Reserved Seats: A Study of the Decline of a Convention in the Church of England

Meacham, John David (1990). Reserved Seats: A Study of the Decline of a Convention in the Church of England. MPhil thesis The Open University.



This thesis explores the controversy about privileged seating in the Church of England during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The institutionalisation of the pew system implied some unease. Early protests are noticed, then the strictures of three bishops and the reactions of five priests in the first half of the nineteenth century are considered.
The Report on the Census argued that less than half the seats in parish churches were really free, and that such discrimination alienated the poor. But a House of Lords’ Committee learned that numerous poor worshippers liked to pay for their accommodation. Nevertheless, it hoped the system would disappear.
The revival of Convocations enabled Church leaders corporately to debate the issue. York denounced the system, but Canterbury, though worried, reached no firm decision. In the 1860 s some critics combined to form an Association leading to discussion in a forum where clergy and laity voiced strong opposition.
After much initial success, the Association's recourse to legislation probably retarded its advance. The Lords set up another Committee which produced valuable statistics of churches now free, but 'appropriation' in most of the others) without comment.
The fortunes of the Association in the 20th century are tracked to its dissolution in 1929, and the influence of World War I is observed. When the government of the Church is reformed, the Association mounts its final assault through the new National Assembly. A committee is appointed which deplores the system, believes it to be in terminal decline, and proposes only that it be left to die. It lingers vestigially until the mid-century.
The thesis concludes that though the freeing of pews did not draw.the working classes in, the struggle was worthwhile.

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