At St Mary Abchurch there is a mixture of seating. The pews with the elaborate fretwork on top are typical of Wren’s era and permit a good deal of privacy for the worshipper. The pews at the back are for Churchwardens: raised to give the wardens a good view of congregational activity.
Originally, the pews were taller than they are now and were in a form known as “box pews”. Each one had a door, and they were enclosed like a box. You can see some remaining box pews along the sides of the church and at the back. There would have been two large blocks of pews occupying the middle of the church. The Great Fire of London destroyed 81 parish churches, but only 51 were rebuilt. This meant that some parishes had to merge. Our church was used by two parishes: St Mary Abchurch and St Laurence Pountney. Parishes cherished their old identities and in this church the two groups of parishioners sat on either side of the church. They had their separate Churchwardens too, who sat at the back behind them.
During the Victorian era more active participation was expected of worshippers, and particularly the singing of hymns. Many of the pews were dismantled and reduced in height so that congregation members could more easily see the preacher and the action at the communion table, and the minister and churchwardens could more easily see members of the congregation. At the same time new pews were placed lengthwise at the reredos end of the church, presumably for a robed choir.
Until they were removed, probably in 1957, pews on the south side of the church included dog kennels to enable worshippers to bring their pets to church with them.
When the church was first furnished, all of the oak woodwork in the church was left unvarnished and would have given a much lighter appearance than we see today. Fashions change and the darker, varnished appearance you see today dates from the nineteenth century.
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