongly objecting; Mr Adrian Pitts, 11 August 2023 – objecting; Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, 2 August 2023 – no comment; Historic Buildings and Places, 14 August 2023 – no comment.


At a meeting of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission held on Thursday 7 September 2023 the above proposal and representations were considered and the Commission decided to approve the application subject to the following conditions:

  1. The colour of the chairs must be ‘mid-oak’.
  2. A photographic record of the seating, capturing both the details of the individual benches and their current context in the cathedral, will be made and placed in the cathedral archives, together with the historical information uncovered about their development.
  3. The choice of benches to be retained in the cloister shall be subject to the approval of the FAC (this shall not require a further formal application to be made under the Measure).


Because some of the larger pews will probably be too large for the average family home, in order “to be able to offer a piece of history to as many as possible and embody the re-use, recycle ethos”, the Cathedral teamed up with Rough Stuff, to repurpose some of the larger pews into smaller seats and other items, each branded to show its provenance. Excess wood was made into chopping boards, coat racks and coasters.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Pew replacement in St Edmundsbury Cathedral" in Law & Religion UK, 2 April 2024,

6 thoughts on “Pew replacement in St Edmundsbury Cathedral

  1. is it because pews are believed to be “uncomfortable” ?
    they did have the great advantage of attached kneelers
    but maybe Anglican churchgoers no longer kneel down ?

    • I suspect it is also a great deal to do with other uses – both liturgical and non-liturgical – for the space. For example, if you want to hold concerts, it’s a lot harder to issue tickets for reserved seating – particularly if one end of a pew has a restricted view. Likewise, the ability to clear the space easily for large services – e.g. in St Albans we hold an Easter Monday Pilgrimage with the seats taken out, and Thy Kingdom Come services full of youth…

    • People who think pews are uncomfortable should try sitting on a bench in a Friends’ Meeting House for an hour.

      Particularly on a cold winter morning.

      • As choristers, we normally rehearse an additional 30 to 40 minutes before each service. Most have few problems with our unupholstered choir stalls at the back of the nave. However, the 15th century misericords in the chancel provide an ideal degree of support…

    • We were there for Easter Day’s Eucharist. I just about managed to kneel after the Eucharistic Prayer – on the floor and at an uncomfortable angle. We had some German Catholic friends with us. They observed no one knelt, despite the fact that the order of service directed that people should.
      What did they do with all the kneelers that had been so carefully made by people around the diocese in former years? We used to admire them.
      I appreciate the need for flexibility, but the loss of kneeling reinforces our current societal mindset of the unaccountability of humans. And in that, it undermines the proclamation of the Gospel of the love and forgiveness of God.

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