Churches have not always had pews. In the 13th century stone seating began to appear initially around the sides of the church. In the 14th and 15th centuries wooden benches replaced many of the stone seats but for the most, people stood during the service. It wasn’t until the reformation when sermons became central to worship that people were encouraged to sit down and pews started to become the norm. In 1620 Archbishop Willian Laud required all churches to have pews though many major cathedrals didn’t see pews until 19th century and some still don’t.
In the past many parish churches had patrons who were significant in the ownership and upkeep of the church. They were often influential families who also created in the church ‘family pews’ or even whole ‘family boxes’. Other people could buy pews that were kept for their use only and they would have title deeds to the pews. Sometimes pews were originally installed at the expense of the congregation who then ‘owned’ their pew. It was also commonplace until early / mid 20thC to rent pews to families or individuals as a principal means of raising income. As a result the prevailing social hierarchies extended into the church.
When St Margaret’s church was built in the mid 19th Century, wooden pews would have been in place. What’s left of these Victorian pews can be seen against the back wall by the north porch and inside the porch. New pews were purchased and installed in the second half of the 20th Century. These were made by the ‘Mouseman’ firm of Robert Thompson and by Lyndon Hammel of Harmby. Contributions towards the cost of these came from local families and most of the pews have family names and family members who are commemorated.
There is no evidence that there was ever any charge for the seating in the church, so the sign that all seats are free and unappropriated may well be original to the Victorian building when it was built. It also makes a theological statement. The gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ is free to all those who would receive it.
For by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, Ephesians 2:8