Illustrated Dictionary of British Churches

History and Architecture

Pew

A wooden seat, or bench. Medieval pews frequently had carved bench ends at each side, and these bench ends might be capped with decorative carved finials known as poppy-heads. Despite the name, poppy heads might be carved in many shapes, including animals, religious figures, humans, or foliage. The Elizabethan period, and in particular the Jacobean period that followed, saw the introduction of box pews, where the bench was enclosed by hinged doors, creating a wooden compartment.

The side walls of these box pews could be extremely high, so much so that it was difficult to see the people within! In some churches box pews were reserved for the wealthy, while the riff-raff had to sit on unadorned benches. Again, the doors and side walls of the box pews might be decorated with intricate carving, and the interiors of the pew carved with decorative pilaster strips.

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