DC Casebook: Listed buildings - Chapel pews ruled suitable for purpose

Permission has been refused for the removal of pews from a listed chapel in Wiltshire after an inspector gave little credence to claims that they are so uncomfortable as to deter attendance.

The grade II listed Baptist chapel had been founded in 1689 and rebuilt in 1797. Box pews dating from the rebuilding had been retained on the upper gallery. The Victorian pews installed in 1887 were of pine with panelled backs. The inspector observed that the original book rests had been replaced but otherwise they formed a near-complete example of Victorian craftsmanship and seating that gave a strong aesthetic quality to the interior.

The appellant argued that the removal of the pews was essential to enable flexibility in the use of space and drew attention to English Heritage's New Work in Historic Places of Worship guidance. The inspector acknowledged that lack of space might restrict activities that could otherwise be undertaken. However, he noted that no comprehensive audit of space needs had been submitted and found little indication that alternatives had been explored.

He took the view that the needs of a Monday morning parent and child group and a fortnightly youth group were not sufficient to justify removal of the pews. He noted that the chapel had a membership of 64 people, the parent and toddler and youth groups were well attended and the pews had substantial cushions. He gave little weight to claims that the building was falling into disuse or unfit for purpose.

DCS Number 100-068-981

Inspector Robin Jacques; Written representations.

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