Chichester congregation wins battle for soft chairs in church

A leading conservation group’s bid to impose solid wooden seats on the congregation at St Pancras Church, Chichester, instead of softer upholstered ones has been turned down by a judge.
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The battle of upholstered seats versus unupholstered ones has been decided by a judge in the Church of England’s Consistory Court in favour of the soft option. Church goers had tested the upholstered and unupholstered and had left no doubt which they preferred.

The listed church dates back to the mid 1700s. The Parochial Church Council had asked the court, which has to give permission for changes to the inside of churches, for consent to replace the shabby, 33-year-old upholstered chairs in the church with 150 new upholstered chairs.

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However, when consulted about the proposals the influential Victorian Society objected. In their challenge to the plan they argued that the proposed new chairs represented no real improvement on the existing ones and that the proposal was “unacceptable.”

St Pancras Church, ChichesterSt Pancras Church, Chichester
St Pancras Church, Chichester

They argued that the Church of England’s own guidance on seating indicated that all timber chairs, rather than upholstered, were suitable for historic church interiors.

However, rejecting their arguments, John Murray, Deputy Chancellor of the Diocese of Chichester, in his role as a judge of the Consistory court said the existing chairs were “in a shabby state and difficult to clean.”

He added that they also, among other things, were difficult to clean, difficult to stack and rearrange, and had sharp and abrasive metal frames.

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“By contrast, the proposed chairs would be: covered in a durable, stain and water resistant, neutral coloured fabric; lighter and easier to lift, stack and store; easier to rearrange and link, providing comfortable shoulder room and a tidier appearance when the church is set out for services and events such as concerts,” he said.

He said a variety of chairs, including all wooden ones, had been tested by members of the congregation, and he had been told that the “overwhelming consensus” was in favour of the proposed upholstered ones .

He said that in the light of all he had considered a faculty (consent) would be granted for installation of the upholstered chairs.

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