Bath Abbey's pew row rages on: Heritage charity launches last ditch attempt to save them

A last-ditch attempt to save the pews in Bath Abbey is being launched by a heritage charity after permission was given to replace them with folding chairs.

The Victorian Society is applying for leave to appeal the decision made by the Chancellor of the Bath and Wells diocese in December which, if successful, could see the historic pews remain in the Abbey.

Victorian SocietyBath Abbey's pews are unusual because they make up nearly a complete set.

The controversial replacement of the pews is a major part of the Abbey's £19.3 million Footprint Project and comes alongside an urgent need to repair the floor, which has subsided and developed dangerous voids.

However the Victorian Society say they have public support to keep the pews, including 1,500 signatories on a petition expressing outrage that they might be lost forever.

'There is clearly strong feeling, from the general public and Bath residents alike, that the pews are irreplaceable and significant to the historic and architectural importance of the Abbey,' said James Hughes, Churches Conservation Adviser for the Victorian Society.

Christopher Costelloe, Director of the Victorian Society, added: 'We were disappointed with the Chancellor's decision to allow the pews to be removed, but believe we have strong grounds to appeal against the judgement. We are continuing to fight against a decision which we believe would cause significant harm to an outstanding listed building.'

The pews were designed by the famous Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, best known for designing London's St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial. They are almost a complete set, which is unusual for such a large church.

Bath Abbey is at the centre of the historic town's tourist centre.

Permission to remove the pews was given in December with Chancellor Timothy Briden saying stackable chairs would allow the Abbey's nave to be used for 'a wide variety of social and cultural purposes, including concerts, art exhibitions, university degree ceremonies and charity events such as the "Great Bath Bake Sale"'.

He added the seating, designed by Scott, was a 'product of its age' and was installed in part because 'the medieval use of the nave for secular purposes had long been abandoned'.

Following the decision last year, Revd Edward Mason of Bath Abbey said: 'We strongly believe in the benefits of removing the pews. It will enable us to open up the Abbey's nave and side aisles to all and make it possible for people of different physical ability to sit where they choose.

'Stackable chairs mean that the nave can be used for a wide variety of traditional and contemporary worship and restore the Abbey to the community use for which it was first designed.

'It will also mean that for the first time in over 150 years, hundreds of the Abbey's historic ledger stones, previously hidden beneath the pews, will once again be seen, revealing a whole layer of 17th and 18th century ancestry and heritage.'

Revd Mason added: 'We are aware that change to a historic and much-loved building like the Abbey can be difficult to understand and can provoke strong reactions.

'However, we have had considerable support for this change from the local community and honestly believe that freeing the nave of pews will greatly benefit the hundreds of thousands that come into the Abbey every year.'