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PEW (Mid. Eng. puwe, through O. Fr. puya, pui, mod. puy, in the sense of hill, cf. appuyer, to lean against; from Lat. podium, a high place, balcony; Gr. TTOOI.OV, pedestal, iroOs, foot), a term, in its most usual meaning, for a fixed seat in a church, usually enclosed, slightly raised from the floors, and composed of wood framing, mostly with ornamented ends. Some bench ends are certainly of Decorated character, and some have been considered to be of the Early English period. They are sometimes of plain oak board, zj to 3 in. thick, chamfered, and with a necking and finial generally called a poppy head; others are plainly panelled with bold cappings; in others the panels are ornamented with tracery or with the linen pattern, and sometimes wkh running foliages. The large pews with high enclosures, curtains, etc., known familiarly as " horse-boxes," and common in English parish churches during the 18th and early part of the 1gth centuries, have nearly all been cleared away. The parish church of Whitby, in Yorkshire, is perhaps the best surviving example of an unaltered interior.

The Latin word podium was particularly applied to a balcony or parapet next to the arena in the Roman theatre where the emperor and other distinguished persons sat. According to Du Cange (Glossarium, s.v. podium), it is found in medieval Latin for a bench (subsellium) for the minor canons at a church in Lyons (1343), and also for a kneeling stool in a monastic church. The word " pew " in English was often used for a stall for the minister, for a reading desk, or for a pulpit. The floor space of the nave and transepts of medieval churches was usually open, mats being sometimes provided for kneeling, and if any fixed seats were provided these would be for the patrons of the church or for distinguished people. Some enclosed seats, however, seem to have been reserved for women, as is seen in Piers Plowman, ch. vii. 144, " Among wyves and wodewes ich am ywoned sitte yparroked in puwes." They did not come into general use till the middle of the 15th or beginning of the 16th century (see Gasquet, Parish Life in Medieval England, (1906, pp. 62 and 133). Over the few seats thus allotted dispute arose and attempts were made to appropriate them. Thus the constitutions for the synod of Exeter, drawn up by Bishop Peter Quivel in 1287, forbid any one " to claim any sitting in the church as his own. . . . Whoever first comes to pray, let him take what place he wishes in which to pray."

At common law all seats in a parish church are for the common use of all the parishioners, and every parishioner has a right to a seat without paying for it. The disposition of the seats is in the discretion of the churchwardens acting for the ordinary for the purpose of orderly arrangement (as to the exercise of this discretion see Reynolds v. Monckton, 1841, 2 M. & R. 384), and this can be exercised in cases where all the seats are free (Asher v. Calcraft, 1887, 18 Q.B.D. 607). The right to a seat does not belong to a non-parishioner. As against the assignment and disposition of seats by the ordinary, acting through the churchwardens, two kinds of appropriation can be set up (a) by the grant of a faculty by the ordinary, and (6) by prescription, based on the presumption of a lost faculty. Such faculties are rarely granted now; they were formerly common; the grant was to a man and his family " so long as they remain inhabitants of a certain house in the parish "; the words " of a certain house " are now usually omitted. The claim to a pew by prescription must be in respect of a house in the parish; the right is subject to the burden of repairing the pew; it is not an easement, nor does the Prescription Act 1832 apply to it (see for the whole subject of a claim by prescription Phillips v. Halliday, 1891, A.C. 228). The letting of pews in parish churches became common in the 16th century, but there are some earlier instances of the use, for example at St Ewens, Bristol, in 1455 {Churchwardens' Accounts, Sir J. Maclean, Trans. Bristol and Gloucester Archaeol. Assoc., vol. xv., 1890-1891). The taking of pew rents in parish churches is illegal (Lord Stowell, in Walter v. Gunner, 1798, 3 Hag. Consist. 817); but under the various Church Building Acts seats may be let and rents charged to pay the salary of the minister, etc.

See A. Heales, History and Law of Church Seats and Pews (1872); Phillimore, Eccles. Law (1896), ii. 1424 seq.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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